New iPhones

Its been a few days since Apple's iPhone event. Apple introduced two new iPhones, 5C & 5S, and discontinued the iPhone 5. Surprisingly, all the rumors related to fingerprint scanner, colors and even the names of the new iPhone were true. It looks like the Jobsian era of secrecy has come to an end.

Apple is the clear leader in the smartphone market, with over 70% of profits. With the new phones, the flagship model from the leader has just shed a cool $100 from the price tag, effectively bringing down the high water mark in the market. While Apple will recover the margins with a cheaper to manufacture 5C, iPhone 5S and accessories, Samsung will probably lose some market share from its Galaxy top range.

The new phones crown bluetooth as king for sharing and connections, making NFC's mass adoption a distant dream now. When the leading provider does not carry the technology, its future is truly limited.

Cases and docks are once again in vogue for Apple. This will help Apple regain some lost margin. Cases are typically bought along with the phone. Even though the phone is cheaper, the overall impact considering the carrier subsidy, might be minimal. The phones are being launched in more countries, with Japan & China (not announced yet, but expected) being notable additions. This will add more volume in product distribution. Without a doubt we will see more iPhones sold this holiday quarter than ever before.

More money. Less impact on margins. I am going long on Apple.

I understand that from a portfolio perspective, the iPhone 5 had to be discontinued. People like to buy a newly released phone, and the new design preserves this notion even though the internals are all the same. Does this also hint at a iPhone 5X in the near future? Only time will tell.

iPhone 5C

Everybody agrees that the iPhone 5C is the new flagship model from Apple. It is the first one listed on the carousel at apple.com. It is also the first one available for pre-order. This despite the fact that it is essentially one-year-old internals in a new plastic skin. Personally, I would have loved to see a darker blue or a blood red option in the colors available. Maybe Apple would release them later. White color looks all alone, without its usual friends black and grey. It is understandable that the black & grey might overlap with the colors from iPhone 5S, but the curves and glossiness is a good enough difference to offer black & grey colors for the 5C.

The iPhone 5C is still not a product for the prepaid or unsubsidized market. It is a product focused on the top rung. Apple as a company has always focused itself on the high end of the market. The subsidy system hides this fact very well, a fact corroborated with iOS's high market share in the US. The cases get people who are either against glossy finish or like rubbery textures on board. The logo error is a rare mistake in design from Apple. I expect it will be fixed before the holiday season.

The 5C screen is the same as its predecessor. This might aid developers with app layouts, but probably points to Apple thinking the screen is good enough for most tasks. Apple customers are the carriers. I would not be surprised to see some more price drops on contracts, making them free on two year contracts. And you cannot offer cheaper than free. iTunes gift cards could also be used by various retailers to bring the price down even further.

iPhone 5S

The iPhone 5 is a very good phone. I use it everyday. iPhone 5S doubles its performance and sports a new camera. But this performance boost has to suffice till the next round of phones are introduced. Quad core was not mentioned anywhere. Apple must have realized the processors are not the bottleneck on the phone performance. The iPhone 5 was in a way over-serving the market, and there was no point in adding more power and over-over-serving it. This bucks the current trend on Android phones with more processing power, bigger screens and more megapixels on the camera.

The new technology on the 5S indicates what Apple has in store for future. 64-bit architecture, M7 chip, iBeacon and fingerprint sensor are features that will become more powerful with time. They hint at the overall plan Apple has with the iPhone. These features cannot be imitated easily by the competition.

The new tech also tells us how clueless other players in the smartphone market are, with the notable exception of Nokia. We have seen two apps running simultaneously, multiple user accounts, face detection etc, but nothing along the lines of what Apple has introduced in the 5S. "Forward thinking" tagline is a huge hint for things to come. The fingerprint sensor is a welcome advancement. Unlocking the phone is now easier, and more secure. Same with iTunes purchases. Because of password length requirements, this saves typing at least 8 characters for everyone. On colors, Gold was probably the only color option that could be introduced. It is expected to be a huge draw in certain markets.

The iPhone camera sees an improvement on the sensor front, cementing its position as the best camera on smartphones for a few more months. A few other software features like slow motion recording & burst shooting mode will keep things interesting for the casual shooters.

These are my initial thoughts on the phone launch. iOS 7 has a few tweaks since last seen. Apple has listened to the feedback and made the font a bit more readable. I am planning to update to iOS 7 on my iPhone 5 as soon as it is available. I will write about the new OS experience soon!

iPhone 5 review!

