So, the iPhone 5 was announced and Apple VP Phil Schiller tells us that it’s unlike anything Apple—nay, the entire industry—has made before. While I hate to contradict him, it’s an awful lot like what you’d get if you put the iPhone 4/4S on a rack for a few minutes: taller and thinner. Otherwise, it’s got all the expected feature bumps from last year and zero unexpected new features. Which is to say zero interesting new features, unless you are like John Siracusa and are deliriously happy to see the old 30-pin dock connector go away.1
This isn’t to knock the iPhone 5. It looks like it’s going to be a good phone. I still have an iPhone 3GS (!) and I’ve been waiting for this to come out, and I’ll probably put in a pre-order on Friday. Probably. Sigh.
The iPhone changed the mobile phone industry when it came out, and anyone who claims otherwise is either ignorant or trolling. I know that will raise the hackles of some Android-loving friends, but sorry, folks—there are enough “before and after” pictures out there to make the case pretty conclusively. In some ways iOS hardware has been leading Android hardware—display resolution being the most notable, but the 4S camera has been the equal or better of nearly everyone but Nokia, and Apple’s build quality usually blows the doors off, well, nearly everyone but Nokia.2 And while Android has been improving faster than iOS, Android had much farther to go.
Yet that’s very much past tense. Where’s the iOS equivalent to Android Intents? Hell, where’s the iOS equivalent to OS X services? Why can’t we change default applications for things like web browsing and mail? Why can’t I open a Markdown document stored in iCloud on any application that can edit text without having to import it into multiple sandboxes and do entirely manual version management?
Please, enough with the “iOS is not for power users” argument. Don’t tell me that the ability for a word processing application to open any RTF document in your iCloud document storage rather than just the ones assigned to its sandbox must be forbidden on the grounds that it might confuse Aunt Tillie. Don’t tell me it would create unnecessary user confusion to let FireFox for iOS ask “Make Firefox your default browser?” on first run, and to have that as a dropdown somewhere in Settings. Aunt Tillie has figured out manual transmission cars, child-proof pill bottles and digital alarm clocks; she will not be reduced to sobbing existential despair when presented with a few more toggles on her phone’s configuration screen.
The common pundit wisdom is that it’s every other iOS release that does Big Things, so we should expect iOS 7 to be the ground-breaker. Okay. Maybe. But the common pundit wisdom is also that it’s every other iPhone release that does Big Things. The iPhone 5 doesn’t look all that much like a Big Thing. Just a Slightly Taller Thing.
What makes Apple the fabulous and infuriating company that they are is their mix of conservative minimalism with crazy risk-taking, running ahead of the herd betting that everybody is going to stampede in their direction. There was no mix this time. Neither the iPhone 5 nor iOS 6 are ahead of the herd. And depending on what Android 5 does, iOS 7 may need to make one hell of a leap not to be behind it.
Again, I’m probably putting in a pre-order. But I may go to an AT&T Store and see if I can get some time with an HTC One X before Friday.
I’ve been something of a defender of the old connector over the years, given that it carries line-level analog signals. As far as I can tell the new “Lightning” connector doesn’t, though; I’m giving Apple a mild benefit of the doubt and assuming there are still control signals on the thing and that this isn’t just a USB variant with a non-standard connector. ↩
Poor Nokia. ↩