Can the iPhone 5 front up to Samsung?

Monday 17 September 2012 12.30
Apple's latest iPhone set to hit the shops this week
Apple's latest iPhone set to hit the shops this week

So the presentation is over and now the wait begins. On Friday September 21 Apple fanboys in the US will be able to get their hands on an iPhone 5. Hopefully the Irish market will be served the following week on September 28 - a far cry from the almost 10-month period between the release of the original iPhone and its arrival on these shores thanks to an exclusive deal with O2. A lot has changed in the preceding five years. The company has shifted the focus of smartphones away from hardware to apps Apple created the app economy, has made iOS more profitable than all of Microsoft, and now owns 17% of the market, according to analysts IDC. Once king of the mobile space, Nokia has now been reduced to also-ran status, while handsets running Google's open source mobile OS Android constitute a 68% market share diffused across a range of brands led by Samsung, Sony and HTC. With the iPhone just another part of the consumer landscape what could Apple possibly do to disrupt the status quo, especially after the lukewarm reaction to the hardly groundbreaking iPhone 4S - only an incremental improvement on its predecessor.

On the TechCentral podcast we've been as guilty as anyone of being sucked into iPhone 5 hype vacuum, especially as trends in the mobile space have progressed in tandem with improved broadband networks, more elaborate third party apps and faster chips.

Right now Samsung's flagship Galaxy S III is the iPhone's main competitor. It has a monstrous 4.8" screen; quad-core processor with 1Gb RAM; 8MP and 1.9MP rear- and front - facing cameras; connectivity to long term evolution (LTE) networks; near field communication (NFC); expandable memory; microUSB connection; and a choice of 12-, 32- and 64- Gb models. How would Apple respond?

Despite getting off to a poor start with our predictions - we were sure the '5' would be dropped in favour of the more prosaic 'iPhone - our hit rate was accurate, if lacking in specifics.

We argued that evergreen areas like screen size (4"), resolution (1136x640 at 326ppi), camera (8MP rear- and 1.2 front-facing with full HD recording), processor (a new A6 chip) and battery life (225 hours standby and 8 hours talk on 2G and 3G and 40 hours music playback) would all be improved on and were right. We said LTE connectivity (delivering downloads of up to 75.4Mb/s) was vital and were right again. We trusted in the grapevine and leaked images for information on a smaller 'nano-SIM' card, redesigned 'Lightning' connector (reduced from 30 pins to eight) and the repositioning of the headphone jack from the top to the bottom of the chassis, and were rewarded. We had accepted we would never see Flash, USB or expandable memory so we weren't disappointed when none of them were announced.

Where we missed the mark was on the absence of NFC, a €29 price point on a Lightning adaptor and retention of the same 16/32/64Gb storage options. We were also trumped on price point, which remains the same as the iPhone 4S on release and the decision to go exclusively with an aluminium and glass construction - areas we didn't even speculate on.

So far, so Apple: a series of technological advancements sacrificing spec for features consumers are more likely to use on a daily basis - hence no NFC. Based on the hardware Samsung should have nothing to worry about, but the iPhone 5's advantage is not in spec, but aesthetics.

Samsung's Galaxy S III is a behemoth. At 136.6x70.6x8.6mm and weighing 133g it's longer and lighter than the iPhone 4S, and its 4.8" screen far outstrips the 4S' 3.5". What iPhone 5 gives up in screen size and length, however, it more than makes up for in form factor. At 123.8x58.6x7.6mm and 112g it's shorter and narrower but also much thinner and lighter. Marry that advantage with the iOS user experience and you have a real reason for iPhone 4 or 3GS owners to make the move.

By shifting the focus from spec to build quality with the iPhone 5 Apple has found another way to stay ahead of the competition without delivering bleeding edge tech. It will delight fans and infuriate hardcore techies in equal measure.

By the way, my final prediction was that it would sell like hotcakes regardless. Let's see how that pans out from Friday.

Niall Kitson is editor of TechCentral.ie