Jeff Gelles: Apple unveils impressive package in latest iPhones

Apple's iPhone 5C , one of two new phones, takes a bow at headquarters in Cupertino, Calif. MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ / AP
Apple's iPhone 5C , one of two new phones, takes a bow at headquarters in Cupertino, Calif. MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ / AP
Posted: September 12, 2013

A fingerprint sensor to provide the ultimate security. A dual-flash camera that reads color temperatures and adapts. A 64-bit processor that adds speed and power.

It's easy to shrug off the latest advances from Apple, which largely seemed to confirm Silicon Valley rumors Tuesday when it unveiled two new iPhones, the 5S and the 5C, that will go on sale Sept. 20.

Yes, it's true: The top-of-the-line iPhone 5S will boast built-in fingerprint authentication, to add a layer of security that would seem sci-fi spectacular if Disney didn't already use something similar at its theme parks. The good news for the spy-shy: Apple says your prints won't be stored on its servers.

Yes, it's true: A company that has almost fetishized its use of brushed, beveled metal and high-tech glass has finally turned to plastic - excuse me, hard-coated polycarbonate - for the body of its new, lower-end iPhone 5C. The good news to the fashionable: The 5C comes in blue, green, pink, or yellow, with "matching wallpapers and translucency that carry the color through the entire experience."

And, yes, it's true that even an extravaganza at Apple's headquarters featuring Lady Gaga and Apple chairman Tim Cook can't fully recapture the excitement Steve Jobs once generated with a stream of high-tech advances.

But maybe we're all just a little jaded. The hardware Apple unveiled Tuesday, along with the new iOS 7 operating system it introduced earlier in the summer, once again meshes into a truly impressive package - even if Apple is partly playing catch-up with features introduced in Samsung's Galaxy Androids and Nokia's Windows-based Lumias.

The biggest news may be that Apple has finally accepted the segmentation of a market it created with the original iPhone in 2007. The new iPhone 5C may represent just a modest step forward in technology from last year's iPhone 5, and its plastic body adds about two-thirds of an ounce in weight, but it's a testimony to Apple's ability to adapt.

Tim Bajarin, of California's Creative Strategies Inc., estimates Apple managed to shave $100 to $150 from the cost of a 5C - big savings on a device that retails for about $600 without a carrier contract.

The 5C's cost should appeal to budget-conscious U.S. consumers and in emerging markets. But it's on the flagship 5S where Apple's technological edge continues to shine, with advances such as the new fingerprint sensor and a better, smarter camera.

Once again, Apple didn't add pixels to its 8-megapixel iSight camera. But it made each pixel about 15 percent larger. "The examples they showed were stunning," Bajarin said.

Results on flash photography may be more impressive. The 5S adds True Tone flash - a dual flash that combines separate white and amber LEDs, and adjusts the mix based on algorithms assessing a scene's color temperature.

The fingerprint sensor, also offered only on the 5S, should ease the worries of people who store crucial data on a phone.

Coincidentally, it also greases the wheels of commerce. Like a song on Apple's new iRadio, the Pandora-like service offered on iOS 7? You can buy it instantly on iTunes - and use your fingerprint, rather than your Apple ID, to clinch the sale.

If the latest advances don't impress you, Wharton's Kevin Werbach suggests that Apple may share some blame.

"There's this expectation, partially created by Apple itself, that every new device will be a miraculous invention," Werbach said. "That's just not what happens - you don't reinvent the wheel each time."

But he said incremental steps add up - as anyone can see by comparing today's computers to Apple's cutting-edge Mac unveiled nearly 30 years ago.

"Small refinements, taken together, make up a revolution," he said.


Jeff Gelles: BY THE NUMBERS

$399

Price of the costliest new iPhone 5S, with 64 gigabytes

of memory, offered with

a two-year contract.

$99

Price of a new, plastic-body, 16-gig iPhone 5C, with

a contract.

$0

Price with

a contract of

a new, 8-gig iPhone 4S, which carriers will still offer.

4

National carriers set

to offer

new iPhones Sept. 20.


Contact Jeff Gelles at 215-854-2776, jgelles@phillynews.com, or @jeffgelles on Twitter. Read his blog at www.inquirer.com/consumer.

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