My frustrating disconnect with the iPhone 5

22 Oct

The iPhone 5 is a fine piece of technology. However, it’s new connector port renders thousands of peripheral devices obsolete.

Sales of Apple’s iPhone took a dip earlier this year, apparently because people were waiting for the new iPhone 5 to make its debut.

That rings true, because I was one of them. I’ve been eligible for an upgrade to my iPhone 3GS for months now but held off, knowing we were due for a new iPhone.

The iPhone 5 was launched in September to the usual fanfare. When the dust cleared, most critics were pleased. The screen is a half-inch longer, which does make a difference in a phone this size (and enables 16:9 viewing on the full screen). It’s also noticeably thinner and lighter. It has a faster processor, which allows apps to open and run more quickly, and there are significant improvements to the camera. The phone can run on the super-fast LTE network, which is moot because we don’t have that in this province (yet) – though it does have better wifi performance. Oh, and the sound quality of calls has been enhanced noticeably (this is a phone, after all).

According to tech site cnet.com, the iPhone 5 is “absolutely the best iPhone to date, and it easily secures its place in the top tier of the smartphone universe.” Another leading site, mashable.com, says it’s “the best iPhone yet, and not by a little bit, either.”

Okay, so here’s the strange thing: I don’t own the iPhone 5 yet. In fact, I have been thinking seriously about getting the iPhone 4S.

It’s not because of the usual glitches that come with a new build (which include a reported purple haze in some photos and a clunky map application that Apple admits is “imperfect”). And it’s not because of the price differential – $79 for the 4S and $179 for the 5 (both 16 GB), on a three-year contract.

No, it’s about a small but significant hardware change on the phone itself. They went and changed the connector; that little input on the bottom that charges the device and uploads content. It’s gone, replaced by a smaller input.

This means that thousands of accessories that worked for previous iPhones will not work on the iPhone 5. All those fancy and expensive speaker docks you see at the electronics store? They won’t work – at least, not without a $30 adaptor.

This really grinds my gears. I’ve got more than $600 tied up in a Zeppelin speaker system, $150 in a Logitech portable dock, and $50 on a car charger. And the new iPhone will fit none of it.

I thought seriously about jilting the iPhone 5, and began to flirt with the 4S. Released just a year ago, it’s still a fairly new device and a fine piece of technology in its own right. It will also work on my Zeppelin.

I started a discussion about this in Facebook – always a great place to crowd-source divergent points of view – and really was leaning toward the 4S. But then a friend made a couple of salient points, pointing out that the $100 price difference should not be a consideration. After all, many of us spend double that every month on our cellular and data packages, so there is no point skimping on hardware.

Also, smartphones these days have a realistic life of three years. The phone itself should last longer than that, but the operating systems are advancing continuously and the processor in a three-year-old device just can’t keep up with the latest upgrades. By this reasoning the 4S, being a year old, could be obsolete in two years.

Yes, we are talking generalities here. The 4S may hold up quite well. However, my iPhone 3GS is three years old and it has slowed down noticeably. The phone feels old and tired because its processor just can’t keep up anymore.

There’s also this: most high-end docks and other peripherals now run on wifi, so the connector port is rapidly becoming irrelevant.

So here’s where this is settling out. I will buy the iPhone 5 and get the latest technology while it’s still new. My old iPhone will become a dedicated music player. The home button only works part of the time, making it difficult to navigate between apps, but it will be fine if I leave it in iTunes. And it will continue to work in my Zeppelin.

Problem solved.

I will offer my own take on the iPhone 5 in a future column.

Geoff Meeker is a communications consultant with a soft spot for technology. He also writes a blog about the local media scene, which is hosted at http://www.thetelegram.com.

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