I took the plunge and bought an iPhone 5 (Black, 16GB) in December. The other contender I had in mind was the Nokia Lumia 920. Its weight was a big deterrent though. And as much as I wanted to move to the latest from Microsoft's new phone operating system, it simply is not available here in India. Here is a short review of my experience with the iPhone 5 so far.

Cost & Micro-SIM

At $700 (~Rs 38,000), and the rupee at an all time low to the dollar, this is an expensive phone to buy outright. Plus, Apple is selling it at an even higher price point through its retailers here in India, for Rs. 45,500. I got mine shipped through a friend, and it took some 3 days to reach from the US. Best shipping time ever, as it was carried in a pocket.

The other thing of note is the nano sim card. With airtel launching the iphone, my company facility folks were able to get me one in three days. Thank god for their help, as Airtel has no relationship centres nearby. The two nearest to my house do not exist, and hunting for them was a futile and time wasting exercise.

Design & Hardware

Apple has outdone itself when it comes to the hardware. The new iPhone 5 is sleek and looks like a million bucks. It defines the new sexy. The edges are finely crafted and the aluminium back looks amazing. The other thing that surprises you as soon as you hold it is the weight. For this big a device, you assume it to be heavy, but it feels almost weightless.

Worth it for the hardware alone. While the main structure of iOS has not changed much, it feels snappier than my iPod Touch and iPad 3. The screen is gorgeous, and does not feel like it is on a diet and shrunk from the super duper sized phone displays we see from Samsung etc. I did feel some awkwardness while reaching the top corners single handedly. This was maybe due to my heavy use of the iPod touch, which is a perfect fit at 3.7 inches. The display is one of the brightest and sharpest available today. It is very good outdoors and down right gorgeous inside.

Camera

The camera is vastly improved. Here is a sample of my first few clicks. The pictures are sharp and well lit. Auto focus is fast too and the camera is a good replacement for a point and shoot. This helps you capture the interesting and the beautiful from everyday life.

    

Wifi, GPS, Battery

I had an issue with the Wifi, but a little tinkering fixed it. I had to move to the G band on my router. Searching the Apple support forums was depressing as most people suggested for a replacement, which in my case would have meant anywhere between a month to six. Thankfully, the issue got sorted with a restart, but the reception is weaker than my iPod Touch. That can be said about the cellular network reception as well. While my Samsung Windows Phone never reported any network loss in my office (or maybe chose not to), I frequently see a network lost message.

Battery life is good for a phone this size. Charging is surprisingly fast, something that is yet to be seen in other devices. Since I do not own any accessories for the 30-pin connector, the new lightning port did not post any connectivity issues for me. Duel sided nature of the lightning connector is a huge blessing.

Radios are as expected. GPS and WiFi lock fast and do not drain the battery life. I chose to leave them on all times as the convenience outweighs the hassle of switching them off and on again. This was unthinkable with the WP7.

iOS6, Apps, iTunes, Maps, Siri & Facetime

The apps remain a strong point of the Apple ecosystem. I have a few loaded already, but maybe that's for another post some day.

Siri is supercool but has trouble with my accent for any real world use. The poor data connections do not help either.  I was successful in setting up some reminders, finding match schedules for my favorite football team, and send some texts, but nothing more. Siri still has difficulty pronouncing my name and the other integrations do not work in India, yet.

With iTunes music launch, things are looking good for this part of the world.

  

No maps in Apple maps. Thankfully, Google maps are now available on iOS.

Minor Cribs & Suggestions

The ringtones shipped could be improved. Apple maps is useless in India. But thats how I found out Waze. With Google maps now available, this is not an issue anymore.

Keyboard is good enough, as it was in the last century. It needs a new lease of life. Response is fast and accurate, but somehow I feel other options like swype keyboard maybe worth looking into.

I request Apple to provide a mechanism to skip songs while enjoying a morning/evening walk. Apple needs to provide some more user functions for the locked mode, apart from easy access to the Camera. This could be based on the current app running in the foreground. Music interaction and app notifications can be improved too. Plus, inter-app interactions do not exist. Apple should fix this. And perhaps freshen up the homescreen a bit?

By the way, I did a Facetime call on 3G. How cool is that?

In the end, I was a little sad at letting the Windows Phone 7 go. But the iPhone 5 is easily the best phone sized phone out there. Highly recommended.

That's it! Tune in later for a few recommendations on the apps I am using on the iPhone. Happy Valentines day!