Accidents can lead to unexpected insights. That was the lesson I learned when my trusty Apple iPhone 4 suffered a “lake incident” three weeks ago. Since the nucleus of my daily activities is the iPhone, my first reaction was to run out and purchase another iPhone 4. But because the release of the iPhone 5 is imminent (recently confirmed as October 4), I decided to revert to an old iPhone 3. My experience over the next few weeks reminded me how far iPhone technology had progressed in one version.
This experience has also given me insight into what we’ll see in the next generation smartphone from Apple. And I’m not talking about general hardware features, you can find that on many websites. I’m talking about the famous Apple user experience when you move up to the iPhone 5.
It’s All About The Feel
The first thing I noticed with my old iPhone 3 is the feel. I had forgotten how much plastic was used in that phone – it just feels cheap. Of course, when it was released, the iPhone 3 felt like the coolest, sexiest device ever built. Eventually, I bought a case for the iPhone 3 because it was so easy to scratch. Something about the iPhone 4 just screams bullet proof (but obviously not lake-proof.) While I was immediately turned off by the squared profile of the iPhone 4, it really grew on me as a beautiful piece of hardware.
So what does this tell us about the future? I believe the iPhone 5 will be another evolutionary step in hardware design. Apple seems to pull a rabbit out of the hat with each product cycle. Even when I look back at a MacBook Pro from a few years ago, it looks like a VIC-20 compared to my MacBook Air. Based on past experience with Apple’s design team, I imagine the iPhone 5 will have fewer parts, a smaller profile, but more strength and durability.
I Feel The Need For Speed
The most pronounced change in the user experience of downgrading to an iPhone 3 is the overall reaction time of the phone. Just waking the device from sleep and entering my passcode is frustratingly slow. Every application, every form, every feature seems to be slower on the iPhone 3. Almost painstakingly slow. In typical Apple form, the iOS software eventually advances to the point where a step up in hardware performance is required to allow for a good user experience. When Apple added the multitasking version of the iOS, it basically required an iPhone 4.
With the iPhone 5 and imminent release of iOS 5, I expect the same step up in speed. You probably won’t notice a major speed upgrade from the iPhone 4. But if you’re on the iPhone 4 (or, God forbid, an iPhone 3) with the new iOS 5, you’ll find yourself waiting for the device to respond. And the integration with Apple’s iCloud will certainly demand the higher processing power of the new iPhone 5.
Even before the iPhone 4, I thought the camera on the iPhone 3 was completely unusable. I rarely used the iPhone 3 as a camera. But when I got the iPhone 4 with the upgraded camera and an external flash, everything changed. In fact, I went completely paperless with my life. Every bill, receipt and letter I receive was captured quickly with the DocScanner app on my iPhone 4. I then file the doc electronically on Google docs. It’s simplified my life and reduced the clutter in my home office. Having been forced back to the iPhone 3 has put my paperless lifestyle on hold. The camera on the iPhone 3 is just awful.
All the rumors have confirmed what is obvious; the iPhone 5 will have a better camera with a higher resolution and probably a better flash. I’m hoping that we’ll finally achieve a quality level that will eliminate my need for the pocket Canon point-and-shoot digital camera I carry on trips. I also think capturing video will continue to integrate into our lifestyles with the evolution of cameras on our mobile phones.
It’s A Phone Too
It has always been ironic that the iPhone was never good at being an actual “phone.” Many people blamed the constant dropped calls on AT&T. But after downgrading to the iPhone 3, I can confirm that the problem was really the earlier models of the iPhone. Regardless of the iPhone 4’s antennaegate, I had very few dropped calls on my iPhone 4 compared to the iPhone 3. Since the lake-imposed downgrade, my percentage of dropped calls has tripled. In general, the iPhone 3 has weaker signal strength in most areas. And I’ve noticed the speaker volume is not that good, especially in “speakerphone” mode.
I expect the iPhone 5 will finally put to bed any of the lingering perceptions that the iPhone is a bad “phone.” Apple just keeps perfecting the hardware with every evolution.
Where Am I?
The GPS on the iPhone 4 is wonderful compared to the iPhone 3. Similar to the camera, the GPS is almost unusable on the iPhone 3. As a runner, I got spoiled using the RunKeeper app on my iPhone 4 to track my routes and statistics. On the iPhone 3, I can’t even get a GPS signal strong enough to use the app. The iPhone 3 spends an entire 3-mile run looking for the GPS satellites and never captures any data.
The iPhone 5 should have a better GPS that will allow us to continue to find ways to integrate location-based data into our daily lives. My iPhone 4 was my turn-by-turn GPS device for my car, using the TomTom app. I predict more iPhone 5 users will turn to their phones as their primary GPS tool.
Charge Me Up
I forgot what a major upgrade the iPhone 4 made to battery life. With my iPhone 3, I’m constantly recharging. With a moderate amount of use during the day, my iPhone 3 will require a charge before the evening. With the iPhone 4, I could actually forget to charge the phone overnight and still make it through the next day.
The iPhone 5 should be another step forward in battery life. As proven with the battery life in the latest generation of MacBooks and iPads, Apple has invested heavily in extending battery life of mobile devices.
Ready to Upgrade
The last few weeks have confirmed my desire to place an order for the iPhone 5 the first chance I get. I remember when I received my iPhone 3, I thought I was experiencing a groundbreaking device. But that is obviously a distant memory after owning an iPhone 4 for several months and then being forced to downgrade. While I think the hardware evolution will be great, I expect the biggest evolution of the iPhone 5 experience will actually be in the software – the iOS 5 platform and Apple’s upcoming iCloud. The thought of having my digital life in the cloud and connected to my mobile device is extremely enticing. And thanks to that “incident” at the lake, I know I want to experience this evolution of the latest hardware Apple has to offer — the iPhone 5.