iPhone 5: Worth the Hype?

According to Forbes Magazine, the iPhone 5 will easily outsell all previous models and may lead to“the biggest upgrade cycle in the history of electronic devices”.

I’m inclined to agree.

Worldwide, consumers lined up in front of Apple stores for a chance to snag the latest smartphone. I was not among those crowds. Two years ago for the iPhone 4, I was.

A lot can change over two years.

That’s not to say the iPhone 5 isn’t a great phone. It is. It’s the best iPhone ever made. The design has been refined. It’s thinner, lighter and better constructed. The screen is larger, the processor is snappier, and the LTE upload and download speeds are blazing fast (if you have coverage in your area).

Naturally, Android users will argue that most of these features are an attempt to catch-up to what Android phones have offered for a while. They’d be right.

But greater competition from Android and Windows are not the only things that have changed over the last two years.

Apple has changed, too.

Many people worried that Apple would lose its magic after Steve Jobs was gone, but most of those worries were forgotten when investors saw record-setting profits following Jobs’ death. However, the introduction of Siri last year (which is still in beta and has turned out to be more of a glitchy gimmick than a real tool) marked a significant departure from Apple’s earlier philosophy of holding back features until they were honed to perfection.

With the iPhone 5, Apple has committed an even bigger faux pas.

In an effort to sting their competitor (Google), Apple decided to yank the default YouTube app and replace Google Maps with their own program. It’s a move Apple has been preparing for since Google launched their own Android platform.

Unfortunately, Apple’s maps program has been a catastrophe. Entire cities are missing, farms have been labeled as airports, museums are in the middle of rivers, public transport directions no longer exist, etc. Apple has apologized and promised that the maps will “improve,” but this marks the first time that Apple has willingly made the user experience significantly worse (and for the sake of corporate politics no less). This is unfamiliar territory for a company that prided itself on making products that “just work.”

Apple’s second questionable decision with the iPhone 5 was the replacement of the familiar 30-pin USB/charging port with a new, smaller “Lightning” port.

“Lightning” is really a misnomer, however, because the new port is a USB 2.0 device (just like the old port) and neither charges nor transfers data faster than the old one. However, it makes the iPhone 5 incompatible with all  alarm clocks, stereo systems, docking stations, and other iPhone/iPod accessories made up to this point.

This isn’t the first time that Apple has changed ports on its customers. But, with the new port offering no new capability, a suspicious person might conclude this is just a way to sell new accessories and lots of $29 adapters. Of course, if Apple had put NFC and QI wireless charging into the iPhone 5 like some of its competitors, the iPhone 5 may not have needed a USB/charging cable at all.

The iPhone 5 presents the discerning buyer with an interesting dilemma. On one hand, despite the lousy maps app and the annoying new port, this is the fastest, thinnest, and most refined iPhone ever made. If you are locked into the Apple ecosystem, iOS is the only operating system you care to learn, or you simply love Jony Ive’s sexy design, then I have no qualms recommending the iPhone 5.

On the other hand, I believe Apple’s most innovative years are behind it. Steve Jobs is gone, the company is massive, and they’ll continue making conservative, low-risk decisions that benefit  Apple’s bottom line, but not necessarily Apple’s customers.

The iPhone 5 provides current iPhone users a unique opportunity to make a break with Apple and try something new. The iPhone 5 makes your old iPhone accessories obsolete anyway, making Android and Windows Phone devices look better compared to the iPhone than they ever have. iPhone 5 users are headed for at least a rough couple of months with the new map program.

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