The iPhone 5

I haven’t been this apprehensive about a new iPhone release since I bought the iPhone 3G back in 2008. I’ve seen and played with enough larger screened devices to know I didn’t like them. They felt too big in my hand and too big in my pocket and I didn’t like that feeling. If anything I often think I want a smaller phone, not a bigger one.

So I debated whether to buy an iPhone 5 or not. I couldn’t go without one for good, that’s for certain. As a developer I have to play with my software on the device in order to see how it works and feels. But I was thinking maybe I’d just get an iPod touch with the 4″ screen and skip this release cycle for the iPhone, wait for the next rev.

It just so happened that at midnight my wife came to bed and I woke up. I still didn’t know what I wanted to do and that was compounded by the fact that when I went online I first saw that I didn’t get the full discount and then the system went belly up before I could make up my mind. A message appeared from Apple, though, saying there were problems, my spot was reserved, and I’d be getting an email in the morning to finish my order. Averting a decision, I went back to bed.

In the morning three things happened: I read John Gruber’s excellent review, found out that no one else on my team was able to order one for the 21st, and realized that the iPod touch won’t ship until sometime in October. So I ordered mine, still not knowing whether I’d use it or go over to AT&T to have them switch me back to the 4s.

Here’s my summary: worth every penny.

I’m so glad I bought it. It is a much nicer device then the 4/4s series. The thing that jumped out at me immediately was the weight. If I held an iPhone 4s in my hand and held an iPhone 5 in my hand, they didn’t feel drastically different. But the longer I held the 5 the lighter it felt. I thought the taller screen would be awkward, too, but it turns out that it feels right. Now when I look at any of its predecessors, they all look oddly small. Some reviewers have commented that the iPhone 5 feels solid but feels like it’s one of those fake devices where there are no guts in the thing. That’s a good summary although not quite that light. When I put it in my pocket I don’t notice it is there. The weight and size feel perfect.

A few things of interest. First, Apple moved the headphone jack to the bottom of the device. This makes sense as it matches the natural way I put the device in my pocket, top down. I no longer risk dropping the phone while I pivot it in my hand before sliding it into my pocket. Given that, it is taking me some time to remember that the power button is on the opposite side of the device and the swipe is closest to the headphone jack.

Second, I love the extra row of buttons on the home screen. I don’t like folders. It hides functionality, making an extra tap to get to anything. With the taller screen, all of the apps I care the most about can sit on my home screen and I still have a couple of slots open for whatever apps I am playing with at the moment.

Third, I am amazed that almost every app I have is already updated for the taller screen. I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised as I mostly use content apps and those tend to be the easiest to update.

Fourth, the transition was ridiculously smooth. Start the device, log into iCloud, and walk away. Everything downloads and recovers, just the way I left it on the previous device. (The update from iOS 5 to iOS 6 on the iPad was just as easy.) I did have to log into a couple of apps that required a password but that wasn’t a big deal.

Fifth, I spend a lot of time in email. Because I tend to want to know who I am when I’m responding (personal, business, etc.), I tend to navigate to different inboxes rather than use the unified one. Apple added two new features: VIP which lets me designate certain people when I hear from them and Flagged, which shows me all the emails that I marked that way. I find these to be a bit annoying with two many inbox badges on the screen, but that’s mostly because it breaks my traditional usage of the email app. I can’t help but wonder if my usage will change because of it.

Sixth, early iOS 6 beta reports were that Apple removed the Podcasts tab from the Music app. I’m happy to report that it was there in the release build. This makes me very happy as I still have one place to go for all my music/spoken word entertainment needs plus can keep a single app on the home screen for such purposes.

Seventh, maps is maps. The app is nice, lots of people have talked about the problems, and I don’t use it enough to care. If you want to learn more about this one, go do a web search as there is plenty of bitching and moaning about it. I will say, though, that Google would be smart to get a version out as soon as possible. Many commentators have been speculating that Google should delay to punish Apple and give Android a competitive advantage. But data from users is the life blood of improving these maps apps. The best thing Google could do is deprive Apple of the customer data they need to improve the product.

Eighth, and last, the camera changes are very well done. I particularly like the new panorama mode. It stitches together an amazingly awesome shot. When I first learned to do this, it was take multiple pictures, scan the slides, then use Photoshop to stitch them together using a burn tool or something else. Now, Apple does it for you and does a much better job then I ever learned to do.

That’s enough for now. I will say that I am impressed enough with it that my wife may upgrade her iPhone 4 later this year when her contract is up. That’s a far cry from where I was at midnight a week ago, trying to decide whether I wanted to invest in the thing at all!