Should You Wait for the iPhone 5?
For most companies, selling 26 million of any product would be reason to jump for joy. For Apple, however, when it posted iPhone sales of just 26 million in the previous quarter, it was a disappointment.
Analysts had predicted Apple would sell about 29 million iPhones, a drop from the 35.1 million sold the last quarter, but a manageable one. But 26 million is more like a free-fall — especially when you consider Apple’s iPhone sales increased over the same period in 2011, even though that year’s new model, the iPhone 4S, was still months away from being announced.
As CEO Tim Cook himself observed on Apple’s earnings call, speculation about the next iPhone — the so-called “iPhone 5” — may have played a part. After all, if you’re thinking about buying an iPhone, and you’re convinced Apple will debut its latest and greatest smartphone in a few short months, why wouldn’t you wait?
It’s not quite that simple, though. The same thoughts surely occurred to buyers last year, but there was no drop in sales until the summer, even though rumors were arguably even more rampant. There are two greater forces at work here: 1) The technologies that are rumored to be coming to the next iPhone are generational leaps in mobile tech, not mere incremental upgrades. And 2) Android is offering those very technologies, giving competing phones a greater edge.
So if you’re in the market for a smartphone today, is it a good idea to still wait patiently for the iPhone 5 (which, based on past history, is due to launch in the early fall) or should you start eyeing the competition? And why not get an iPhone 4S anyway? It’s still relatively new. Here’s what you should be thinking about:
Leaps in Mobile Tech
Apple, of course, hasn’t said one word about what the next iPhone will be, or even if there’ll be one. However, per usual, there are dozens if not hundreds of rumors and alleged leaks about what features the iPhone 5 will have. A couple of the most talked-about abilities the iPhone 5 might have are 4G LTE and NFC (near-field communication).
Anyone who’s used an LTE phone can tell you it’s a huge leap in connection speed over 3G technologies, which are what current iPhones all have (misleading indicators on the AT&T version be damned). There’s simply no way the iPhone 5 doesn’t have LTE. The connections give a speed boost to all data tasks — from watching HD videos to downloading email attachments.
However, this doesn’t come free. In addition to buying the new phone, you may want to get a new data plan, since LTE phones, by their nature, eat up data much more quickly. Also keep in mind that the carriers are pushing for users to switch away from unlimited plans. The carriers haven’t said anything about what sort of plans will be available for the iPhone 5 either, but it seems doubtful any unlimited plans will be in the cards, even “grandfathered” ones.
Then there’s NFC, the extremely short-range wireless tech that enables mobile payments. This feature is becoming so commonplace on phones that it’s hard to see Apple ignoring it yet again. In addition, many see Apple’s introduction of Passbook in iOS 6 as its first step into the mobile-payments space. Apple needs to have NFC in the next iPhone if it hopes to have any real influence there.
Besides the addition of LTE and NFC, there looks to be a strong chance Apple will pump up the size of the iPhone’s screen to at least 4 inches and shrink the dock connector to a mini-size proprietary plug. Both upgrades have obvious advantages, although a smaller jack would present an issue for anyone who uses a lot of legacy iPhone accessories. While Apple would be crazy not to release an adapter, it might not be included with the phone and it’s not necessarily something you’d carry around with you in any case.
At the same time, a smaller dock connector would help Apple improve on one of the features it holds up high: its thin design.
So waiting for the iPhone 5 seems like a good idea, mainly for the high-speed LTE connection and larger screen, but NFC and a potentially slimmer phone are nice, too (again, all rumor). However, if you wanted all those features and aren’t yet an iPhone user, you can get them all today from any number of handsets on the Android platform.
Besides all those hardware features, Android phones have better native camera apps than the iPhone’s. Newer Android phones like the HTC One X and Samsung Galaxy S III are equipped with burst modes and the ability to snap pictures while shooting video. On top of that, with the latest OS software, Jelly Bean, Android phones can now match Siri in terms of voice abilities.
It’s with the software, however, where Android falls down. Fragmentation is a huge problem for the platform, meaning once you commit to a device, it’s a big question mark as to when the latest version of the Android OS — or even the one before that — will be available to you.
As for the other platform options, Windows Phone and BlackBerry, both Microsoft and RIM are planning major upgrades — with new hardware — in the next several months. As a first-time purchase, neither are really worth considering until then.
Waiting: Smarter Than Usual
While it’s generally a bad idea to wait for a mythical product with phantom features, the iPhone 5 is a special case. We can reasonably predict what some of the major upgrades will be over the iPhone 4S, and they are indeed major (LTE being the biggie).
The iPhone 4S is still a fine phone — it’s thin, it has a well-performing processor in the dual-core Apple A5 chip and of course there’s Siri. But speaking as someone who reviews competing phones regularly, it’s starting to look, well, old. In addition to obvious advantage of LTE, competing handsets are thinner, faster, lighter and have bigger screens.
The iPhone 5 looks sure to have most, if not all of those things, too, but it won’t get here for a few months. Should you wait? If you were thinking about an iPhone 4S, I’d say yes — at least for most people. But if you’re not yet married to Apple, the latest Android phones already have pretty much everything that will make the next iPhone special (probably).
Apple can blame rumors and speculation all it wants, but the bottom line is that the current iPhone is now a generation behind, technologically, the state-of-the-art phones of today. LTE, NFC and big screens aren’t incremental upgrades — they’re the features that will define smartphones for the next few years. For anyone dead-set on buying an Apple phone that will stay current for more than a few months, though, the smart choice is to wait.