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BLOG: The iPhone Apple was forced to make

j.ello | Sept. 19, 2012
I have no doubt that the iPhone 5 is a great phone and will set sales records. It's just uninteresting. So uninteresting, in fact, that it's interesting.

If you're hoping for an iPhone bashing, go elsewhere. If you're a fanboy looking for an iPhone mash note, this isn't the column for you, either. All I'm offering, I'm afraid, is a dose of reality.

I have a Windows desktop and laptop, an Android phone and an iPad, the three operating system/device combinations that, IMHO -- and only for this very moment -- represent the best bang for the buck in their respective categories. In earlier days I've been a Commodorable newb, an Amiga Toasterhead and even a fever-crazed Macophiliac. I have little brand loyalty -- advertising doesn't work, and buzzwords just make me angry. If I buy something, you can be sure it was ruthlessly scrutinized for my purposes.

The iPhone, as of yet, hasn't managed to convince me, largely due to a priority clash that puts me outside Apple's chosen market. I want a device that is capable, efficient and, if possible, simple. The Apple model favors simple, capable and, if possible, efficient. It seems subtle, but the difference between those priorities is dramatic. In fact, Apple's success has made finding what I want all the more challenging. With Google and Microsoft trying to replicate Apple's model, the whole "simple first" paradigm is starting to become a real problem. That icon grid Apple adopted from Palm was great for a device with 12 apps in 1996, but it's just ridiculously annoying for 120 apps in 2012. The micro-app developer model has yielded a market with 700,000 apps that have 100 apps' worth of differentiation. I have at least two dozen photo apps between my Android phone and iPad to do all the little things one good app should do -- and trying to remember which one does what I want is a matter of opening each until I see the interface I recognize. The war on physical buttons guarantees I'll never get a camera app open in time for a fleeting picture. And to top it all off, now I can look forward to a jumble of random tiles on my desktop: Windows 8 with a mouse and keyboard. It's just so -- sigh -- I don't even want to talk about it.

Apple has pushed the market to a point where everything is so simple that it hides from you in plain sight. Amid a mess of disjointed apps, we forget what we have installed and what each app does, and good luck finding one when you need it. The focus has been on mass quantities of simple for so long that we have all but forgotten about elegance and efficiency.

That said, the iPhone 5 is big news for what it isn't. With each new iPhone, you could expect at least one new, earth-shattering technological leap: capacitive multitouch, six-axis accelerometer with compass, high-quality camera, Siri, etc. Something gloriously geekerific. But I couldn't help but notice that the iPhone 5 doesn't have a claim to fame. Spec-wise, it's pretty middling, a $99 contract phone by most measures. It's just kind of meh. On the software end, not much more than playing catch-up to Android.


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