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iPhone 5S, 5C Release Reveals Apple's True Direction

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Apple's event on the 10th was teased with the tagline, "This should brighten everyone's day." It has already drawn a powerful response.  Everyone was asking the question, "Does Apple still have it?"  The answer is a pretty clear, "No."

If you're looking for an iPhone 5 in a colorful new plastic case for $550, you're in luck.  If you're looking for an enhanced iPhone 5 in the old metal case, you're good there too.  If you're looking for innovation from Apple... sorry, you got iteration.

Watch the product videos on apple.com (not the keynote) and you will see Jony Ive speak about his personal artistic vision for the iPhone 5C.  (The "c" stands for color.)

The video says it all; Apple is now operating in a self-hypnotic state and actually believes that its job is to create objets d'art -- which is awesome, unless you are looking to buy a smartphone, in which case, you're looking at two-year old, obsolete technology.

Should you buy one?  Other than aesthetics, if you have an iPhone 4S or an iPhone 5, you should not upgrade to an iPhone 5S or 5C.  If you have an iPhone 4 or earlier, you might be able to justify it, but (to be frank) if you are still using an iPhone 3GS or earlier, your smartphone needs are so minimal, it doesn't matter what you buy.

Is there anyone who should buy an iPhone 5C or 5S?  Yes. Apple fans.  If you're a serious smartphone user, neither of these devices will be in your consideration set.

So what did we see?

Following a quick rundown of Apple's free "iTunes Festival," series of pop concerts, we were brought into the first notable announcement of the release. iWork -- that is Apple's suite of Office-esque productivity apps -- will now be free on every new iOS device.

This is a clear shot across Microsoft's bow and an acknowledgement that tablet computers are and will be taking over more and more traditional computer functionality. Is Apple trying to do to Microsoft what Microsoft did to Netscape? Is this a response to competition from the growing number of free cloud-based productivity solutions like Google Drive? It's hard to imagine otherwise.

The Rumors Were Almost All Exactly Correct.

Yes, the lower-end iPhone 5C is real. Yes it comes in five familiar colors. Yes, it is plastic. Yes, the entire world knew all of this in advance.  What we didn't know was how expensive it was going to be.  The "c" does not stand for "cheap."

It's no secret that Apple is locked in a battle with Samsung.  Samsung's recent surges have ridden on the strength is its enormous portfolio. It offers products in nearly every imaginable size, shape, speed and price-point -- which has translated into selling a lot of phones. Apple's not going to match its competitor feature for feature, but these devices are a major change from its previous product positioning. Can a halfway-there strategy work? There are a lot of doubters... I'm one of them.

Speed.

And what about the 5S?  It carries the same 4-inch retina display as the original iPhone 5 (some expected a bump in screen size), but comes in Gold, Silver and "Space Grey."

The real story here (at least according to Apple) is speed. The new phone features the company's A7 chip -- which they insist has "desktop class" architecture. Is that another nod towards a future that looks at these devices with more of an eye towards productivity? Could be.

The A7 will be the worlds first 64-bit chip found in a phone, and they claim the device will be about twice as fast as the previous model. That should make it a seriously powerful phone. In any case, Apple has finally caught up with other manufacturers in raw horsepower -- even if the 5C is a declaration that that power isn't necessary.

An Eye On Imaging

The other really major change here is the camera... and given the time devoted to it, Apple clearly wants this to be the real killer.

They've gone the same route as HTC-- preferring to stick with larger, higher quality sensors at a lower megapixel count.  In fact, they're sticking with the same 8 megapixels that's been with us since the iPhone 4S -- though recorded with a larger sensor. That, combined with a wider f2.2 aperture should allow it to take exceptional pictures.  It performs tone-mapping, stitches together simultaneously-taken pictures and a does a whole host of other fancy things meant to land excellent shots without fussing around.

There's also a new bi-color flash that automatically adjusts to produce more pleasing colors, a burst mode, automatically light-balancing panorama and a 120 frame-per-second slow-motion that can slow down videos to quarter speed. Each of these could be talked about at length on its own, suffice it to say -- Apple wants picture taking to be an absolutely key feature of this device.

Touching on Security

And finally, its anybody's guess how much of an impact the event's final announcement will make, but it's already stirred up some pretty heated debate. Apple has included a fingerprint scanner into the home button. They say this will not only make unlocking the device a breeze, but will make purchases from the App store easier and quicker as well.

The key detail? The scanning, storing and recognizing is done entirely onboard the phone and cannot be directly accessed by software. That should make even Edward Snowden a happy customer... but we're already seeing signs of grumbling and doubt from some.

A Few Conclusions...

So what do we make of all this? Here's my take:
  1. Apple's PR machine is as leaky as the Titanic. There were some tiny details to fill in, but the broad strokes were all entirely known ahead of time.
  2. We seem to be past the time of major, ground-shaking innovation. Apple, under Tim Cook, is all about tight, carefully crafted products over creating things the world has never seen before. Many headlining features of iOS 7 were tested out first in Android... and for better or worse Apple seems OK with that.
  3. A focus on mobile productivity is on the Horizon. Apple touted its "desktop-class" mobile architecture and made the iWork suite free on all new devices. If we want to know what the future holds, these are the tealeaves to be read.
  4.  A "flat" GUI is being balanced out by bolder hardware design. Colors, texture, customizability... We haven't seen these things pushed in a real way in a long time. Say goodbye to flat black.
  5. User experience has returned to the forefront. This used to really be Apple's thing -- and while it hasn't exactly disappeared, they've emphasized that somewhat less ever since they found they could make a whole bunch of kickass devices the world had never seen before. The original iPod seemed impossible... as did the iPhone. But today's hardware is fast and dense enough (The 5s is 50 times faster than the original iPhone according to the presentation.) to handle basically any task you throw at it. So now we're seeing a return to making those bits and pieces work as seamlessly and invisibly as possible. Apple could have included NFC in the device, but it didn't. They could have thrown in a bigger display, but they didn't. They could have included all sorts of bells and whistles, but decided instead on simplicity, consistency and ease of use. iOS 7 will highlight this. iOS 7 plus iPhone 5s will really highlight this. And that, my friends, is Apple under Tim Cook.
As always, consumers will vote with their checkbooks. What do you think of Apple's new direction?

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