It’s the weight you notice first. Yes, it’s 18% thinner, but the iPhone 5 is also 20% lighter than the 4S, and if you’ve been using the previous model for the past year – or one of the heavier iPhones that preceded it – the loss of mass is what your hand registers as soon as you take hold of it. It’s not quite like picking up one of those empty dummy phones in a shop – not that you’d ever find anything so naff in an Apple Store – but it’s getting there.
And yet, far from being empty, the iPhone 5 is packed tighter than ever with even more remarkable electronics. So familiar does it look at first glance that there were a few raised eyebrows at the point in the launch event when Jonathan Ive, in a pre-recorded video package, said the iPhone 5 had been ‘completely redesigned’. Completely? Really?
But to doubt this just because it’s another flat phone with a metal edge and a similar corner radius is to forget what Ive never would: that, as Steve Jobs put it, ‘Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.’
How an iPhone works is pretty much all of the last hundred years of physics crammed into a matchbox – or, now, a bit less than a matchbox. ‘To achieve a design this thin,’ explained hardware chief Bob Mansfield, who’s been designing microprocessors for 30 years, ‘we had to look at making many of the components smaller. It took an incredible cross-collaborative effort to do this.’
Apple declines to talk about some of its greatest technical achievements, but the A6 ‘system on a chip’ in the iPhone 5, although based, as with all iOS devices, on technology from Cambridge’s ARM Holdings, is the first to have been designed in-house, and its performance is, as it’s surely only a matter of time before the excitable Cook declares in a keynote, off the hook.
Measured by the Geekbench CPU test, not only is it more than twice as fast as the iPhone 4S or the 2012 iPad, it’s faster than the top-end Macs Apple was making just a few years ago, before the switch to Intel.
This is quite a blow to the conventional wisdom that the iPhone is an underpowered mobile device that simulates broad computing capability using clever software. We might have to get used to shelling out our £599 not for a fancy phone that runs cute apps, but for an enormously powerful business and entertainment system that, by the magic of Mansfield, has somehow been shrink-rayed into a sleek, sharp enclosure as narrow as a pencil.
Perhaps that should be what we notice first.