Apple's new iPhone 5S is 56 times more powerful than its "ancestor", the first iPhone, launched just six years ago. The new 64-bit A7 chip may be powerful enough to run a laptop, but it's not the only high-tech aspect of the new phone. Photography and video get a boost, while the new fingerprint recognition pushes security into a new league - K. Stewart reports
No real surprises for those following the rumours, but like the in-hand operation of the 5S itself, Apple's 2013 iPhone press conference was a pleasing demonstration of numerous component parts coming together into a well honed competitive strategy.
No panic. No down-market rush. No iWatch or iTV. Not even a hint.
Just the latest generation iPhone and a new approach to the mid-range smartphone market.
No pre-orders. Available from September 20th at £549 (16GB), £629 (32GB) and £709 (64GB) in slate, light grey and gold colours.
The headline feature for the 5s is undoubtedly the Touch ID fingerprint sensor. Everyone should passcode protect their mobile, but many do not due to the sheer inconvenience. The goal of Touch ID is to seamlessly integrate fingerprint recognition into the iPhone's home button, so operating the iPhone with security is no different than without. Early hands-on reports indicate this has been achieved. It takes about 60 seconds to register your fingerprint - and you can choose to enable to multiple different fingerprints for different fingers, different people - and after that it just works. Seamlessly for most commentators, although CNN's Philip Elmer-DeWitt was a notable exception.
Other manufacturers such as Motorola have deployed similar technology and seen its effectiveness deteriorate over time. Apple's implementation is more advanced, and if it's successful will further strengthen its advantage over Android for security and open the door to new applications, new industries to disrupt. Moreover, Apple took care to note fingerprint data is only stored on your iPhone and won't be uploaded to Apple (or the NSA's) servers.
The second headline feature is photography with a plethora of hardware and software enhancements. The camera sensor is 15% bigger with larger pixels, plus a larger camera aperture (ƒ/2.2) to deliver a 33% increase in light sensitivity. True Tone flash uses white and amber LEDs to ensure more true-to-life colour reproduction, while auto-image stabilisation works by triggering a burst of four-shots and combining them in software to minimise blur. There's also a 10-fps burst mode and panorama mode is 50% faster than the iPhone 5 at 30fps.
For video, the 5s still supports 1080P HD, but there's a new 120fps slow-motion feature that operates at 720P and is nicely implemented in software to allow you to easily select which parts of a video should play in normal speed, which at reduced speed.
As expected, the 5s marks the debut of Apple's latest generation A7 CPU. What was a surprise was Apple making it the world's first 64bit smartphone CPU, a technical achievement which realistically is more about building for the future than today's real-world performance. The new CPU and GPU together offer up to twice the performance of the A6 and support OpenGL ES version 3.0. iOS7 is itself 64bit, as are Apple's apps and Xcode support makes third-party support easy.
Processor Improvement Benefits
Benefits of the processor improvements include a 2x faster autofocus and the higher video frame rates. Or, more dramatically, bigger dragons.
Infinity Blade III was the first and only third-party app to be demonstrated and the scale of the environments, the visual impact of a dragon's attack, reinforced Epic Game's position as the go-to people for an iOS showcase. The fact that Infinity Blade III will arrive on the App Store on the same day as the 5S ships underlines the fact that Apple's belated appreciation of gaming continues to grow.
Alongside the GPU there is also an M7 "motion co-processor" that monitors the accelerometer, gyroscope and compass for applications such as a new Nike+ Move app. Its key feature is low power consumption, allowing it to operate all day long. If you were designing a smart watch, it would be a nice piece of silicon to have - either onboard or remotely via the iPhone 5s.
Unlike the 5s, the iPhone 5c will be available for pre-order, which begins Friday 13th September, and ships on the 20th. Pricing is £469 (16GB) and £549 (32GB) with five bright, super-glossy colours to choose from.
When the first 5c shots leaked, everyone's first thought was this is (finally) a 'cheap' plastic iPhone.
In 2012, the iPhone 5 arrived at £529 for 16Gb and the iPhone 4S dropped to £449. A year on, iPhone 5s 16Gb is £549 while the iPhone 5c is £469. The exact same pricing differential to the penny.
So what's Apple's play here?
As 5c production ramps up, Apple may keep Apple Store pricing unchanged, but its flexibility with the carriers will be enhanced. Most phones are bought on contract and the subsidy Apple requires of carriers is known to be high. Expanding the iPhone's worldwide list of carriers, particularly in the crucial Chinese market, will be made much easier with the 5c.
Business logic aside, what is the iPhone 5c if it's not simply cheap?
Its most notable distinguishing point is of course the plastic casing. However, this is leagues ahead of the 3G/s casing with another unibody shell and an underlying steel frame which doubles as antenna - so it feels remarkably solid. The basic technology is essentially the same as the 5, but there's an improved forward facing HD FaceTime camera and more supported LTE bands.
Putting aside pricing disappointment, as a design concept, there's a pleasing, distinctly Apple thoroughness to the concept. The bright, glossy colour of each model carries over to the preset wallpaper of each iPhone 5c, while iOS7's signature translucency further enhances the colourfulness of the device. There will also be six, brightly coloured but matt finish silicone covers to support hundreds of colour combinations. At £25 each, you could buy one for almost every day of the week… Apple's profit margins will thanks you for it.
iOS 7 et al
Jony Ive's radical re-imagining of iOS's look and feel will be available for free download from September 18th for iPhone 4S and above, iPad mini, third generation iPads and above, plus fifth generation iPod Touch. Support for iPad 2 and iPhone 4 will be added later on. Earlier models such as the 3GS will not receive iOS7.
We've covered iOS7 before and will review fully when it ships. In the US, iTunes Radio will be one of its most notable features, free for all users, but with enhanced functionality for subscribers to iTunes Match. Worldwide release dates are still unknown, however.
Also coming free with every new iOS device from now on will be Apple's powerful mobile office suite (Pages, Numbers and Keynote), previously £7 per app, plus iMovie and iPhoto, previously £3 each. So that's £27 of high quality apps bundled free from now on. No mention, oddly, of the well regarded Garageband app (and iCards app has been sadly discarded) but still more than enough to send a chill down the spine of Microsoft and even Adobe. All three iOS office apps are also available on desktop via iCloud web app, for free, while of course Microsoft's Office for iOS is both weakly implemented and dependent on an expensive subscription fee.
A few years ago, Apple's initiative here would have been headline news for challenging Microsoft's mighty Office hegemony. Today it seems little more than a footnote to the latest iteration of Apple's iPhone.
This wasn't a press conference of exciting, unexpected reveals. Tim Cook took direct aim at Samsung by making the point that Apple resisted adding features for the sake of it. The implementation of the latest camera innovations, such as 120fps, are slick and well thought out for the average user. Touch ID may, in time, provide a foundation for yet more industries to be disrupted by the iPhone. For the moment, Apple has simply renewed its claim to producing the world's best all-round premium phone. Next month we expect a similar renewal for the iPad line.
By K. Stewart
Related: New iPhone 5S is 56 x faster than the original iPhone