Apple is resting on its laurels with the iPhone

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Ever since the end of Apple’s special event yesterday afternoon, there has been a great divide in the reception of the two new iPhones.

The iPhone 5C is everything the rumors said it would be. It’s basically an iPhone 5 with a shiny plastic casing in lieu of the standard aluminum backside debuted last year. It comes equipped with the same A6 chipset, 1GB RAM, 8-megapixel iSight camera, 16GB or 32GB of fixed storage, LTE, and all the other connectivity options as the iPhone 5. The only differences are the appearance and materials.

The iPhone 5S is a continuation of the iPhone 5, just as we figured it would be. Like the iPhone 3GS was to the 3G or 4S was to the 4, the iPhone 5S has a faster, more efficient A7 chip with 64-bit architecture, a dedicated M7 chip for motion tracking for health and fitness, 1GB RAM, the standard 16GB to 64GB storage options, and it comes with an additional color option, gold.

On top of those mostly minor changes, the iPhone 5S has a 15 percent larger camera sensor. Though still sporting an 8-megapixel output resolution, it offers one key advantage: 1.5µ pixels, which will increase the sensors light sensitivity, not unlike the HTC One.

ios-7-gmAnd iOS 7, the other major announcement yesterday, was given a release date: September 18. Though iOS 7 isn’t entirely new (we were introduced to it back at WWDC), it is one of the more compelling arguments for this year’s iDevice releases, because the hardware isn’t packing much.

On the face of the iPhone 5S, there is one distinct difference which is indicative of something else going on under the hood – the metal ring around the otherwise normal looking home button. It comes with an embedded fingerprint scanner, which will allow the owner (and other authorized users) to access the phone without the PIN.

And don’t get me wrong, a fingerprint scanner could open the door for a world of new opportunities – both good and bad – in terms of security. That said, Apple’s penchant for control and the risks associated with fingerprint scanning might squander any hopes of third-party access to Touch ID.

But of all the iPhone hardware updates thus far, the iPhone 5S – at least in terms of notable hardware changes and upgrades – is the least significant. And although iOS 7 looks fathoms better than previous versions, the same could be said of it. There’s not a lot of meat in the update, it’s almost entirely cosmetic.

Let me clarify. There’s a lot of stuff happening behind the scenes. The 64-bit architecture will aid in future-proofing the iPhone 5S, but immediate advantages may be negligible to the naked eye. The iPhone 5 and iPhone 4S were snappy as they were. So a 50 percent boost in performance may very well be beyond distinction. The larger image sensor and software improvements will undoubtedly make one of the greatest mobile camera experiences even better. But again, will the improvements be noticeable to the naked eye or out from underneath a microscope?

We’re not convinced they will. The iPhone 5 was one of the best phones of 2012. Few will contest that. But Apple’s product cycles don’t line up with those of its competitors – it’s on an off-beat.

gs4-one

The HTC One and Galaxy S 4 were released in March and April, respectively.

Apple is releasing a new phone towards the end of the year when other manufacturers unveiled theirs in the first and second quarter of 2014. Both HTC and Samsung, for example, launched their flagships in March and April, respectively, and both were significant upgrades over the previous year’s models. The Galaxy S 4 and HTC One were bumped to 1080p displays, utilize Qualcomm’s latest in chipset architecture, offer 2GB RAM, and come with enough value proposition in software to warrant an upgrade – for most – from last year’s respective flagships.

We never expected the iPhone 5S to be some new, wild, imaginative take on the modern smartphone. It was always going to be a marginal update to the iPhone 5. And that’s fine. It’s just … more marginal than some of us had hoped. And some might take that as symbolism of a new Apple, an Apple that isn’t quite as daring as it once was.

The camera sensor is a welcomed change, as are the fingerprint scanner and A7 chip. But Apple has failed to make the iPhone or iOS any more useful than it was two years ago. Siri, as much as I hate to say it, was the biggest feature update iOS has received in recent memory. And as needless as it was, Siri came with baggage – hardware requirements. iPhone 4 users were not given Siri in the following software update. As asinine as it was, it gave users a reason to upgrade to the new hardware.

Apple hasn't made any drastic changes to the iPhone in ages.

There has been a compelling reason to upgrade from last year’s iPhone to the new model every year … until now.

Following yesterday’s announcement, I was left asking one thing: is the iPhone 5S worth the upgrade? Frankly, there is nothing about the iPhone 5C or 5S that warrants a hardware upgrade.

From the iPhone 3GS to the iPhone 4, there was the Retina Display and a much better camera; from the iPhone 4 to the 4S there was Siri, the A5, and again, a much better camera; from the iPhone 4S to the iPhone 5 there was LTE, a larger display, and the powerful A6. This time, there are just as many hardware upgrades, but they’re not as drastic or noteworthy. The iPhone 5 was great, and the iPhone 5S will be a tiny improvement.

Sure, if you’re drooling over the fingerprint scanner, you might want to upgrade. But the only time that becomes useful is when purchasing items in iTunes or unlocking your phone. Is that worth upwards of $700 (after taxes) or going through trouble of selling your current iPhone and paying the difference?

For most, it’s not. For me, it’s not. I’d be content running iOS 7 on last year’s hardware, which is a first for me. Since I bought the iPhone 4 for Verzion, I have purchased the newer model on launch day. I bought both, sans contract, on launch day. This year, I will not. And after speaking with several friends and colleagues, they won’t be either.

My hope is that Apple only gave us a very small taste of what’s to come, that next year will be packed with more significant software and hardware upgrades. It should be, considering history tells us we’re due for the iPhone 6. This year was feature-light. Meanwhile, some unlikely underdogs are pushing the envelope, which is resulting in impressive numbers. The rate at which other companies are pushing forward caught up with Apple a few years ago, and they’re beginning to leave Apple behind, especially in automation, contextual computing, and functionality.

I’m left wondering one question: how long will it be before Apple acknowledges it and is forced to innovate once again? It’s this same lack of innovation and arrogance that sent BlackBerry spiraling to the bottom.

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About The Author
Taylor Martin
Based out of Charlotte, NC, Taylor Martin started writing about technology in 2009 while working in wireless retail. He has used BlackBerry off and on for over seven years, Android for nearly four years, iOS for three years, and has experimented with both webOS and Windows Phone. Taylor has reviewed countless smartphones and tablets, and doesn't go anywhere without a couple gadgets in his pockets or "nerd bag." In his free time, Taylor enjoys playing disc golf with friends, rock climbing, and playing video games. He also enjoys the occasional hockey game, and would do unspeakable things for some salmon nigiri. For more on Taylor Martin, checkout his Pocketnow Insider edition.| Google+