The reviews for Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL ) two new iPhones are in: It looks like Apple has done it again, in more ways than one.
According to hands-on reviews from Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Engadget, TechCrunch and CNet, Apple has delivered a pair of solid handsets. Unfortunately, that's all they are -- as the critics note, Apple hasn't done much this year to entice existing iPhone owners to upgrade.
The iPhone 5s is the phone of the future
Reviewers don't dwell much on the iPhone 5c; after all, there isn't much to say that hasn't already been said. Outside of some minor antenna improvements, the plastic iPhone is more or less just last year's iPhone 5, only now it has a colorful body. The iPhone 5s, on the other hand, has received some notable upgrades, in the form of a better camera, a faster processor, a fingerprint scanner, and a dedicated motion chip.
Although Apple has decided to stick with an 8 megapixel camera, those individual pixels are bigger. The company has included a second LED flash, designed to improve the camera's performance in low-light settings. According to CNet, those changes have really made a difference, and the new camera is now the phone's single "biggest selling point."
The processor, too, is improved, with Apple making the jump to 64-bit architecture. Notably, the move seems not to have been anticipated by its rivals, and may have caught them completely off guard. Samsung (NASDAQOTH: SSNLF ) said that it is working on 64-bit processors, but wouldn't have them for some time.
Ultimately, however, that might not matter, at least for now. Although TechCrunch admitted that the phone's general performance is "perceptibly improved," it acknowledged that the A7 was "designed for future applications," as apps do not really exist yet to take advantage of that increased power.
The Wall Street Journal had a different take -- Walter Mossberg wrote that he "didn't notice" any dramatic speed improvement. He also didn't mention the phone's second processor, the M7 motion chip. That's because it doesn't really do anything right now -- in the future, it could form the basis of Apple's wearable computing strategy; but for now, owners won't notice it.
What they will notice is the fingerprint scanner, which received unanimously positive reviews. The New York Times' David Pogue called it "genuinely awesome."
A year to wait
But will those changes be enough to entice existing iPhone owners to upgrade? Perhaps more importantly, will it get any Google (NASDAQ: GOOG ) Android devotees to make the switch? Probably not. Despite loving the handset, many of the reviewers concluded that this was a year to wait.
- Bloomberg wrote Apple "has never changed so little from the previous generation."
- Engadget remarked that if you haven't "seriously considered an iPhone before, there likely isn't much in the 5s to make you change your mind...many people might just wait it out another year."
- CNet said that if "you already have an iPhone 5, I'd say it's not a bad year to just wait."
Google's Motorola takes color to the extreme
With much of the iPhone 5s' changes aimed the future, the bigger draw to consumers might ultimately be the iPhone 5c's unique, colored body. However, in this arena, Google has already beaten Apple to the punch.
Motorola's new phone, the Moto X, takes the idea of multiple color options to the next level, allowing buyers to customize their phones with a specially designed website. More than just plastic, Moto X buyers will even get the option of phone made out of wood.
Granted, the Moto X isn't the iPhone. It's an Android-based handset, one that's received favorable reviews, but an Android handset nevertheless. Someone dead set on Apple product isn't going to be swayed by wood paneling; but if colors are the real draw, the Moto X has the iPhone 5c beat in spades.
Is Apple falling behind Samsung?
Likewise, though Apple has taken the unprecedented step of releasing two different iPhones in the same year, both sport identical form factors. In contrast, Samsung has been releasing phones in virtually every conceivable screen size -- from 4.3- to 6.3-inches.
As if to rub in Apple's continued embrace of the smaller form factor, Samsung's latest phablet, the Galaxy Note 3, will go on sale just weeks after Apple's new phones. At 5.7-inches, it dwarfs Apple's iPhones, and though Samsung's larger phones have been widely mocked (BGR once called the original Note "too big to be taken seriously" -- its screen was only 5.3-inches), nearly all of its competitors (Sony, LG, HTC) have followed suit.
All that is, except for Apple.
There's really two ways to look at Apple's new phones. On the one hand, Apple took something that wasn't broken, and didn't fix it. It delivered yet another terrific device, just slightly better than the one before it.
But on the other hand, you could argue that Apple's larger mobile strategy is broken; and there, it took no steps to fix it. Despite losing market share to Android in emerging markets, Apple has chosen not to put out a cheap iPhone. Despite the trend toward larger phones, Apple has clung to the 4-inch form factor.
Overall, the new iPhones shouldn't be expected to set any sales records. They probably won't drive the Apple faithful away, but they're far from the exciting blockbuster products many struggling Apple shareholders crave.
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