Apple Announces iPhone 5S

There are an awful lot of new features in this update, even for iPhone 5 users; for iPhone 4S users like myself, this is huge. I’m not going to go over all of the features, but I wanted to touch on one in particular, as there seems to be a lot of people confused about what benefits it brings:

The all-new A7 chip in iPhone 5s brings 64-bit desktop-class architecture to a smartphone for the first time. With up to twice the CPU and graphics performance, almost everything you do on iPhone 5s is faster and better than ever, from launching apps and editing photos to playing graphic-intensive games—all while delivering great battery life. Apple also engineered iOS 7 and all the built-in apps to maximize the performance of the A7 chip. iPhone 5s is the best mobile gaming device with access to hundreds of thousands of games from the App Store℠, the A7 chip’s 64-bit architecture and support for OpenGL ES version 3.0. iPhone 5s delivers incredibly rich and complex visual effects, previously only possible on Macs, PCs and gaming consoles.

An awful lot of the comments I’ve seen today are iterations on the “64-bit architectures allow apps to address more than 4GB of memory” trope. “What benefit is that in a phone?”, most seem to ask.

First, it’s important to know that this isn’t the only benefit of a 64-bit architecture. Integers and mathematical functions can contain up to twice as many bits. Since math plays a large role in certain kinds of apps, such as photo editors or games, an app which has been optimized for a 64-bit architecture will likely run substantially faster and smoother. However, due to the larger integer values, apps may consume more memory running as 64-bit than they would under 32-bit. This will be an important consideration for developers seeking to optimize their app for both architectures. In addition, an app which syncs to iCloud will now need to be able to support compatibility with itself running on either architecture.

The second misconception is that the A7 will only benefit the iPhone. It is exceedingly likely that this year’s iPad refresh will also contain the A7 SoC. As Apple continues to position the iPad as a product which can replace a PC a lot of the time, a more substantial architecture will be important to bringing some of the more hardcore kinds of desktop apps to the iPad. Scientific apps will especially benefit from a 64-bit architecture.

Finally, this is an early step towards future-proofing the iOS ecosystem. While not all developers will port their apps this year, this is a start for when it becomes necessary for them to do so. Apple is publicly giving developers both time and a working platform for them to start on this optimization early. The world isn’t going to be 32-bit forever, even on mobile products.

There are tonnes of other new features as well. Federico Viticci wrote up the best overview, highlighting the M7 “motion coprocessor” in particular:

Another upside of contextual awareness is that Apple apps will use the M7 coprocessor in interesting new ways. For instance, the iOS 7 Maps app will be able to automatically switch from driving to walking directions if you park your car and continue on foot; or, when driving, the iPhone 5s will understand that it’s in a moving car and it won’t ask to join WiFi networks. If the M7 tells the iPhone 5s that you’re likely asleep because the iPhone hasn’t moved in a while, network ping will be reduced to increase battery life.

And, while the S in “3GS” stood for “speed”, and in “4S” it stood for “Siri”, in the 5S, it’s for “security”. The much-rumoured fingerprint sensor is embedded in the redesigned sapphire home button, and it’s apparently nearly instantaneous. Apparently, the print is stored in hardware, is encrypted, isn’t available to software, and is never uploaded to Apple’s servers.

As with previous S-suffixed models, Apple has markedly increased the quality of the camera. There are too many features to go over in great detail; I recommend Viticci’s overview for more.

Also very important is the availability (again) of a dock. Sorry, Schiller; the people wanted one.

Not very important is the lack of capitalization on the suffixes. Apple now stylizes models as “iPhone 5s” and “iPhone 5c”. This is in line with the capitalization they use across their other products (“iPod touch”, “iPod nano”, “iPad mini”), but I refuse to use it. It just looks weird.

My biggest complaint with the 5S is the pricing. I’m not usually one to complain about that sort of thing — you usually get what you pay for — but it’s egregious this year. Here’s a table showing pricing in select countries for the off-contract 16 GB model:

Country 2013 Price Price, USD Δ 2012
USA $649 $649 0
Canada $719 $694 +$20
UK £549 $863 +£20
Australia $869 $809 +$70
France and Germany €699 $927 +€20
China RMB 5288 $864 0

While the US suffered no pricing change, most countries saw theirs increase by 20 of the local currency, compared to the iPhone 5 price; Australia, on the other hand, suffered a $70 bump. The French and the Germans now pay the equivalent of nearly a thousand dollars for a 16 GB iPhone 5S, while buyers in the all-important China market pay over 30% more than US buyers for the same product (though there hasn’t been an increase over 2012 pricing). Apple also raised prices in 2012, yet their profit margin decreased. I do wonder how it will fare this time.

Would I buy one? Yes. I’m not a fan of the gold colour (though, I hear it’s not as ostentatious as you’d expect), and I’m not sure I’d like another white one. Looks like the black 64 GB model is in my future, though at $919 CAD, it’s certainly on the pricey side.

Lots of exciting stuff today. More to come here.

Update: Many of the European price points include tax, which explains the discrepancy when converted to USD. However, the Canadian price does not include tax, and is $50 more than the US pricing.