When everyone is still busy complaining about maps and the new connector, they are forgetting that at least 5 million (that’s just the first 3 days confirmed) people have already bought iPhone 5 ignoring or living with such “complains”. That is, over 5 million users didn’t get Google Maps and YouTube as default and 5 million Lightning cables out there. Of course, if we count the 60% of 400 million devices out there which have upgraded to iOS 6, the number of users dropped off from Google Maps is even more substantial as they still can’t get an official Google app on App Store. When Eric Schmidt said recently that Apple should have kept Google Maps, it should be seen as more like his wish than Apple’s. He just lost millions of users to his platform, not the other way around. There are many small enhancements in iPhone 5, add them all up and people can feel the big difference. I have yet to meet anyone who bought an iPhone 5 and wished they didn’t or want to give up their iOS 6 to switch back for Google Maps.
iPhone 5, from a technical point of view, hasn’t introduced any new type of sensors or hardware. You can say 4G LTE is new, but that is already in the new iPad and it is just a faster data connection rather than a new type altogether. The additional microphone can help to improve sound quality, but again, it is just an enhancement, rather than new technical function. Even the 4 inch retina screen, we have seen the 9 inch one on iPad already. Looking back in the 5 years, only front facing camera and gyroscope can truly count as new type of sensors or hardware that enabled new ways of interacting with the device.
With Apple, most of the time, is about enhancing what they have already. And the new iPhone is no exception. Faster processor, more memory, lighter, thinner, etc. Slicker iOS with more features. But what is so hard to copy, is their genuine focus on miniaturisation using or driving latest standards and innovation. They make it seems so simple to do, but look around on the market, their competitors are still struggling to follow.
Take the nano-SIM as an example. It was only “approved” back in June 2012, when there was still much talk about if Apple’s proposed standard should be accepted or should Motorola, RIM and Nokia’s rivalling proposal be the new standard. Looking back, it was all silly anyway as Apple would have already been manufacturing iPhone 5 with their nano-SIM specification back then and the official confirmation by ETSI was only, well, official. They would made it the de-facto standard anyway with or without official backing. Look at the micro-SIM, as of today, Apple is still the main user of that and the only other major adoption of micro-SIM is probably the Nokia Lumia range. That is after 2 full years since iPhone 4 and all other competitors are still using the old (most people would have forgotten the name) mini-SIM. Some say, does it really matter? Is it really that much smaller? The new nano-SIM is smaller than the bits you have to cut off from mini-SIM to make a micro-SIM. So yes, it is much smaller. And if you are aiming to make the best and the smallest device then every small bits help.
Similar things with the Lightning adapter. The old dock connector is fine, been around for nearly a decade. But it is at least 3-4 times bigger in size than the new one. The new Lighting connector is about half the size of the new micro-USB 3.0 connector which most people have not even seen yet. It is the right time to move on to make things smaller and easier to use. I am sure Apple knows what proportion of repairs are related to the dock connector. My guess is dock connector damage, fault home buttons, broken screen and water damage are the top reasons for repairs and I am confident that Apple is planning to solve them all one-by-one. This version is to solve the dock connector problems. Cheap cables were so easy to get and they are often of much lower quality than original Apple ones. I have used so many dodgy fake cables, I always have a bag full of them at my office just in case I need to replace any.
Apple is probably one of the most experienced in making connectors. They usually make the most advanced ones. The MagSafe connector for their laptops, still the best power connector to notebook computers I have seen. Firewire was a success with large storage devices and now they have thunderbolt which is twice as fast as USB 3.0 which isn’t in the mainstream yet. So if Apple decided to move on from the Dock connector, why can’t people try to understand they are doing it for some good reason rather than just to make obscene amount of profit which they already do without selling cables. Lightning, similar to Thunderbolt, isn’t just a traditional wire that connect two points. It is not just a piece of wire with a connector at each end. It is what is known as smart cables, where it has some microprocessors to enable new features. Yes, along the way, Apple killed off all the simple wire makers who can just wire two connectors with low quality copper wires. But it is pushing the adoption of smart cables forward. It is safe to assume that Lightning will be USB 3.0 ready as it is unlikely that Apple will ignore that whilst putting USB 3.0 into all their new laptops and desktops. I am sure when micro-USB 3.0 becomes popular with Android phones, people will know they can’t even have a connector looking nicer than iPhone’s.
By rigorously improving their products with optimisation and miniaturisation, Apple continues to stay ahead of their competitors. It is exactly how they won and now keeping the music player market with iPod. And they will do the same with iPhone and all other products.
* The image featured is the new micro-USB 3.0 connector. It is the old micro-USB 2.0 connector with a bit added to it. It is about twice the size of the new Lightning connector. This is how the wider industry is handling future growth, literally by growing the hardware. It seems like being ugly is the cost of backwards compatibility. 🙂