iPhone 5C & 5S Announcement Impressions


I've got lots to say about the new iPhone lineup announced today so let's get right into it. On September 20th, 2013 there will be three base devices available: iPhone 5S starting at $199, iPhone 5C starting at $99, and and iPhone 4S for free, all subsidized with two year contracts.

Typically, last years model is pushed into the $99 spot in the lineup, which is nearly what they did here, but not quite. The iPhone 5C they've introduced to fill this spot is effectively an iPhone 5 in a plastic body that comes in 5 colors. The front facing camera and battery have been improved over the 5, but that's about it. Folks at the hands-on after the event say they look great, and I'm sure Apple will sell a ton of them at $99. It's too bad that this is a stupid reason for them to be popular, and I'll explain what I mean by that shortly.

Before getting into the stuff I'm excited about and lose everyone into a vortex of internetTelephone boredom, I'll start with the bottom line.

The bottom line: Choose the 5S over the 5C

If your contract is up and you qualify for a new phone at the fully subsidized price, you are doing yourself a silly disservice by getting anything less than the 5S. For $100, you get a much better camera, a much faster phone, and the ease and security of the fingerprint scanner. Now let's get those arguments about the extra Benjamin out of the way:

  • "But the 5S is DOUBLE the cost of the 5S! There's no way the improvements could justify that!"  you say. No, dummy, the 5C and 5S actually cost $549 and $649 respectively, so that's not anywhere near double. This is what Apple gets paid by your carrier, and you end up paying it back to your carrier over the course of your two year contract hidden in the cost of your data plan.  You're REALLY paying $549 or $649, it just isn't dangled in front of your face. Because of this, we get duped into thinking there's a big price gap between the devices when there really isn't. Interestingly, the US is the only market that sells phones this way. Everywhere else, people pony up the cash up front and have cheap data plans.

  • "But the 5C is $100 cheaper than the 5S!"  you say, "Do I really care about a better camera and some weird fingerprint scanner when I could invest this $100 in stocks, bonds, or livestock futures?". Let's say you pay at least $80/month for your iPhone service. Over the two year contract you will have forked over $1920. For about 5% of the cost of your service over two years, you've opted to have an inferior phone experience. And over those two years you could have had much better pictures, quicker unlocking, and faster everything, but no; instead you saved 5%. Impressive! You're like a financial mathemagician.

  • "But the 5C colors are so pretty!"  you say, or "Bro, I'm gonna get so many chicks with this colorful 5C". If you're the type of person that gets all excited about something like that, then you're likely the type of person who will be putting their phone in a case. There are a multitude of cases available in pretty colors, and you can change them when you get bored of them. If you're going to wrap the thing up in a case anyway, why trade a significantly better phone experience for the color of a shell that's hidden in a case?   I'm already angry just thinking about this.

What's the ordering situation? 

      The 5S is available to order and buy in-store on 9/20. There is no pre-order available as of this writing but I really hope that they end up allowing for that. The last few new iPhones were available for pre-order and delivered on release day. I'm not interested in waiting in line and sprinting through a mall again. The 5C pre-orders begin on the 13th, but as we discussed, you're not getting that one.

      Ok, now on to the more detailed stuff about why the 5S is exciting. 

      The iPhone 5S


      The new iPhone 5S has all the usual CPU/GPU and camera performance improvements, and comes in a new gold on white color (and a tweaked slate color to replace black) but there are two new hardware features that I believe could be game changing. 

      Touch ID - A fingerprint scanner embedded in the home button

      Quoting Apple's statistics, about half of iPhone users don't bother to set up a passcode on their phone. I use a four digit passcode and have enabled the get-it-wrong-10-times-and-the-phone-auto-wipes option to protect my data in case it gets stolen. The main problem with the passcode lock is that you have to do it approximately 10,000 times per day. This is even worse for people that have to unlock with an alphanumeric passcode - I can't even imagine that. Apple has relieved this issue by buying the best fingerprint scanner hardware company for over $350 million and seamlessly integrating their IP into the 5S.

      The scanner remembers up to 5 fingerprints (a few of your own fingers and maybe your special lady/gentleman friend's thumbs) and can read them from any angle, so you don't have to worry about how to press it. On any other phone I'd be concerned it was some half-baked unreliable gimmick, and forgetting about the maps debacle for a second, I had assumed Apple nailed it and was immediately excited. And the initial impressions of three highly reputable tech news guys who actually used it seem to back this up: 

      Unlocking the iPhone 5S was very slick—just rest your finger on the Home button and the phone unlocks immediately. You don’t have to press or move your finger around waiting for it to be recognized—it just worked.
      - Jim Dalrymple, The Loop

      MG Siegler's comments are to be taken with whatever the opposite of a grain of salt is, since he's a partner at Google Ventures and is constantly bombarded with demos of new tech. If he says it feels 'exactly how locking/unlocking should work', I believe it, and I can't wait to try it for myself. We will have to wait and see how reliable it is, but I'm optimistic that it will be reliable enough.

      I think there's a huge opportunity here if this thing works. This method of authenticating with your fingerprint instead of typing a password is unprecidented in a widespread consumer device, and I don't suspect it will be long before other companies begin to allow this through iOS apps. Just think about credit card companies putting your cards in Passbook and authenticating payments with Touch ID! Not only is that ultra convenient, but it's even MORE secure than a physical credit card. The security concerns of Touch ID authentication, in my opinion, are minor. The Verge discusses these opportunities here as well. 

      M7 - Motion coprocessor

      Apple rolled their own silicon to make a dedicated chip to handle accelerometer, gyroscope, and compass measurements. Why should we care about this? Shame on you four doubting, this is why: This dedicated chip will use much lower power than having the CPU communicate with these motion chips, enabling a whole slew of Fitbit / Nike Fuel Band class apps that otherwise would have been too much of a battery drain to be practical. I believe that this new chip, paired with iOS 7's new background processing abilities for apps, will make dedicated devices like the Fitbit, Fuel Band, and Jawbone obsolete. These functions can now simply be apps, and can get the heck outta my pants (I wear a Fitbit One hooked inside my pocket).

      I love the Fitbit One, but I'll be the first one to toss it in the trash if that functionality can be sucked into my phone. It looks like that will be the case.  Paradoxically, this also removes the main use case i was thinking of for Apple's foray into smart watches, so I'm not sure what the big draw of such a device would now be.

      The rest of the 5S updates

      The other headline feature of the 5S is that it is natively 64-bit, and is in fact the first smartphone SoC of this persuasion. Aside from the benefit to high end gaming, I'm not sure what effect this will have on overall performance, but at least would have been necessary for future incarnations of the phone to handle large amounts of RAM. I don't imagine they went to all the trouble of reworking their chipset and software for this if it wasn't very important, so we'll have to stay tuned and see what happens.

      The camera updates are very exciting - particularly the 33% sensitivity improvement of the sensor. They keep making this thing better and better in low light and we're getting to the point where the flash is becoming irrelevant. This is a very good thing. As far as people whining about megapixels are concerned, I choose image quality over raw pixel counts any day of the week. Pictures are already the largest single block of used storage on my phone, so I'm happy that Apple isn't arbitrarily increasing the pixel counts on these photos just to be in the megapixel wars that everyone else wants to fight.

      Lastly, there's the colors. I really don't know which one I'm going to get, and am seriously considering the gold one. To make this choice, you really need to see them in person, but to get it on release day you'll have to settle for pouring over pictures on the interwebs.

      Now to continuously reload the iPhone 5S page on the Apple store and quietly sob as i wait for them to capitulate and put up a pre-order announcement.