Allow me to vastly oversimplify Apple’s new iPhone handset launches on Sept. 10:
• The low-end iPhone 5c is a fairly straightforward replacement for the iPhone 5, with slightly improved radios, a slightly better camera, and pretty colors.
• The high-end iPhone 5s goes further, with a new 64-bit processor, improved camera, better radios, sensor coprocessor, and the oft-discussed fingerprint scanner.
If you are looking for “Think Different” innovation, you won’t find it here. The new phones represent incremental improvements. If you have an iPhone 5, there is no reason to upgrade, even to the iPhone 5s. If you own a relatively modern Android phone or Windows phone, there is nothing in the new hardware or the forthcoming iOS 7 that will make you want to move over to Apple hardware or the iTunes infrastructure.
The fingerprint scanner is a nice touch, assuming that it’s secure and can’t be spoofed too easily. Of course, Motorola put a fingerprint scanner on the Motorola Axiom phone two years ago, so it’s hardly innovative. It would have been nice to see, say, a NFC setup. Or a bigger screen. Or something truly new.
The only place where Apple arguably moved the bar forward is with the new A7 processor in the iPhone 5s, which (as far as I can tell) is the first 64-bit processor in a phone.
The good news is that if you buy an iPhone 5s, you are getting a next-generation processor. And the system will take advantage of it, since the iOS 7 kernel, libraries and drivers are available in both 32-bit and 64-bit versions. You should be able to migrate 64-bit Mac OS X desktop apps to 64-bit iOS more easily than you could with the 32-bit iOS.
For some apps, particularly graphics-intensive games, the 64-bit version of iOS 7 should be much, much faster than the 32-bit version. For others… who knows? It’s not like the phone has enough memory to require 64-bit addressing.
The 64-bit architecture is clearly the future of iOS, but releasing both 64-bit and 32-bit handsets on the same day sends a mixed message about Apple’s commitment to moving to 64-bit processors across the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch product lines. I would have liked to see Apple commit to a timeline, but of course, Apple doesn’t ever commit to anything.
As some analysts have said, the primary benefit of the 64-bit chip seems to be marketing, especially since there is no 64-bit version of Android.
Should you buy the iPhone 5s because it has a 64-bit processor? No. By the time the entire iOS ecosystem has gone to 64-bit, the iPhone 5s will already have been replaced.
Alan Zeichick, founding editor of SD Times, is principal analyst of Camden Associates.