It’s become fairly common for me to spy someone using an iPhone with a spiderwebbed, cracked screen. It’s usually an older model, an iPhone 3GS or iPhone 4, one that works mostly fine, except for the broken glass. The owner is holding on to it just long enough to make it to the next upgrade.
Note that these people are usually trading in their cracked screen not for any old replacement phone from a different company, but for another iPhone.
For many, that next phone will be the iPhone 5 Apple announced this week. Pre-orders began on Friday, and shipping — or in-person sales at Apple retail stores and other participating outlets — begins Sept. 21.
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To recap quickly, here are some specs of Apple’s new flagship device:
The iPhone 5 makes the first screen-size adjustment since the original iPhone debuted five years ago, incorporating a 4-inch (diagonal) high-resolution “Retina” display that keeps the same width as existing models but stretches taller. That size allows for one more row of app icons amid the precious screen real estate, and gives the screen a true 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio when viewed in its landscape (wide) orientation.
A bigger iPhone doesn’t necessarily mean larger, however. The iPhone 5 is thinner (0.3 inch, or 7.6 mm) and lighter (3.95 ounces, or 112 grams) than the iPhone 4S. And, according to Apple, battery life is actually improved.
It features speedy 4G LTE cellular data, which in Seattle is currently offered only by Verizon; AT&T says its LTE coverage will appear here by the end of the year. Wi-Fi performance is better, too, with support for data networking in the less crowded and more efficient 5 GHz band.
As you would expect, the new iPhone is powered by a new, faster processor that speeds up everything and provides software features such as a dynamic, lowlight photo capture and improved video stabilization.
The new iPhone also uses a new connector, dubbed Lightning, that’s smaller and (hurray!) reversible. There’s no “top” or “bottom” to figure out late at night when you’re plugging a cable in to charge in the dark. (An adapter that lets you use your existing 30-pin connector cable is also for sale, for a hefty $29.)
If you own an iPhone 4 or 4S, most of these changes may seem like relatively minor iterations. But as with most of Apple’s products these days, the iPhone 5 isn’t really intended for customers who’ve purchased a recent-generation model.
Yes, Apple is happy to sell a new phone to someone every year, but I’ll bet a majority of folks buying new iPhone 5s are running out the last fumes of their iPhone 3G or 3GS, are completely new to the iPhone after using “dumb” feature phones, or are at the end of their two-year contracts for smartphones that were never able to update to later versions of the Android operating system.
This last point is important because many of the iPhone 5’s improvements will also be available to people who own iPhone 4 and 4S models and don’t need to upgrade right away.
iOS 6, which comes out Sept. 19, replaces the current Maps app with an all new endeavor. It includes a snazzy 3-D mode, but what I think will be more useful is a new turn-by-turn directions system. The app will direct you, using Siri’s voice, without requiring that you buy a an expensive third-party driving app.
iOS 6 also features Passbook, a new app that keeps track of gift cards, movie tickets, airline tickets, and other electronic purchases that typically require paper or plastic.
Because you probably have your iPhone with you most of the time, you can pay for items by displaying the appropriate account — such as a prepaid card — and having its bar code scanned by the vendor. Starbucks offers this now with its iOS app, but imagine being able to check in for a flight or confirm a hotel reservation as well.
Whether your current iPhone is on its last gasps or still has some life left in it, the iPhone 5 and iOS 6 look to improve the way you interact with your smartphone over the long-term, which is the most important consideration.
Jeff Carlson and Glenn Fleishman write the Practical Mac column for Personal Technology and about technology in general for
The Seattle Times and other publications. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
More columns at www.seattletimes.com/