You’ve seen the local TV news spots showing people lined up all night outside an electronics store waiting to buy the latest iPhone the first day it goes on sale. Have you ever seen such examples of technolust for a new Android phone? I haven’t.
So there must be something special about the iPhone, some tangible quality that sets this one brand apart from the literally thousands of models of Android smartphones available. The Apple phone must inspire such brand loyalty with something more than just the cachet associated with the Apple brand, which has become a byword for quality, ease of use and simplicity.
That quality can be summed up in one word: elegance. From its clean yet sleek industrial design to its completely reworked new operating system, iOS 7, to its seamless integration of well designed apps, the iPhone sets the gold standard for how a smartphone should “look and feel”. This phrase was actually coined by Apple to describe the user experience across its entire product line of phones, computers, and iPods.
Steve Jobs was so obsessive about the quality of his company’s products that he mandated that even the circuits, processors and single purpose chips look as beautiful as the exterior design. This despite the fact that the average user never opens the Apple product to mess around with its internals, which Apple makes very difficult to do. This is unlike the Microsoft PC world, where it is common, and easy, to open the case and add RAM, internal hard drives or other devices.
Even the majority of Android phones are not bashful about exposing their internals. Most come with removable back covers allowing you to swap out batteries or add memory in the form of SDHD cards.
But the iPhone is not expandable. Neither can you swap out the battery. Yet Jobs’s insistence on internal beauty is telling. Apple is intent on producing the best smartphone money–lots of money–can buy. By most standards, they have succeeded.
Three models of iPhones are for sale from service carriers and resellers; the holdover 4S, the 5C, and the 5S. All three run the latest operating system, iOS 7. You can get a 4S for free with a new two-year contract, with its smaller 3.5 inch screen and paltry 8 gigabytes of storage. The popular iPhone 5 is dropped from the line-up, but it is not forgotten. It has instead morphed into the 5C, which is essentially the 5 wrapped in a plastic case that comes in a variety of colors. It will set you back $99 for 16 gigabytes, or $199 for the 32 gigabyte model.
The 5S is the flagship model, and is by far the most popular, selling 51 million units In just three months. Sales of the 5C have been woefully lower than projected. The 5S is available in three colors, has an aluminum back, and a four-inch Retina display screen it shares with the 5C.. It has the most powerful processor of the three, the A7, which Apple claims runs twice as fast as the A6 in the 5 and 5C. Also, it runs in 64-bit mode (meaning it processes data in larger chunks than industry-standard 32-bit processors), and costs from $199 for 16 gigabytes, $299 for 32 gigabytes to $399 for 64 gigabytes.
If you’re new to Apple, or looking to upgrade from a 4S or older, the 5S is the phone you want. Innovations abound. The phone’s new biometric fingerprint unlock sensor is drawing the most attention. It has been tried before on other phones and laptops but they were usually buggy and unreliable. Apple nailed it with the 5S. Users find it works flawlessly, your print is stored on the phone, not in an Apple server, and it can also be used to sign into iTunes when making purchases.
Core apps in iOS 7 are written to take advantage of 64 bit mode; very few new apps have been rewritten for the new technology. In fact many reviewers’ main complaint is not a lack of features in the new phones but rather an abundance of them that will not be fully utilized by new third party apps before the phone’s successor, the iPhone 6, is released–as early as this June.
But Why Should I Pay a Premium for the iPhone?
Simply because the iPhone is, as mentioned earlier, the most elegant phone in terms of hardware, software integration, ease of use, aesthetic user interface design, quality of available apps, and timely and regular roll outs of system software upgrades. The iPhone just feels “right” when held in one hand. The new operating system offers the most popular features formerly unique to Android, such as split screen multi-tasking, and a quick-access pull down control panel to toggle such services as Bluetooth, WiFi, 4G LTE, and other common settings.
The completely overhauled new iOS 7 aims for beauty in minimalism. “It looks Swiss,” said one Apple designer. Textures, 3-D icons and ornate fonts are gone. Pastel color backgrounds and simple buttons now predominate. It is hard to describe the overall effect in words without actually seeing it, but it is clean, clutter free, and pleasing to the eye.
The 5S also packs an always-on motion sensor chip, the M7, which uses next to no juice from the battery but can provide information to apps that need it as to whether you are walking, driving, and even if it’s night or day.
The following is not specific to the 5S, but to all iPhones, and helps explains their wide appeal. First is that seamless integration quality mentioned earlier. Apple is the only company that both manufactures its own hardware and writes its operating system, as opposed to Android makers who obtain the OS from Google and adapt it to their hardware, overlaying the stock interface with their own and adding custom apps which cannot be removed by the user.
The iPhone is beautiful to look upon, elegant in design and perfectly sized for simple one handed operation.
Mind Your Manners
Unlike Google, Apple has a very strict set of standards for its legion of app developers. Apps must, in general, adhere to the same ease of use as the OS and Apple’s core apps. They must play nicely not only with the system apps but also with the nearly one million other apps available in iTunes. In short, they must not crash, or cause others to crash. They are carefully checked for malicious code, such as Trojans and viruses, and as a result iPhones are completely free of such threats. (99.9 percent of malware is found in Google Play and other Android app stores.).
