As expected, Apple rolled out the successor to its very popular iPhone line of smartphones. But what may have caught some people by surprise is that the company launched not one, but two new iPhones.
“C” is for “colour.” The iPhone 5c is essentially the current iPhone 5, but wrapped in a colourful polycarbonate shell that comes in 5 different hues (blue, green, pink, yellow, and white – though surprisingly not in black, red or orange!). With the exception of some minor enhancements to the quality of the forward and backward-facing cameras.
While a rainbow-spectrum of colour choices is sure to enhance the appeal of the already-popular phone, the real story here is that “C” is also for “cheap!” Yep, somehow Apple has managed to shave almost $200 off the price of the iPhone 5 to bring the iPhone 5c in at the very attractive price point of $99 US on a 2-year contract. This pricing strategy alone more or less guarantees the iPhone 5c a spot on every teen’s holiday wish list. Parents, you’ve been warned.
The iPhone 5c: 16GB $99, 32GB $199, (two-year contracts) custom cases $29/each (pre order Sept 13) on-sale Sept. 20 (all prices in $US)
The other edition of the iPhone is the decidedly high-end iPhone 5s. With looks that are identical to the current iPhone 5 (with the exception of a new gold model which joins the existing “space gray” (black) and “silver” (white) models) all of the major updates are found on the inside.
Specifically, in three key areas: Performance, Photography and Security.
Now I’ve never found any of Apple’s previous iPhones sluggish or lacking the necessary horsepower to do my daily tasks (a testament to Apple’s ability to keep their software in lock-step with their hardware) but if you’re the sort that loves high-resolution gaming on your phone, you’ll probably start drooling when you read about the iPhone 5s’s A7 chip, a 64-bit powerhouse that delivers twice the graphics power and speed of the iPhone 5. By all accounts, games on this device will look stunning and frankly they were already pretty awesome. More interesting to me, and I suspect to developers looking to create better health and fitness apps, is the new M7 motion co-processor. This dedicated chip is like a second brain for the iPhone – one that lets the main brain sleep (thus consuming less energy) while the M7 keeps track of all of the phone’s sensors. Motion, GPS, light, etc – all of these can be measured and processed continuously, which will lead to more accurate information when you track your runs or your just your daily activity.
If it’s true that more and more people are ditching their dedicated cameras in favour of the camera in their smartphones because it’s just so much more convenient, then it’s also true that these people wish their smartphone could take better pictures.
This is one area that Apple has always placed an emphasis, and it shows. The iPhone 5 has arguably the best mobile camera of the current batch of smartphones. The iPhone 5s’s camera is even better.
Don’t be fooled by cameras (either mobile or conventional) that woo you with saucy talk of more megapixels. Because the fact is, unless you are planning to blow up your images to massive sizes or crop them to a tiny chunk of the original, more pixels is not necessary. Instead, we need to (ahem) focus on better pixels. Apple’s answer to the better pixel problem is to increase the size of each individual pixel rather than packing in more of them. This has two important benefits: bigger pixels let in more light and they capture colour more accurately. Sharper, better photos are the result.
The iPhone 5s also gets improved auto-focus (Apple claims dSLR-like quality). This will be a welcome improvement if it lives up to the hype – I’ve found that my chief complaint with all mobile photos is fuzziness as result of poor focus (yes, it could just be the photographer). To compliment the improved focus, the camera also sports a neat software trick: Burst Mode automatically chooses the best of 5 shots every time you take a pic.
The iPhone 5s is also the first phone to deal with the annoyance of indoor flash photography. You know what I mean: you take a photo indoors, the flash goes off and suddenly everyone in the picture looks like they’ve been washed in an unflattering greenish-white glow. Might be fine for Facebook, but these photos are almost never keepers. That might all change with a new feature that Apple has dubbed “True Tone flash” – it’s essentially an intelligent LED system which not only varies the intensity of the flash light, but also its colour. It can automatically select the right combination for the room’s lighting from amongst 1,000 possible tones. Examples of photos taken with this system do indeed look better.
Finally, perhaps in response to the runaway success of products like the GoPro Hero action camera, Apple has given the iPhone 5s a high-end video feature: slow-motion capture. The camera can now do 720p at 120fps. Uh what now? Well that basically means that the camera can slow the action down to a quarter of its normal speed while still preserving HD quality. This might seem a bit gimmicky to some, but if you’ve ever tried to capture sports (be it a Formula 1 race or just your kid on the soccer field) you know that sometimes being able to slow things down is a very good thing.
Do you lock your phone with a PIN code or other security mechanism? If you don’t you should. Not doing so is a very easy way to make yourself an identity theft victim should your phone ever be stolen. But I don’t blame you if you sigh deeply at the thought. Security codes are a hassle. Especially when you have to enter them dozens or more times per day. Why hasn’t anyone thought of a better way?
Guess what: Apple just did.
They call it Touch ID and I think this might just be my favourite feature ever built-in to a phone. Hiding behind the iPhone 5s’s home button (notable for its new metal outer-ring) is a high-resolution fingerprint sensor capable of scanning the sub-epidermal skin layers of your thumb (or finger).
Now, all you need to do to unlock your phone is touch the home button (no press required) and voila! Instant access to your phone. Apple claims the finger print recognition is so accurate there is no way your digit could ever be confused with someone else’s. Got a kid who thinks your phone is by rights their phone too? Not any more.
In case you’re wondering (and you’d be right to wonder) that fingerprint data is encrypted and stored only on your phone, never anywhere else. Security will never be perfect, but this system comes close.
The Touch ID system also simplifies iTunes purchases. Songs, apps, video etc. – no longer will you need to enter your Apple ID password every time. Just touch the home button and you’re good to go.
The iPhone 5s 16GB starts at $199; 32GB ($299); 64GB ($399) all 2-year contracts and all prices in $US. It goes on-sale Sept. 20th.
By the way, if $99 is still too much for a phone, and the iPhone 5s is way out of the question, you’ll be glad to know that the iPhone 4S is now free on a 2-year contract. Yes – Siri – for free!
Oh, one more thing…
iOS7 has a finalized launch date of September 18th and it’s free. You will however need an iPhone 4 +, iPad 2+, iPod Touch 5th gen+ (sorry older iPod Touch users).
The popular iWork suite which comprises Pages, Numbers, Keynote, iPhoto and iMovie are now free with any new iOS device purchase (no, you’ll still have to pay if you’ve already bought one).
Image credit: Apple Inc.