Remember when Apple defined the cutting edge for innovative media devices? That edge has dulled but isn’t quite gone. The company has settled down to releasing evolutionary updates to once revolutionary products, and too often plays catch-up by belatedly adding features pioneered by competitors. But Apple’s superb attention to detail can still be impressive, especially when they release so many features at once, as they have with the iPhone 5.
Apple is actually releasing two new products: the iPhone 5 and iOS 6, the software that runs on it. The phone becomes available Sept. 21 (Sept. 28 for those who want the Cricket version), but the software is already available as a free download for anyone with an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch.
The iPhone 5 is thinner, lighter, slightly taller and has a bigger screen than the iPhone 4. The new model has the expected faster processor, improved battery and upgraded front camera (oddly, the rear camera appears unchanged), and it finally adds a couple of long-overdue features: better headphones and faster 4G LTE Internet access.
But if you already have an iPhone and don’t need 4G or an extra half-inch on your screen, you can get most of the iPhone 5’s coolest features just by upgrading your software. The newest iOS adds extra features to nearly every application, such as custom reply messages for rejected calls, better e-mail filtering, selective photo-sharing and extensive Facebook integration (similar to the Twitter integration in iOS 5). The two standout features are a new mapping app, with smoother graphics and turn-by-turn directions, and an updated Siri voice assistant, which can now tell you sports scores, make restaurant reservations and recommend movies playing nearby.
All of these features also will work on the new iPad, including Siri, which had been conspicuously missing before. Unfortunately, Siri and the new mapping app won’t work on iPhones older than the 4S. So for older iPhone users (such as myself), it’s probably time to upgrade.