However, Apple has not charted new territory, only fine-tuned its innovation

To say that the six iPhone launches, since Apple Inc. released the first iPhone in 2007, have been surrounded in hype and shrouded in secrecy, is an understatement.

On Wednesday too, the unveiling of the iPhone 5 amidst media frenzy created quite a stir in the tech world. Even as analysts went as far as speculating that the phone could make a considerable impact on the U.S. GDP, pre-orders for the phone closed within an hour and Apple’s stock reportedly shot up to a record high when the markets opened on Friday.

There’s always been a big song and dance about every announcement that Apple makes. But this time around, did the product really live up to the hype?

That Apple failed to sweep anybody off their feet with the launch perhaps has a lot to do with the fact that tech watchers — and there are entire sites and technology teams dedicated to ‘leaking’ tech and design specs; many do this by closely monitoring its supply chain — had already ‘predicted’ most of what was announced at the launch. In fact, a lot of the ‘leaks’ on iPhone 5 surfaced even before the launch of the iPhone 4S.

It’s ‘evolutionary, not revolutionary’, as tech pundits have been harping on since the launch. This means that Apple has not charted new territory, but has instead chosen to fine-tune what it already has, to come up with a much slicker, sleeker product with many behind-the-scenes tweaks on software and hardware. For starters, the phone is taller and lighter: 80 per cent thinner and 20 per cent lighter than the iPhone 4S. Tapered and more slender, the width remains unchanged, but that wasn’t expected to change given Apple’s been pretty relentless about the need for a less-wider screen in order to remain “thumb-friendly”.

What’s new inside

While most of the changes announced on Wednesday were incremental, a somewhat drastic change, Apple claims, is on the processor side. The updated version of its chip, A6, Apple claims, runs twice as fast as the last one, promising two times the CPU and graphics performance, on a chip that is significantly smaller in size and improves on battery life. Reviewers who have worked out these claims on the basis of what’s already known about the A5 have found claims of improved ‘systems on chip’ performance fairly plausible.

Playing ‘catch-up’ as far as logging on to faster networks is concerned, the new phone is compatible with fourth generation (LTE) networks, something that other phones, such as Samsung and Nokia, have offered for at least a year and a half. It’s got a new-improved camera sensor — much ado has been made about this feature — and just as well given that it retains the ‘326 pixels per inch’ retina display it unveiled in the iPhone 4S, which means that now you’ll not only view good pictures on your phone, you can also take better ones.

Two other photo-related features are panoramic view (a feature that’s again offered on many devices) and Photo Stream, a social network-like offering on photo-sharing announced earlier with the iCloud. A controversial new feature that’s drawn some flak is its new connector, dubbed Lightning. The 80 per cent smaller, redesigned version of the standard dock connector is not compatible with older devices, though Apple announced a proprietary $30 adapter to fix this. Tech commentators have given the company a knuckle-rap for reneging on a 2011 agreement it signed with the European Commission to stick to micro USB standards in all future products to cut down on e-waste.

Apple’s decision to not comply with this standard, and add a new adaptor, is being denounced as ecologically irresponsible. In contrast, Nokia, which unveiled wireless charging on its Windows 8 phone, retained the standard connector.

Experts point out that though the product does appear to have arrived with a bang in the market, it misses the wagon on two key features: wireless charging (competitors have announced it earlier this year) and near-field communication (NFC) chips. The latter is already supported in Android (Google’s mobile payment system, Google Wallet, relies on it) and Samsung’s Nexus line.

When asked, Apple points to Passbook, its mobile payment software on iOS 6; this when, wireless consortiums in the U.S. are already planning to launch mobile payment systems based on NFC.

With Android having somewhat ‘arrived’ as a key player in the smartphone market (market shares compiled by most industry watchers attest to this), Apple can hardly afford complacence on its product line. Though Thursday’s pre-order feat indicates that Apple loyalists continue to be as entranced by the ‘look and feel’ of their gadget as Tim Cooks appeared to be (though changes remain at best incremental), Apple knows that if its performance in courtrooms across the world is anything to go by, the race gets closer with every new Android phone that hits the market.

iOS buzz

Though consumer focus was on the latest version of the slim and sleek iPhone, at the launch Apple also announced the release of its newest mobile operating system, the iOS 6, and a thinner and faster version of the iPod Touch, slated to run on the new operating system and a new 2.5 inch touchscreen iPod Nano.

In an announcement, perhaps more significant than the iPhone, Apple spoke at length about the iOS 6, which promises over 200 new features, and yes, its Maps app (so Google Maps support may soon go off the radar for Apple users).

It offers turn-by-turn directions (a feature offered on Android and others for years, and a Maps layer Google finally activated for the Indian market last week) and a full 3D satellite view. The iOS 6 becomes available to all iPhone users (using 3GS and later models) and to iPad users (barring the first-generation device). Other exciting iOS features discussed were Siri, the ‘talking’ voice assistant debuted with the iPhone 4S, which will now be able to update statuses and so on.

There are no clear dates on when the iPhone 5 will be released in India, though by some accounts, Apple fanboys and fangirls will be able to lay their hands on the device around Deepavali, a good month away, this year.

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