The iPhone 5: What could it mean for consumers?

Sep 11, 2012
Tech

The release of the forthcoming iPhone 5 comes at a unique and tumultuous time. Apple is fresh off its win in the landmark case against Samsung, but many see the iPhone as falling behind from a technological perspective. There is a battle for the public perception as to who is actually the technical innovator in […]

The release of the forthcoming iPhone 5 comes at a unique and tumultuous time. Apple is fresh off its win in the landmark case against Samsung, but many see the iPhone as falling behind from a technological perspective. There is a battle for the public perception as to who is actually the technical innovator in the space and the tipping point in either direction will be on September 12, 2012, the date of Apple’s latest media event.

All that said, there are some things that we can expect from the upcoming iPhone 5 based on the rumor mill as well as the current smartphone landscape.

4G LTE

This one is a no-brainer. With the release of the new iPad in March of this year, we finally saw 4G LTE working on an iOS device. Most everyone agrees that we will see this in the iPhone 5.

Why should consumers care?

Data is the life-blood for iOS applications. The faster you can get it, the faster and more streamlined your experience will be with it. I do expect customers to reach their data limits with their respective carrier quite quickly with this addition.

Different sized screen

The hints have been coming for quite a while that Apple might make a shift in the new iPhone and actually change the aspect ratio of the screen. This is a bigger shift than most people realize. Every single iOS device to date has had a 4:3 aspect ratio even though the pixel count on the screen has changed quite a bit over time (mainly due to the introduction of Retina screens on the iPhone and iPad). If Apple moves to a 16:9 aspect ratio (which is the aspect of HD televisions and most HD video) it would change the very way that applications are designed and created. All in all this could be a big win for consumers, but there is no doubt that it could cause some headaches for app developers.

I also expect that Apple will allow there to be a way for existing apps to run in a pseudo-letterboxed way so that existing applications will still work fine. This is one area where Apple can exceed Android if they do this right. One of the main issues on Android is fragmentation. On Android, developers have to deal with many different aspect ratios, pixel counts, and pixel density combinations on devices. This has led to many times where applications may work well on some devices and not work well at all on others. If Apple can streamline the process so this new aspect ratio works seamlessly with existing applications, and that new applications can work equally well on both screens, then it will be a big win for Apple.

Why should consumers care?

Consumers will be able to take advantage of the different aspect ratio in several different ways. The additional screen real estate will give more space for application developers to build apps, and a screen resolution that is the same as standard HD media will allow the media to take up all of the screen (without the annoying letterbox effect).

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Battery life and improved GPS

I might be going out on a limb here, but I think there has been a trend around some of the developments with iOS 6. We’ve seen Apple spend a lot of time working on a beautiful new map and navigation implementation, a GPS friend finder, and the ability to interact with physical locations in Passbook. In short, location-based context is more crucial than ever to the iOS landscape. However, there is a dirty little secret around GPS that many people have discovered: our current batteries cannot support GPS that is very accurate for a long period of time. In short, you have to sacrifice either accuracy or battery life with GPS intensive applications.

I think that it is entirely possible that Apple may try to mitigate this issue in one of a handful of ways. I think we’ll see drastically improved batteries as well as improved GPS functionality which consumes less power. Once this is in place, the ability to truly use accurate location as a contextual driver for third party applications will become more of a reality.

Why should consumers care?

If the GPS can be more accurate for longer periods of time, then the experiences that developers create can be customized to your location context in a much more effective manner. Imagine if your could receive weekly specials the moment you walk into your local coffee shop or bookstore or if you could play a virtual capture-the-flag game in the real world using nothing other than your phone. The possibilities are endless. While current technologies don’t limit this, the battery life and accuracy issues make it a non-starter.

Mobile payments

One major shift in expectations for the iPhone 5 over the past few months has been that it will not possess NFC (near-field communication) capabilities. This feature is generally tied to mobile payments (although as a technology it can accomplish much more than this). Android has latched onto NFC with recent handset releases, and this is tied to Google Wallet which allows for a near seamless purchasing experience with mobile devices.

Apple has the ability to excel in the mobile payment space due to its large collection of customers who already have credit card data enabled for one-click purchasing. Many would argue that this group of consumers is one of the most valuable that exists (due to the average amount spent by this group each month on the iOS content ecosystem). I would be surprised if Apple didn’t find a way to capitalize on this with mobile payments through existing iTunes accounts. I think this could work with or without NFC and potentially integrate with Passbook in iOS 6. If Apple doesn’t do something in the mobile payment space in 2012, I think it will clearly be a missed opportunity.

Why should consumers care?

Out of all of the proposed functionality, this has the possibility to make the greatest change to a consumer’s daily life. The recent watershed event for mobile payments was around the integration of Square with Starbucks. On the heels of that, the space is ripe for innovation. The ability for a consumer to leave home with nothing but their phone is a compelling view of what is possible in the future.

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Dock connector

If the rumors are to be believed, Apple will also be releasing a new dock connector with the iPhone 5. This connector will be a departure from the traditional 30-pin connector that has been around since the first generation iPhone. This connector is reported to be quite a bit smaller. While the inclusion of a new dock connector might not seem life-changing for iPhone users, it does have one big benefit. With the smaller footprint of the reported new dock connector, more space is opened up inside the device for additional components. How Apple will use this space is anyone’s guess, but when space is as tight as it is inside of the device, any additional space could be a great thing for the hardware engineers designing the next generation of iPhones.

Why should consumers care?

In reality, consumers shouldn’t really be too concerned with the dock connector. It will affect consumers who have iPhone accessories, but Apple will almost certainly release adapters that will ease this transition.

Other announcements

While the focus of Apple’s media event on September 12 appears to be the iPhone 5, it is likely that Apple will also cover some other items. Apple will probably discuss iOS 6 and its imminent release. If there are any unannounced features in iOS 6, this is when they will be revealed. In addition, Apple will probably refresh the iPod lineup. The big question rests on whether Apple will introduce a new device such as the rumored iPad Mini or their next generation TV device. As usual, Apple has been tight-lipped on both of these items and virtually no information has been leaked on either. Many take this as a sign that neither is quite ready for prime-time, but we’ll know for sure on September 12.

Why should consumers care?

There is no doubt that some consumers will be interested in new iPod models, but this clearly will not capture most of the publics’ attention. If Apple did release an iPad Mini at a price target near $199 it would completely destroy the Android tablet market. This could be a big win for consumers who have found the iPad too pricey but still want to take advantage of the iOS ecosystem. The next generation TV device could also be revolutionary for customers, but since so little information is known about what they are building it is just too early to speculate on how.

Summary

All of the announcements that Apple makes will have a huge impact either positive or negative. If Apple’s new product(s) are viewed as revolutionary, it will no doubt be a big blow to the Android landscape and emerging Windows Phone market. If Apple is viewed as ‘playing catch-up’, then Android may get a big boost. We will likely begin to find out how all this plays out starting tomorrow.

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David Tucker

David Tucker is a principal architect at Universal Mind. As the resident Apple and Adobe expert, he works closely with Universal Mind’s clients to develop rich user experiences that leverage many of today’s exciting new development platforms.

Follow David on Twitter, or read his blog here.

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