The biggest threat you face as an owner of an iPhone is theft of the device itself. I have only seen this figure in one source and cannot verify it, but one tech journal said that as many as 50 percent of iPhones will be stolen. This sounds high but there is no question that iPhones are much desired by thieves. However, the new fingerprint biometric unlock screen will foil thieves trying to actually use or sell their booty; the fingerprint lock remains in the phone even if the phone is wiped clear of all data, and even if the OS is wiped and replaced with a new copy.
An app also links to an application on your computer which allows you to wipe all data from your phone remotely. A word of advice: Buy theft insurance.
The Best Apps First
The newest and best apps and games invariably appear first on Apple devices. Many but not all will later appear on Android, but they are often inferior in execution. They feel like “ports”, they don’t look as good and may lack desirable features found in their iPhone versions. One reason for this is the problem called fragmentation; many different phones running various older iterations of the Android operating system.
To illustrate, the makers of Temple Run, a popular graphics-intensive action game which debuted on the iPhone, were flooded with complaints from users once it was released for Android that the game would not run on their device, yet the game had been written to run on 700 specific Android phones.
The iPhone-first philosophy of developers is especially true for games. The high resolution iPhone screen, combined with its high-powered processor, have made it popular for gaming and may soon surpass dedicated game devices such as the Nintendo DS as the gamer’s platform of choice.
Built to Last
Build quality is the best of all phones. Your iPhone will not suffer from physical defects, such as dead pixels, light leaks around the edges of the screen, or simple white-screen-of-death total system failure that plague other companies’ phones.
And they are durable. Not only do they use Corning’s tough, scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass 2, but they continue to function way past their OS expiration date. Thus their resale value is very high, and I would suggest potential buyers looking to save money check eBay or Amazon for used or refurbished units. I can’t think of a single Android phone which I would recommend buying used. I’ve seen six year old iPhone 1’s still being used as music players docked to external speaker consoles.
Although the Google Play store now hosts over one million apps, more than iTunes, a much larger number of Android apps are free than on Apple’s store, another reason developers concentrate first on making apps for the iPhone. And iPhone and iPad users seem to be more willing to pay for apps. Although Android accounts for 81percent of the smartphone market, Apple receives 80 percent of revenue generated by the sale of all smartphone and tablet apps.
The iPhone’s camera is among the top three of all brands, and both the camera and its built-in software have been dramatically improved in the 5S. It shoots video at the highest resolution, and it’s added a new trick: You can film in slow motion. The slo-mo is actually accomplished during playback, and cannot be transferred to your computer, but it’s a neat trick and can be shared with other iOS 7 devices.
A huge number of accessories are available for the iPhone, ranging from cases to docking music players to game controllers. These are relatively rare for Android devices, given the multitude of hardware configurations and no clear leader in the market to make it profitable to build such accessories for.
Siri, the voice activated personal assistant, has been much improved over its less than stellar initial release and now speaks in a more human voice and responds to a much wider set of commands.
The iPhone is a high end media device. Not only is the selection of music and movies the largest in the world, but the listening and viewing experience is at least as good as that of the highest-end Android phones. There is a virtual iPod inside every iPhone, and the 5S comes with new in-ear phone buds, which Apple claims were three years in the making. Though they’re a distinct improvement over the previously standard ear buds, they’re no match for higher end, third party ear buds.
Does Size Matter?
The single arguable drawback to the iPhone, both as a media device and web browser, is the relatively small four-inch screen, while the market for larger screens is growing rapidly. Rumors are rife that Apple will feature a 4.7-inch screen in its upcoming iPhone 6 release, as well as an as-yet-unnamed 5.7-inch screen iPhone/iPad hybrid.
But many people prefer the smaller form factor of the iPhone over the new giant Androids. In my personal experience I’ve been perfectly satisfied with the four inch, crystal clear iPhone Retina display. Plus it’s conveniently pocketable and very thin and lightweight. If I want to watch a movie on a portable device I simply use my seven-inch tablet, or Apple fans can use their iPad or iPad Mini. But it’s fine for web browsing, reading books, watching YouTube videos, keeping in touch with friends on Facebook or other social media, and so much more.
The iPhones come with a suite of fine apps ranging from office productivity apps, photo image manipulation and storage, video editing software, and personal information and note taking apps. There are of course paid third-party apps which do the same things or which expand on the feature set of the gimme built-in apps, but I’ve felt no compelling reason to buy them. Consider Apple’s freebies an up-front money saving feature.
The iPhone is a fabulous, groundbreaking phone. The major issue facing potential buyers is the high price. Apple’s business model is to build world class devices and sell them at a high profit margin. Owners of Macintosh computers have accepted this trade off. This business model has made Apple one of the largest, most highly valued and profitable companies in the world. On the other hand they give exceptional value both in hardware and product support.
I would recommend the iPhone, especially the 5S, to people who demand quality, long life, ease of use, capability in both personal and complex business tasks, and who don’t mind and can afford to pay for them.
So Android or iPhone? Which is better? Read my take on the best cell phone.
Paul Croke, former newspaper editor and longtime Washington DC area freelance writer, has loved gadgets and consumer electronics since he saw his first Dick Tracy watch. He writes about consumer technology.