History of iPhone 5: The biggest thing to happen to iPhone
The story of the iPhone, continuing with the 2012 iPhone 5, which added a lighter casing, faster connection, and taller display
WWDC once again came and went without any new iPhone announcements, re-affirming that that 2011 hadn't be a fluke. Fall was the new summer. So it was that Apple announced another iPhone event for September 12, 2012. There Apple SVP of worldwide marketing announced the biggest thing to happen to the iPhone since the original iPhone. Big as in in thinner and lighter. Big as in screaming fast LTE. Big as in a taller screen. Big as in the iPhone 5.
“iPhone 5 is the most beautiful consumer device that we’ve ever created,” said Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing. “We’ve packed an amazing amount of innovation and advanced technology into a thin and light, jewel-like device with a stunning 4-inch Retina display, blazing fast A6 chip, ultrafast wireless, even longer battery life; and we think customers are going to love it.”
Loving it was easy
iPhone 5, codenamed N41/N42 and model number iPhone5,1, was the fourth major redesign and the second major improvement to the iPhone's display. It went from a 3:2 aspect ration to a more cinematic 16:9. The density stayed the same, at 326ppi, so that resulted in a size increase to 4-inches and pixel count increase to 1136x640 to fill up all that extra space. It allowed for an extra row of icons, an extra message, and extra everything in general. Apple also switched to in-cell technology, which let them combine the touch sensor and LCD into one layer. If the pixels previously looked like they were painted beneath glass, the iPhone 5 made them look like they were painted inside the glass. It also reduced reflections. Somewhat. Apple had succeeded in once again making the best, if not the biggest, display in the business.
Though the overall rounded-rectangle shape of the iPhone 5 stayed the same, Apple rebuilt the casing from the atoms on up. Instead of a glass back and stainless steel band, they went back to the aluminum of the original iPhone but this time made it a unibody that covered the back and sides. Ceramic/pigmented glass was still used on the top and bottom for RF transparency, however, resulting in a two-tone effect. Apple offered both white and silver (Stormtrooper) and black and slate (Vader). The silver was clear-coated aluminum. The slate was anodized. Dark colors, especially black, are hard to anodize and that did cause some issues for Apple when it came to scratching and chipping. It resulted in an iPhone that had a a bigger screen, yet 12% less volume than its predecessor. It also required a machining process that no other company on earth could have produced at that scale. (It was, quite frankly, machinist porn.)
The iPhone 5 also debuted Apple's first custom processor. Previous Apple A-series processors had been based on existing ARM reference designs. For the Apple A6, Apple licensed the ARM v7s instruction set and made their own design -- a 32nm CMOS dual-core Apple CPU that can run from between 800MHz and 1.2GHz. And they topped it off with a triple-core PowerVR SGX543MP3 GPU and 1GB of RAM. It was roughly twice as fast. Again. There was no new storage option, however, so 64GB remained the max. The battery did creep up again, though, to 1440mAh. That, along with new efficiencies, increased useful battery life.
The Apple A6 image signal processor (ISP) added spatial noise reduction as well as increased speed. Because of the 25% thinner body, Apple wasn't able to include a better physical camera (cameras love depth) but they somehow managed to squeeze a camera into it that was just as good as the iPhone 4S. Re-branded under the old "iSight" name, Apple did add a new, dynamic low-light mode which they claimed was up to 2 f-stops better. Apple also claimed the 5-element lens has been aligned with even greater precision for even greater sharpness. Also, the surface of the iSight was switched to sapphire crystal to make it more scratch resistant. The front, FaceTime camera went 720p, becoming FaceTime HD.
In their efforts to save space, Apple once again went to a smaller SIM card. This time, the nanoSIM. They added 4G LTE support, thanks to Qualcomm MDM9615 and RTR8600 chipsets, with a maximum theoretical speed of 100mbps. Because of the thinness and their obsession with battery life, however, they didn't add dual radios. Since LTE doesn't support simultaneous voice and data, the GSM iPhone 5 had to drop down to HSPA+ while talking. Since EVDO Rev. A also doesn't supported simultaneous voice and data, the CMDA iPhone had to drop data entirely. For areas without LTE, Apple added DC-HSPA+, and it's still impressive theoretical 42mbps capacity. Wideband audio was added for the few carriers that actually supported it. Bluetooth was already maxed out at 4.0, but thanks to a Murata Wi-Fi module, which included the Broadcom BCM4334 chip, the iPhone 5 gained 802.11n on 5GHz as well.
