The iPhone 5: Is It Boring or the Next Big Thing?

If you do not live under a rock, you know that the iPhone 5 has arrived and that it is thinner, lighter, larger and faster than its predecessor.

And if you, just like me, belong to the growing crowd of nerdy tech-blog followers, you have known this for quite a while. The fact that iOS 6’s new features had already been introduced during Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference earlier this summer, in combination with the wave of leaks, took a bit of the fun out of the announcement.

In addition, at first glance it seems that the innovation that the iPhone 5 brings is rather incremental.  Wired‘s Mat Honan argues that it is a boring device and Forbes thinks that the iPhone 5 is not “the next truly big thing“. There is, however, an interesting nuance that seems to go largely unnoticed and the number “Five” might mean more than one assumes. Here is what caught my attention:

The Incremental Improvements

  • The screen: The “biggest thing” about the iPhone 5 is obviously its larger display, using in-cell touch screen for better color accuracy and saturation, and a thinner form factor. While the new aspect ratio is very close to the 16:9 HD standard and thus better suited for the consumption of media, app developers are probably in frantic update mode as I am writing these lines…
  • From 30 to 8 pins: The original 30-pin dock connector had a great run of 10 years, but it was time for a change. In an industry where slimness is a key advantage, the size of the dock connector became an obstacle for slimmer products. Apple’s move to provide two types of adapters will salvage the millions of accessories already on the market, even though David Pogue expects some “grumpiness in iPhoneland” and wishes that these adapters came free with the purchase of an iPhone 5. The additional costs will certainly be a consideration for “upgraders” that own multiple accessories…
  • 4G: After most of its competition features LTE for quite a while already, the faster wireless standard finally arrived on the iPhone and it comes along with a smaller “nano-SIM” card. If you travel intercontinentally on a regular basis and want to get “the 5″, you’re up for a tricky purchase decision, though, as there are three region-specific devices available… I for one am holding off with my order until unlocked devices become available in the U.S.
  • Camera: Being the photography geek that I am, I was interested in seeing how Apple would improve what is the most popular camera on flickr. Except for the scratch-resistant sapphire glass, the hardware seemed unchanged and it looked like improvements were made only with the inclusion of a panorama mode and better low-light performance. DPReview has, however, found that Apple is also using an updated image sensor that is slightly larger and improves on the minimum light sensitivity. Altogether, this seems to offer an all-around better experience of the industry-leading feature.
  • 600 people to test and develop the EarPods: To me – and to many other users that gave the iconic white earphones a measly 2.5 star rating in the Apple Store – the redesigned EarPods are merely righting a wrong.  They never really did fit or sound too great and I hope that all that testing, did bear fruit – pun intended.

Five: What’s In The Name?

Apart from these “boring” improvements to the class leader, ASYMCO’s industry analyst Horace Dediu was quick to point out that the iPhone 5’s name holds an important clue as to how Apple views its halo-product. Prior to the event invitation that revealed the product’s name, there had been speculations on whether Apple would move away from a number-based naming for the iPhone.

After changing the iPad naming to the brand-subbrand scheme (iPad 2 vs. “the new” iPad) that the rest of Apple’s hardware follows (e.g. “MacBook Pro” and “MacBook Air”, “iPod Touch” and “iPod nano”), the iPhone is now the sole hardware product in Apple’s line-up that still bears a number in its name and this means two things:

  1. There will not be an iPhone “nano” or “mini,” and tiering the product line will continue to be achieved through several generations of the product being sold at the same time. Currently these are the iPhone 4, iPhone 4S and iPhone 5.
  2. More interestingly, the nomenclature could indicate that Apple sees the iPhone more as a platform, much like its operating systems iOS6 or OS10.6. The platform could play host to an increasing portfolio of software and services, like Siri.

This could be a disruptive shift, creating new interesting opportunities for the iPhone and even more so for its users. Here are four hypotheses of what could lie ahead for the iPhone:

  • Apple Maps could see extensions with Apple-proprietary or third-party location-based services and augmented reality.
  • Apple’s Passbook service could develop closer ties with e-commerce websites and other forms of payment to become a true digital wallet.
  • With the addition of sensors and wearable technology, Apple could develop the iPhone platform into the leading hub for Digital Health & Wellness.
  • Along the same lines, the iPhone could become the gateway into that elusive Internet of Things, and connect not only to the personal computer and TV, but to pretty much everything one owns.

With these – and many more – potential additions to the platform, I do not think that the iPhone 5 is boring at all and while it may not be “the truly next big thing” itself, it might well be what the next big thing for Apple will be built upon.