iPhone 5: Maybe it “isn’t the Droid I was looking for…” (?!)

Well, now that we’re a week into the whole hype about the iPhone 5, I’m still not much further along in my cell phone upgrade decision than I was last week.  😉

To summarize:  I currently use an iPhone 3GS.  It is, not surprisingly, a bit on the slowish side, particularly when taking pictures – and I’d like to upgrade.  I’m not currently on contract anymore, so my choices are pretty open.

At first, I thought the hardest “choice” I’d have to make was simply, “what carrier”?  AT&T’s reception had been notoriously bad in my home office since June compared to others – such as Sprint (which, in fairness, was only slightly-better than AT&T in my building) – so switching off of them had seemed to be a foregone conclusion.  However, AT&T’s reception and service seems to have gotten possibly, incrementally better.

And this begins to set the stage for my constructive criticisms of the latest iPhone launch – as well as the hype-machine behind them:

First, I have to admit that I’m not immediately, super-enthusiastically “wowed” by the new iPhone, except in a couple of categories.  It very much feels like a “one step forward, two steps back” kind of a release, for reasons I’ll get into further below.

The pluses that I see are the LTE capabilities, the display, the camera, and the speed.  All of those are, without question, superior to the iPhone 4S, and probably to many other phones as well.

The minuses, however, are not insignificant, and have caused me to have to ponder my next steps with a far greater amount of hesitation than normal.  Dislikes include the new “lightning” connector (it’s almost “too small”, in my opinion – not to mention, incompatible with pretty much everything else) – as well as the fact that the headphones jack is on the bottom.  It’s just in the entirely “wrong” place, IMHO.

The entire controversy about the Maps application is disconcerting, but doesn’t directly impact me.  I’m not a huge fan of using phones for vehicle-oriented GPS, to begin with – for many reasons – including safety, and reliability.  A phone’s GPS is fine when walking around, but in a car, it’s just too many things packed into a single device to work efficiently, compared to a Garmin or in-car navigation system.  Not to mention, you run into tons of issues with battery life, screen brightness/contrast, and/or just being over-distracted in case a call comes in, or some other event occurs on the phone.  IMHO a car navigation system – whether it’s portable, or built in – should have a single function, just like any one of the other car’s critical instruments.  Especially with the roads already choked with hyper-distracted ADD-prone drivers as it is, with regards to vehicle GPS – you want to be able to quickly glance at it – just like glancing at the speedometer, the fuel gauge, or any other critical instrument – without it doing or displaying something you’re not expecting that’s not related to the task at hand – which is, navigation.  But, vehicle safety and distracted driving is an extended rant, for another time…

However, this brings us back to the topic of the iPhone release.  Clearly, the Apple Maps application doesn’t sound like it was ready for prime-time.  Put in other words, had this non-Google Maps application been the “first” release of the iPhone, I’m sure it would have attracted a lot more negative criticism than it has.  It’s true that the Apple apologists have been out in force, explaining that they’re working “really hard” to fix the problems in the app. – but this iPhone release essentially violates what tends to be one of the cardinal, common-sense rules of new software or new technology – which is, “Never make a feature or function worse than it was in the prior release”.  Second only to the other #2 cardinal rule, which is, “Try not to take away, or start charging extra for, features or functionality that used to be provided in the prior release”.

Then, there’s the aspect about the iPhone 5 being slightly taller, or larger, than the 4.  I actually don’t consider this a “plus”, either.  The taller size means more surface area to potentially get scratched, bumped, etc. – and just a “larger” device that needs to be carried or made-room-for.  Larger isn’t always better.  For instance, I currently have a Samsung Galaxy Android phone as a secondary phone which is currently being loaned to me by a phone company that will remain nameless, which has a gorgeous display and a very nice interface (very similar to iPhone’s), but it’s simply “too big”.  I barely carry it and barely use it – even though it’s “free”, at least for the time being.