Apple also added a 3rd mic for better noise cancellation and beamforming not just for phone calls, but FaceTime, Siri, and other, newer technologies.
The iPhone 5 was also a turning point in another major area. After 10 years of 30-pin Dock connector, Apple swapped it out for the smaller, more flexible Lightning connector. 80% smaller and offering 8 all-digital signals to be precise. It caused a lot of pain for a lot of people who'd accumulated a lot of Dock connector-based accessories over the years, and Apple dropped the ball in a major way by not having their adapters on the shelves in anything approaching a reasonable amount of time. It was a necessary and good change, however, and over time the changing pain diminished.
Pricing was unchanged at $199, $299, and $399 on contract.
Bored all the way to the bank
The iPhone 5 launched in the US, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore and the UK on September 21, 2013. By the end of the year it was available in 100 countries on 240 carriers. Apple also launched iOS 6 with it. They sold 5 million the first weekend. Apple:
“Demand for iPhone 5 has been incredible and we are working hard to get an iPhone 5 into the hands of every customer who wants one as quickly as possible,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “While we have sold out of our initial supply, stores continue to receive iPhone 5 shipments regularly and customers can continue to order online and receive an estimated delivery date. We appreciate everyone’s patience and are working hard to build enough iPhone 5s for everyone.”
The iPhone 5 was a completely new design, but thanks to the familiar shape and the familiar button layout, especially the iconic Home button, it led to a lot of negative sentiment. People and pundits alike called it uninspired. They called it boring. It made no sense to people who understood what went into making it. It made no sense to anyone familiar with all the other iterative designs from all the other manufacturers. But perception is reality, and manufacturers disregard it at their peril. Add in the extremely troubled iOS 6 Maps launch that came with it, and gripes abounded. Still, reviews were positive. Tim Stevens of Engadget:
The iPhone 5 is a significant improvement over the iPhone 4S in nearly every regard, and in those areas that didn't see an upgrade over its predecessor -- camera, storage capacity -- one could make a strong case that the iPhone 4S was already ahead of the curve. Every area, that is, except for the OS. If anything, it's the operating system here that's beginning to feel a bit dated and beginning to show its age.
Still, the iPhone 5 absolutely shines. Pick your benchmark and you'll find Apple's thin new weapon sitting at or near the top. Will it convince you to give up your Android or Windows Phone ways and join the iOS side? Maybe, maybe not. Will it wow you? Hold it in your hand -- you might be surprised. For the iOS faithful this is a no-brainer upgrade. This is without a doubt the best iPhone yet. This is a hallmark of design. This is the one you've been waiting for.
Jim Dalrymple of The Loop:
My experience with the iPhone 5, iOS and the EarPods has been great. The iPhone is everything Apple said it would be and with iOS 6 built-in, it’s clear to me that Apple has another winner on its hands.
I can’t think of any good reason why anyone wouldn’t upgrade or purchase the iPhone 5.
Yours truly for iMore:
The danger of being overly focused is that you lose sight of the periphery. The key is to be fixed but not fixated. It can be a razor-fine line, and one Apple often seems to cascade down with reckless abandon. [...] One day Apple will come to the end of this iPhone line and they'll have to re-imagine or replace the iPhone the way they have the iPod. But it won't be this day or this iPhone.
Taller, thinner, faster, lighter, brighter; the iPhone 5 represents nothing more nor less than the latest, relentless iteration on the Platonic ideal Apple has been striving towards for almost a decade. Redesigned in every way but shape, compromised but true to its purpose, the iPhone 5 is once again the best iPhone Apple has ever made, and one of the best phones ever made. Period.
It felt the closest yet to the original iPhone concept Jony Ive had been working on since 2005, the pinnacle of that hardware line.
Six years later
Microsoft had launched Windows 7 and then called a mulligan with the similar looking but NT-powered Windows 8. Steve Ballmer announced his intention to resign and then bought Nokia on his way out. BlackBerry had ditched their dual CEOs, replaced them with Thorstein Heins, and finally launched BlackBerry 10. Samsung and Motorola remained in litigation with Apple, the former leading in marketshare and rapidly gaining in profit share, the latter taking the first careful steps towards a Google phone. Competition for Apple and the iPhone had never been more fierce. Some in the media and in the markets began to run with the "Apple is doomed" meme, and Apple's ability to innovate and excite was called into question. At WWDC 2013, however, Apple began to strike back. iOS 7 was coming. But what would come with it?