What the new iPhone has to live up to
Apple is busy preparing for a much-hyped announcement on September 12. You’ve probably already heard about this announcement, and how it’s likely to be the big reveal of the new iPhone 5. In fact, at this point, you’ve probably already seen dozens of images of the convention center being decorated in anticipation of the event. While the next few weeks are sure to be full of iPhone-related news, there’s plenty more happening in mobile right now (with recent announcements from Samsung, Nokia, Motorola, and Amazon). If you’re curious as to how these competitor handsets stack up against the Apple heavyweight, then just read below to take a gander at all the features the crowd favorite from Cupertino currently lacks.
One of the major complaints iPhone owners have is the devices’ less-than-awesome battery life—and it’s a valid grievance. With a petite 1,432mAh battery, the iPhone 4S can only play around four hours of video before you’ll need to start scrambling for a power outlet. Compare that to other devices such as the new Droid Razr Maxx HD, which has a 3,300mAh battery and will give you up to ten hours of streaming video on a charge, and there's plenty of room for Apple to improve. Almost every other competing handset has a more bad-ass battery than the iPhone: Nokia’s new Lumia 920 will have a 2,000mAh battery, Samsung’s Galaxy S III has 2,100mAh worth of power, and the newly announced ATIV S will feature a 2,300mAh battery. While a bigger iPhone 5 would give Apple the opportunity to pack in a bigger battery, there are already phones available that will last a day or two before needing a recharge.
Personally, I have yet to hit the storage limit on my iPhone 4S—and I am not by any means judicious in my usage—so in all likelihood the 64GB limit on Apple’s handset should be plenty for most of us. If you buy an iPhone with less storage space and find that it's not enough for you, you're really out of luck. Both Nokia and Samsung have released competing handsets that feature the expandable storage in the form of microSD; Samsung’s ATIV S and Galaxy S III come in 16- or 32-GB models, plus have expandable storage capabilities. (Galaxy S III expansion is dependent upon carrier.) Nokia included microSD in their Lumia 820 (while the 920 has 32GB worth of storage, it does not have expandable storage). So, if you’re taking a long trip and want to bring more music, want more space to hold photos and videos, or would prefer to keep all your travel apps on a separate microSD card, there are smartphones suited for that, but we don't expect Apple to head down this road.
While Android users can take advantage of push notifications to notify them of a new email (or, really, almost any other event of their choosing), and Windows Phone users have the slick live tiles that update instantly and convey information at a glance, iPhone users are still lacking a fully functional way to get their smartphones to notify them. While iOS 5 introduced a push notification capability, it’s only available on specific apps that utilize the feature, and is far from customizable. While this may seem like a small thing to gripe about, there is a distinct advantage to being able to view expanded information about Tweets, emails, photos, social networks, and updates as they happen live, without opening up an app. With Windows Phone's live tiles or Android's widgets, you get more than a little number telling you how many unread emails or new calendar appointments you have, you actually see what they are. The current notification system in iOS seems a little antiquated by comparison.
Even after the kerfuffle over the marketing of the Lumia 920’s camera capabilities, it still blew every other handset out of the water when tested in nighttime conditions—and that's saying something. Nokia has a history of pushing the boundaries of what smartphone cameras can do (the 41 megapixel Nokia 808 being a prime example), and the Lumia proudly follows in that tradition with a 8.7 megapixel main camera that uses floating lens image stabilization technology that is the first of its kind on a phone. While the iPhone 4S is considered to have a stellar camera, it is certainly no longer alone in this category. Most of the major contenders are also rocking the same 8 megapixel count in their main cameras, and feature a higher megapixel count in their front cameras than the iPhone 4S (which has a measly VGA front-facing camera). Add to the spec race proprietary features and technology, such as those seen on the Lumia 920, and the iPhone 4S's stellar camera is just another fish in the sea. Apple needs to make serious improvements to keep pace.
Screen size and resolution
As it turns out, people really do like having big screens on their smartphones. While Apple hasn’t updated the iPhone’s screen size in….ever, most of the best-selling smartphones released in the last year have had screens measuring 4.3-inches or larger, and the trend continues. The new Samsung Galaxy Note 2, for instance, has a 5.5-inch display, while the company’s ATIV S and Galaxy S III handsets both feature 4.8-inch screens. That increased screen real estate comes in handy while watching videos and playing games, and provides a better mobile browsing experience since you don’t have to zoom in and out to view websites’ content. Perhaps most importantly, a larger screen means a larger on-screen keyboard, which improves typing speed and accuracy.
While there are rumors aplenty that Apple's new iPhone will have a larger display, at this point the Cupertino company is just playing catch-up to Windows and Android phone makers, as even budget phones such as the Motorola Razr M have high resolution displays that are comparable to the highly touted Retina Display featured on the iPhone 4 and 4S. While the iPhone still delivers a high pixel-per-inch count (at 326ppi on a 960 x 640 resolution screen), it is quickly being matched by competitors such as the new Lumia 920 (332 pixels-per-inch on a 1280 x 768 resolution screen).
Although Nokia has long been a proponent of Near Field Communication (NFC) technology and Samsung has been touting the NFC capabilities of its new Galaxy S III in its commercials, NFC hasn’t entirely found its niche in the mobile world. While the majority of Android- and Windows-based phones being released all feature some NFC-enabled capabilities (see the Lumia 920, HTC One X and Samsung ATVI S), it is unlikely that Apple will include NFC on the new iPhone, as the company is likely to wait and see if there is any value in the technology first. So, if you’d like to swipe your phone to pay for coffee or board a train, or if you’d like to share photos by tapping devices, then you’re going to need an Android or Windows phone.
Quad-core phones are already available overseas, and it's only a matter of time (read: three to four months) before they show up on our shores. Specs may not mean much to the average person buying a smartphone, but they have an effect on the types of things you will be able to do on your mobile phone going forward. Having a stout quad-core processor can mean the difference between running complex programs on your phone and dealing with a phone that starts to lag the minute you load up a resource heavy app.
Since most Android phones in the United States currently have dual-core processors, and with Windows Phones are still stuck on a single core (with dual-core phones coming in WIndows Phone 8 this fall), there's a chance for Apple to beat the competition in the specs race by releasing its next iPhone with a quad-core processor. A quad-core iPhone would be a marketing force to be reckoned with and would seem to put the iPhone ahead of the smartphone pack in terms of power and overall performance. The downside of quad-core processors, however, is that they don't have integrated radios compatible with LTE networks in the United States. Which brings us to our next point...
Out of the four major carriers, three have blazing fast LTE networks that make us wonder how we ever survived on 3G speeds. Most high-end smartphones released in the last year are LTE-compatible, giving people the ability to do things like stream HD movies and download apps in mere seconds. While Apple's next iPhone will most likely be LTE-compatible, it will be latecomer to a game that's currently dominated by various Android and Windows Phone devices. To stand out, the new iPhone would need more robust international LTE support or higher data speeds than the best of the rest.