iPhone 5: A New Angle (Part 1)

11/30/2012 3:50:51 PM

Meet the iPhone 5. It’s an iPhone… but with a twist

IT’S THE WEIGHT you notice first. Yes, it’s 18% thinner, but the iPhone 5 is also 20% lighter than the 4S, and if you’ve been using the previous model for the past year or one of the heavier iPhones that preceded it the loss of mass is what your hand registers as soon as you take hold of it. It’s not quite like picking up one of those empty dummy phones in a shop not that you’d ever find anything so naff in an Apple Store but it’s getting there.

And yet, far from being empty, this new iPhone is packed tighter than ever with even more remarkable electronics. So familiar does it look at first glance that there were a few raised eyebrows at the point in the launch event when Jonathan Ive, in a prerecorded video package, said the iPhone 5 had been ‘completely redesigned’. Completely? Really?

Description: Meet the iPhone 5. It’s an iPhone… but with a twist

Meet the iPhone 5. It’s an iPhone… but with a twist

But to doubt this just because it’s another flat phone with a metal edge and a similar corner radius is to forget what Ive never would: that, as Steve Jobs put it, ‘Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.’

How an iPhone works is pretty much all of the last hundred years of physics crammed into a matchbox or, now, a bit less than a matchbox. ‘To achieve a design this thin,’ explained hardware chief Bob Mansfield, who’s been designing micro-processors for 30 years, ‘we had to look at making many of the components smaller. It took an incredible cross-collaborative effort to do this.’

It must be frustrating for Mansfield, who’s retiring this year (with a watching brief reporting to Tim Cook) to make way for his lieutenant and former Raycer Graphics colleague Dan Riccio, that Apple declines to talk about some of its greatest technical achievements. The A6 ‘system on a chip’ in the iPhone 5, although based, as with all iOS devices, on technology from Cambridge’s ARM Holdings, is the first to have been designed in-house by Apple, and its performance is, as it’s surely only a matter of time before the excitable Cook declares in a keynote, off the hook. Measured by the Geekbench CPU test, not only is it more than twice as fast as the iPhone 4S or the 2012 iPad, it’s faster than the top-end Macs Apple was making just a few years ago, before the switch to Intel.

This is quite a blow to the conventional wisdom that the iPhone is an underpowered mobile device that simulates broad computing capability using clever software. We might have to get used to shelling out our $952 not for a fancy phone that runs cute apps, but for an enormously powerful business and entertainment system that, by the magic of Mansfield, has some-how been shrink-rayed into a sleek, sharp enclosure as narrow as a pencil. Perhaps that should be what we notice first.


Battery Similar to that in the iPhone 4S, the battery is now powering a much faster processor but by increasing the efficiency of components, Apple has kept battery life much the same, or in some cases longer. Talk time is quoted as 8 hours, as before, but now the figure for 3G internet browsing is the same, up from six hours. Some users in the US have reported much shorter times when using cellular connections, particularly affected by weak signals. We haven’t seen this effect in the UK, so maybe it’s an issue with US networks. You’re still unlikely to get through a whole day without having to charge your iPhone, and the Lightning connector means you won’t find as many compatible chargers and docks around, so consider investing in a portable power pack such as Just Mobile’s Gum Plus.

Description: The battery is now powering a much faster processor

The battery is now powering a much faster processor

Construction The  iPhone 4S came in for some flak from repairers, because getting at almost any component was very tricky; even the screen was hard to replace because the device opened from the back, leaving dozens of parts to clear out of the way to get at the panel. The good news is that the iPhone 5 is vastly easier to disassemble, according to The display can be pulled off with a sucker after removing the two five-pointed screws on the bottom edge using the correct tool. The battery, though not officially user-replaceable, also comes out easily. There’s more use of screws and pop-on/off fixings rather than glue.

Camera On the left is the iPhone 5’s iSight camera; on the right, the iPhone 4S (both made by Sony). Not a lot of change is in evidence.


Processor While Apple has released no details of the A6 processor beyond saying it’s twice as fast as its predecessor, industry experts including Chipworks have established that this is the first iOS chip Apple has designed itself, based on ARM technology as usual. It has two CPU and three GPU cores, the CPU designs laid out by hand a long and expensive undertaking to maximise efficiency.

Performance The processor design effort has certainly paid off. Geekbench, a popular CPU benchmark, rates the iPhone 5 well over twice as fast as the iPhone 4S; it’s even twice as fast as the 3rd generation iPad, with its superior A5X chip. According to the SunSpider test, JavaScript in web pages runs twice as fast as on the 4S and three times faster than the iPhone 4. The 3rd generation iPad features very powerful graphics processors, so in 3D frame rate tests the iPhone 5 beats it more narrowly, but it’s still more than twice as fast as the 4S. Not only does this mean the iPhone 5 feels very responsive, it also means developers can attempt more ambitious apps whether gaming, creative or business.


There are obvious reasons why apple prefers to keep its upcoming products a closely guarded secret until the day it announces them, and even better reasons why it doesn’t announce them until they’re just about ready to ship. The downside, though, is that anyone planning to make compatible accessories has to begin the complex process of tooling up for this no sooner than the day Apple chooses to reveal all, and as a result it’s rare for any add-ons to materialize on launch day.

Description: Accessories of iPhone

Accessories of iPhone

In fact, it can take months for a decent range to become available, and while the iPhone 4S was a welcome exception to the rule, retaining almost exactly the same exterior design as its predecessor, the iPhone 5 is not. Both taller and thinner, with its headphone port at the opposite end, means it won’t fit most existing cases and stands. High-end accessory maker Just Mobile tells us it’s working on a new version of its classic Xtand and a modification of the in car Xtand Go, although products like the Gum power packs and Highway car chargers will work with the iPhone 5’s supplied USB cable.

Some case makers have been quick off the mark, with brands like Cygnett, iChic Gear, StilGut and STM already shipping versions of their established designs in the new format (try for a selection).

But the biggest challenge is the Lightning connector. Unique to Apple, it’s a brand new digital interface that makers will have to license in order to sell certified compatible products a process that can take months or reverse engineer to make generic clones. Don’t expect a wide choice of Lightning add-ons this year.

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