If you compare today’s smartphones with the best handsets offered four or five years ago, it’s truly astounding how far everything has come. Yesterday, I briefly explained in an editorial about a rumored Ultrapixel camera that mobile hardware and performance have began to transcend the boundaries of the limitations often associated with mobile technology.
Rarely, however, do we stop and think about how powerful our pocket-sized computers truly are. But with mobile processors clocked at speeds that rival some full-fledged computers and featuring anywhere from two to eight cores, pinhole imaging sensors that rival dedicated those of point-and-shoot cameras and displays rated at 443 pixels per inch, it’s evident that this is only the beginning.
This so-called spec war in the mobile realm only truly started to heat up in early 2011 with the introduction of the first dual-core smartphone by LG, the Optimus 2X. It has only been two very short years since then, yet so much has changed. We’re looking to Samsung to deliver the first octa-core Exynos processor, Sharp is producing mind-blowing displays, Nokia and HTC are pushing the envelope in image sensing and Google is innovating software like it’s going out of style.
But the pioneers of the modern smartphone are sitting in the shadows of great innovations, playing a perpetual game of catch-up and only finding themselves further and further behind the curve.
Mere weeks after I bought the iPhone 5, I said it felt like a relic. Although it was larger than the 4S I retired and came equipped with LTE, it honestly felt no newer or more impressive. Although a marvel in design and fine engineering, the device itself was (and is) stale.
Part of that can be blamed on the uninspired design rehash. (Poor Jony and Phil Schiller can spout that it was a total redesign and was built from the ground-up until their faces are blue. But at the end of the day, one fact prevails: with the exception of the back and beveled edges, it looks almost identical to the last two iPhone models.) It hardly felt new when I tore open the box and ripped the protective plastic off.
Hardware and design, however, are only part of the story.
The primary reason the iPhone feels so dated is its software. To say iOS getting long in the tooth is, at best, an understatement. The interface has only experienced a few minor tweaks – the addition of folders, wallpapers and Notification Center – over the last six years. And although Apple has claimed to have added or updated nearly 500 features in the last two updates alone, the platform is still losing pace on its largest rival, Android.
Until this past weekend, I have been using an iPhone for the better part of two years, side by side with Android. The longer I used the iPhone, the more my reasons for continuing to carry it waned. The software and size finally got to me. I retired the iPhone for an iPad mini on Verizon. The iPad mini itself isn’t a bad tablet. I’ve enjoyed having it around, but it’s far from perfect. The display is … awful, and the software is boring and reeks of years past.
I was reading an article using Chrome last night, and I wanted to save it to Pocket. I hit the menu drop-down button and tapped Share, expecting to see a long list of sharing options. Instead, I was given the option to send to Google+, Gmail, Mail, Facebook or Twitter. I have become so accustomed to the interoperability of virtually every application and service on Android, that iOS simply feels crippled. Ultimately, to save the link in Pocket, I had to copy the URL and switch over to Pocket and manually save the link.
How antiquated iOS can be at times makes me cringe.
The worst part is how content many iOS fans are with the operating system. “It just works,” they say. “The ecosystem is more developed. The applications look and perform better.” Maybe to some extent, but the times are changing and iOS … is not.
Manufacturers are making better hardware; developers are creating better, more beautiful applications; Google is innovating new features and services at breakneck pace; and my reasons for carrying an iOS device are shrinking by the moment.
I constantly revisit this topic when I’m around my mother and stepfather. They both have switched from Android to iOS – DROID X and ThunderBolt to iPhone 4S, the to iPhone 5. My mother sold her XOOM and ASUS Eee Pad Transformer for an iPad. She now has a fourth-gen iPad, and my stepfather has an iPad mini. They are perfectly content with iOS … until I come around and inadvertently show off a new feature of Android.
For example, I was sitting in their house after they bought a new television. I wanted to show my mother a YouTube video and pulled it up on my Nexus 4. The Sony television had a YouTube app pre-installed. The option to share the video automatically appeared, and within seconds, the YouTube video was streaming in 1080p to their television.
They both turned green with envy and asked, “Can my phone do that?” Nope.
But it’s this complacency and contentment – despite the lack of innovation or new, useful features – from the most loyal iOS fans that is chiseling away at Apple’s foothold. With every Android update, iOS feels more dated, boring and dull. And with every iOS update, the platform feels more worn and deserving of a true, major overhaul. Here’s to hoping Sir Jonathan Ive can work some magic.
Criticism isn’t always a bad thing, and iOS is definitely in need of some. It’s for its own good. So go ahead, iOS fans, vent away. We know you’re dying for some new features.