Ten days with iPhone 5 and iOS 6

I love my new iPhone 5. It’s a greater leap forward than I gave Apple credit for in my post about the product’s announcement in September.

It’s an amazingly light and thin phone. You hardly know it’s there in your pocket. But the best thing is the camera. This is a real camera, not the apology for one in my old iPhone 4 and iPhone 3G. It works well in poor light, unlike its predecessors.  And Siri is fun, although erratic.

iPhone 5 comes with the latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system, iOS 6. This brings cool features such as shared photostreams and Facebook integration. The biggest change is a new Apple Maps app, replacing the old Google-based Maps app. Apple has faced a firestorm of criticism for the failings of the new Maps app. My early experience suggests that it simply wasn’t ready for release. The maps themselves are grey (Apple’s favourite colour right now) and unappealing. But the worst failing is the dreadfully poor information about locations, businesses and services.

Take one example from nearby Amersham:

IMG_5818

Apple Maps: bringing Woolworths back to life

According to Apple, Woolworths has risen from the dead. (It closed in Britain almost four years ago.) Apple also shows Woolwich and Abbey National – two other brands that disappeared years ago. Yet Apple shows Marks & Spencer, which arrived here just a few years ago. No one should rely on Apple Maps for info until they sort these major flaws.

By contrast, turn-by-turn navigation works well, especially as it’s vector based, which means that it doesn’t download new map tiles continually as you drive.

Navigating, Apple style

Navigating, Apple style

Finally, to give Apple credit, the satellite 3D view of major cities like London is stunning:

Westminster

Westminster

I’d held back from upgrading to iOS on my old iPhone 4 because of the maps fiasco. But last week Google launched its own iOS maps app, which means you can’t lose. It’s just frustrating that you can’t make Google maps your default maps app across iOS 6. But in time Apple will make a success of Maps.

To recap, iPhone 5 is a winner. It doesn’t quite feel as classy to touch as earlier iPhones, but I love it.

iPhone 5: another winner?

Apple’s new iPhone 5, announced yesterday, doesn’t look like a breakthrough. That should help rivals Samsung and Nokia. Yet the changes Apple made to the phone that changed everything in 2007 may still prove significant.

Giving the iPhone a bigger screen is a smart move: after using a tablet – or a Samsung Galaxy S2 or S3 – the iPhone 4 seems too small for photos and video especially. Improving the camera is important, given that the current phone lags behind its main Android rivals.

Some were surprised that iPhone 5 didn’t include NFC (near field communication) functionality. Many in the payment and tech industries mistakenly assume that mobile payments equal NFC, and were hoping Apple would add NFC to the new iPhone. But Apple remains a sceptic about NFC. There’s no consumer cry for it. True, Apple has a record of giving consumers what they didn’t know they needed – the iPad especially. (Innovators don’t wait for demand – they create it.) But NFC remains a solution in search of a problem. As I blogged in May:

… this belief in the potential of NFC is almost certainly misplaced. It’s a classic case in focusing on the technology, rather than what it does, and what consumers and businesses want. Or, putting it another way, the classic mistake of assuming that if you ‘build it, they will use it’.

That said, it’s hard to escape the feeling that the iPhone is losing its position as the poster-child of the mobile phone market. Fans will buy it – I expect to upgrade later this year. But my decision will mainly reflect the fact the iPhone complements my other Apple products: Mac and iPad. In the jargon, I’ve too much invested in the Apple ‘ecosystem’. In plain English, I love the way Photostream shares my photos on all my devices. And in my view, Apple’s iOS operating system is more elegant and easy to use than Android, although I was otherwise impressed by the Samsung S2 that I tried earlier this year. Apple shouldn’t assume that this will be enough to stay ahead of the game.