The verdict among commentators on yesterday’s iPhone 5 announcement appears to be "boring" or "more of the same." But I think what looks like a collection of very marginal improvements is actually a much bigger step up than it appears.
Forget, for a minute, the lack of NFC – consumers weren’t likely to adopt that immediately anyway. Commentators often don't appreciate how a bunch of little things can cumulatively create a magical user experience. Specifically, I suspect that once people get their hands on the phone itself, the improvements to "basics" such as the faster A6 processor, graphics and battery life will turn out to matter a ton. Speed, in particular, is the great catalyst in mobile and I think this processor will allow us to start to experience the intended vision behind the iPhone for the first time.
Remember, smartphones have relatively slow response time today for many core tasks so users immediately notice faster speed. More speed allows for continuity between tasks and frees your short-term memory, which are core usability principles. It's not just about more powerful-sounding features. After using a phone with this processor, I suspect it’ll be a bit like going from dialup to broadband: you will never be able to go back.
I'm also interested in the upgrade to call quality. Apple often gets a pass on the fact the voice quality is so bad at times that users often start to act like what they have in their pocket isn’t a phone at all. But it looks like Apple has at least partially addressed this here: 3 microphones and noise canceling should help. Though I'd also like to hear more from Apple on what they’re doing about signal strength issues.
As for design, the original iPhone 4 struck me as slightly boxy, heavy and maybe a little masculine for a great Apple product. This new model is not a massive departure, but it's noticeably thinner and I think starts to get a bit closer to the form factor you can tell Apple wanted to achieve from the start.
So, while the magic with this release is more behind the scenes, it’s important to appreciate how hard it is to do what Apple has achieved here: making the whole ambitious vision for the original iPhone finally work. Faster, with a better display and at the same time lighter and thinner: everything needed to make the whole ambitious vision behind the original iPhone really start to work.
Gene Liebel is based in New York and is the chief strategy officer at digital agency Huge. He has worked with brands including IKEA, Pepsi and HBO on their digital platforms.
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