Apple’s New iPhones Are Stuck In The Past

wayne Rash

Apple won’t win new users with iPhones that don’t innovate, says Wayne Rash

Apple’s announcement of the latest version of the iPhone was based on specifications and performance rather than significant new features, which was a fairly unusual thing for Apple.

Normally the company avoids the war of specifications and instead tries to trump the competition with cool new features that the others can’t match. This time, though, it was specifications—probably because that’s all that Apple has to point to.

iphone 5SWhat’s new?

The much-anticipated Apple iPhone 5C and 5S don’t bring much that’s significantly new to the table. The iPhone 5S has the same display, the same apps and the same amount of memory as its predecessor. While there are improvements, not all of them will be important to users.

The big news for the iPhone 5 product line is that the original iPhone 5 is being discontinued. Unlike previous generations of the iPhone, this time the old model won’t be available at a lower price. Instead, the iPhone 4S will be the low cost leader. The iPhone 5C takes over as the mid-priced option with its polycarbonate case of many colors. The iPhone 5S takes over as the flagship model.

There’s some news beyond that. The 5S gets a better wireless radio and a faster 64-bit processor. In addition, you’ll be able to get it in gold. The 5C has a better wireless radio. The iPhones will be delivered with iOS 7, but most other Apple mobile devices will also get this when Apple releases the operating system next week. The 5C can be pre-ordered on Friday 13th of  September, an auspicious day if ever there was one. Apple will actually ship both iPhones on 20th September.

So what do you get with the new iPhone that you don’t have already? Beyond the improved processor on the 5S, you get a better camera, which remains at 8 megapixels, but with an improved lens and better software. The most significant news for business users is that the 5S will come with a fingerprint sensor overlay on the home button.

The good news regarding the fingerprint sensor is that it will store the fingerprint data in the A7 processor and not in iCloud. The bad news is that this apparently means that only iOS 7 can use the fingerprint reader. Apps that may benefit from the improved security won’t have access to it [though Sean Michael Kerner says fingerprints are about ease of use, not security – Editor].

While it’s possible the Touch ID software that runs the sensor can have an interface that will work with apps, Apple hasn’t said that this is the case. Rather Apple emphasized that only Touch ID can use the sensor and that only iOS talks to Touch ID.

The 5C doesn’t have the fingerprint sensor. Instead it has colours—five of them. Apple has also created a series of cases that have matching or contrasting colours, and holes in the cases to show off the phone color. The 5C also has a steel frame designed to improve antenna reception, which will be good news to earlier iPhone customers. The 5S still has the aluminum case that the earlier iPhones had.

If all of this sounds underwhelming, that may explain why Apple’s stock took a dive of about 17 points when the new phones were unveiled. Even the new lower price for the 5C didn’t motivate investors who probably noticed that model’s price really isn’t that low compared with the competition. It’s just $100 less than the 5S in the US (£80 in the UK).

Stuck in the past

Did Apple do enough to really fire up the marketplace? Apparently not. The most significant improvements, such as the 64-bit processor, mean little to users who really just want to make phone calls, send texts or do a bit of work. The fancy camera on the 5S is nice, but it’s not as fancy as the camera on the Nokia Lumia 1020, which runs Windows Phone. Even the new Apple camera software doesn’t seem to have anything better than Nokia’s.

But perhaps the most important and surprising factor is the Apple iPhone 5S is still being delivered with a relatively tiny 4-inch screen, which I’ve already found to be too small to be useful. Despite the fact that the competition has already moved to larger screens, Apple remains firmly stuck in the past. And the past doesn’t win points when it comes to market share or prestige.

Of course there are plenty of people who will go out and buy the iPhone 5S convinced that it’s worth its $649  (from £549 in the UK) retail price because it’s cool. There will be others who are convinced that the 5C is a bargain because it’s $100 (£80) cheaper. Apple will sell plenty of iPhones to these people. But these aren’t going to convince the Android and Windows Phone users to switch, and that means that Apple isn’t going to stage a comeback because of these phones.

Yes, the Apple faithful will sing hosannas when the new iPhones hit the stores, but a company doesn’t win back market share by selling phones to the faithful, a fact that Wall Street obviously noticed when Apple’s share price dropped as soon as the 5C and 5S were introduced.

While I was already pretty sure what Apple was planning for this announcement, I was still disappointed. I’d always hoped that the company had something innovative rather than iterative in the wings. Sadly, it didn’t.

But wait! Was there more to the announcement? Try our iPhone 5S and 5C quiz!

Given the choice, which would you prefer?

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Originally published on eWeek.