TECHNOLOGY SPECTATOR: iPhone 5 gets 4G right

The thinner, lighter iPhone 5 brings 4G LTE goodness for Australian users but there is no Near Field Communications hardware.

Technology Spectator

If there’s one constant in the tech industry it’s the hype around every Apple announcement and so it was ahead of today’s unveiling of the new iPhone 5.

Apple boss Tim Cook and senior vice president Phillip Schiller showed off a thinner, lighter and slightly elongated upgrade to the previous 4S model with a faster processor and improved graphics capabilities.

Probably the most important feature with the new handset is its support for the faster 4G phone networks. Apple have learned from their iPad 4G debacle where much of the world, including Australia, couldn’t access the local high speed networks due to differing frequencies.

Unlike the unfortunately named iPad 4G the latest iPhone will work on the Optus and Telstra LTE networks although certain models aren’t designed for the local 1800 MHz frequencies. Those looking at buying from overseas should check they are going to get the right device for the Australian market.

What physically distinguishes the new iPhone from the previous 4 and 4S models is the bigger 4” diagonal screen that makes the latest device slightly longer.

The larger screen takes the screen resolution to a 16:9 ratio, so the phone now can play standard videos without messing with the picture. The built in camera remains at 8 megapixels although it has been redesigned and improved.

Driving the improved graphics in the iPhone 5 is Apple’s A6 processor which boasts twice the CPU and video performance of the previous A5 chip.

The cost of improved performance is usually reduced battery life, while Apple claims the iPhone 5 will offer longer a longer charge. Only new players take manufacturers battery claims at face value so this will have to be tested in the field.

Squeezing all this power into a mobile case has meant shrinking various components like microphones, cameras and – most importantly – the connector port.

The new Lightning connector will irritate some current iPhone and iPod users as it is smaller than the current plug that was introduced in 2003.

During the demonstration Schiller showed an adapter for older accessories and it’s obvious there will be a handy little market for third party convertors to deal with the mess of incompatible devices this change will bring.

No NFC

Probably the biggest feature missing from the new iPhone is the lack of Near Field Communications (NFC) hardware so contactless payments through smartphones will have to rely on third party add-ons like the Commonwealth Bank’s Kaching until NFC becomes standard on the iPhone.

A nod to the future is the new passbook feature which stores items like airline boarding passes, movie tickets and coffee cards. This will almost certainly form the basis of future NFC style payment services on the iPhone.

While the attention has been on the iPhone, there has been a refresh across most of Apple’s personal device range, notable about the new iPod is built in Bluetooth for the Nano model and a pedometer for all those listening to music while out on their morning jog.

Squeezing Microsoft

During the demonstrations the emphasis was on games and Apple are throwing down the gauntlet to the console manufacturers who have had their businesses disrupted with the arrival of smartphones and app stores.

Apple’s announcement also puts pressure on Microsoft. After the embarrassing botched launch of the Nokia Lumia 920 last week, Microsoft have to meet the October 29 Windows Phone 8 release date or risk being left behind by the iPhone 5 and various Android smartphones that will be on the market by Christmas.

The iPhone5 will be available in Australia from September 21 with Optus the first to offer the  phone. The iOS6 upgrade will be released for the 3GS up on September 19.

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