Upgraded Siri takes iPhone 5 past all its rivals

The digerati mostly greeted the iPhone 5 last week with a collective yawn. (AFP)

The digerati mostly greeted the iPhone 5 last week with a collective yawn. (AFP)

 So much was already known – larger screen, thinner body, new connector offering instant obsolescence for accessories – that its lack of splash was declared to be somehow inadequate.

They declared that it did not break any records – not the biggest screen, not the thinnest phone, not packing the most features. But it is not the record-breaking that matters; it is the experience. That starts when you hold it: raw specifications (18% thinner than last year's 4S, 20% lighter, 12% less volume) do not explain how it seems to float in the hand, and how typing or swiping feels like touching the very pixels – new processes have removed one layer of glass from the touch screen.
The tactile pleasure is second only to Nokia's beguilingly curved (and largely overlooked) Lumia 800.

Seen from a global standpoint, the numbers might not seem to be going Apple's way. Phones running Google's Android software made up 65% of all cellphones sold in the second quarter of 2012, against Apple's 19%. But most make barely any profit; the only real rival for revenue, sales volume and profit is Korea's Samsung. And that is where Apple's services – the App Store, iCloud storage – are the real weapons.

Those upgrading from an old iPhone who have backed it up to Apple's free iCloud service will find everything – including apps, mail, calendar, contacts, wi-fi settings, photos and even alarm times – can be "restored" on to the new device. Neither Android nor Windows Phone have matched that yet.

The Panorama camera setting can take a 28-megapixel picture while you move around an object, rather than having to remain fixed. Super-fast 4G connectivity is promised (I did not get the chance to test it); the battery life and reception seem better as well.

But it is the upgraded Siri, the voice-driven "assistant", that takes this device past all its rivals. Ask Siri for directions and it will start the satnav; ask for the football scores and it gets Premier League results (no rugby or cricket yet); ask for nearby restaurants and it will offer them, with maps and reviews.

In the end, any cellphone is a combination of specifications (like camera megapixels), features (such as Panorama) and services (such as iCloud). The digerati have tended to focus on the first; Apple has always ignored them in favour of the latter two. With its market value now crossing $700-billion and iPhone5 pre-orders through the roof, it is hard to argue that Apple is wrong. – © Guardian News & Media 2012

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