Simply put, the iPhone 4S was the “right size”.  Not too big, not too small. Take the Maps fiasco aside – which really doesn’t concern me too much, although I find it amusing – and we’re left with a small number of features I’d really enjoy having on the iPhone 5, but also several potential nuisances that I’d have to deal with, forevermore, including the Lightning connector, the audio plug being on the bottom, and the “taller than it needs to be” thing.  The audio plug part really bugs me, because I was looking forward to retiring my slowly-dying iPod with whatever the next iPhone was going to be.  (Note:  My primary iPod is an old 60GB from several years ago, whose display long ago started getting lines on it, and now it barely can play an entire song all the way through without skipping).

Another area which is difficult to understand, is why the Sprint and Verizon iPhones still cannot simultaneously send and receive data while talking on the phone.  AT&T doesn’t have this restriction.  So, here again is my “carrier dilemma”.  I’m used to being able to transmit/receive data and be on the phone simultaneously.  This may sound like a nitpicky kind of a feature, but anyone who’s had to be on a conference or tech support call (or similar) for over an hour or more, and then get deluged by a million missed notifications or emails that queued up during the call – not to mention, being not able to access Internet during the “live call” – will know how much of an impact that capability (or lack thereof) would be.  So, if I switch to Sprint (or Verizon), there’s something that I lose.  While I understand that the reasons behind this are a combination of technical capability and Apple’s decision not to add an additional radio into the iPhone5, it still presents a crummy compromise or a “satisficing”, from a technical perspective.  In other words, why hasn’t this limitation been fixed, already?

In that respect, this latest “Antenna Compromise” feels very much like the whole “Maps compromise” thing.  Clearly, decisions were made at the corporate level at Apple to dump Google maps, it would appear, perhaps prematurely – more for competitive or strategic reasons – rather than for technical or customer-satisfaction ones.  It just feels very much like the same arrogant stubbornness that Apple uses to justify not allowing Flash on its platform.  While I certainly like many things about Apple products – and I’m also not a huge fan of Flash in general – it chafes me when popular standards like Flash seem to be excluded, or singled out, for reasons that don’t seem to be sufficiently justified.  Yes, it’s true that Apple “owns” the iOS platform and everything that goes with it – including the App Store, etc. – but then again, that’s also part of the problem too, isn’t it?  This is part of the reason, in fact, why the Android platform is overtaking iOS – iOS and Apple are seen as being too closed, too proprietary, and/or too parochial.  It may indeed be true that the closed approach does mean that their products tend to run more smoothly and are better or more consistently supported – that’s not in dispute at all.  I’ve often been frequently impressed by their technical support – particularly in their retail stores.  However, the whole iOS versus Android “holy war”, to me reminds me of a modern replay of the VHS versus Beta struggle of the 80’s, in many respects.  While I’m not suggesting that Apple or iOS is going to go the way of Beta – at least anytime soon – I find it interesting that many of the drivers are the same.  You have one, possibly technically superior vendor who wants to keep everything “to themselves” – versus another, who is more willing to license out their technology to others – particularly, to equipment manufacturers – who will continue to refine the overall platform, offer more interesting products and options, etc…

What this all means is that what originally was going to be a “slam-dunk” upgrade from someone like me – who’s technically inclined, not currently in contract, and you would expect to be a prime prospect for an upgrade – now is hesitating and considering other options.  While I doubt I’d go the Android route for my primary phone – stranger things have happened – particularly, if I find a Droid phone that I really like, that’s the right “size and shape” for me.

Last but not least, the final thing that I find interesting about the current iPhone 5 release, is how quickly and quietly Apple has decided to sunset the other iPhone 4S models with the higher storage sizes – e.g. the 32GB and 64GB models.  These are all now disappearing from retailers faster than the iPhone 5’s themselves are.

So, if I want to get a new iPhone 4S 32GB or 64GB – which may end up, ultimately, being the route that I take – I suppose I better hurry up and make up my mind, already.  😉

— DB

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Posted on September 28, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. While I agree with Dave that I do not use maps for directions when driving, I use it often on my phone to check traffic. If I have to drive during or around rush hour, I like to check the traffic levels on local routes to create a plan of driving attack. The DC area always has several degrees of red on Google Maps, but only one with Maps. Not all reds are the same!

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