On Wednesday, Apple unveiled its next generation smartphone--the iPhone 5--with a new design and a set of improved features that IT and business professionals will care about. Overall, the design itself and the feature list are mostly incremental improvements, but there are some things worth noting if you're considering an upgrade or looking at moving to the iPhone from another platform.
Here's my list of the most important new stuff in the iPhone 5 for those of you who use the iPhone for business tasks or carry an iPhone as your company phone.1. Larger screen - The most significant change from the iPhone 4S (and all previous iPhones) is that the new iPhone screen has stretched from 3.5 inches to 4 inches. The aspect ratio has also changed from 4x3 to 16x9. That gives you more real estate for reading and viewing things on screen, but it also means developers are going to have to change their apps (existing apps will auto-fill the space with black bars). Apple's Jony Ive explained the change when he said, "By making the screen taller but not wider, you can see more of your content but still comfortably use it with one hand." 2. 4G LTE capability - Apple has finally added 4G LTE capability to the iPhone. This is a feature that many Android devices have had for 18 months. Nevertheless, its inclusion is a welcome addition for business professionals who are heavy data users and want to be able to quickly download documents, spreadsheets, presentations, images, etc. The bad news is that 4G LTE runs on different wireless frequencies in different countries and the iPhone does not contain a universal LTE chip, so LTE roaming is going to be inconsistent depending on which LTE-enabled version of the iPhone 5 you get in your home country. 3. Faster A6 processor - With the iPhone 5, Apple is introducing the new A6 processor, which the company says is "up to twice as fast compared with the A5 chip" and "also offers graphics performance that’s up to twice as fast as the A5." In general, the new chip should enable apps to launch faster, web pages to load sooner, and photos and graphics to show up and refresh more quickly. 4. Improved battery life (claimed) - Apple says that the iPhone 5 offers battery life improvements over the iPhone 4S, but didn't get into the details. Interestingly enough, back when Apple unveiled the 4S and claimed that it offered battery improvements over the iPhone 4, the company said that the iPhone 4S would get 8 hours of talk time, 10 hours of video playback time, and 6 hours of web browsing time. On Wednesday, Apple claimed that the new iPhone 5 will get 8 hours of talk time, 10 hours of video playback time, and 8 hours of web browsing time over LTE. So, the only battery life improvement is in web browsing. 5. Metal backplate - The iPhone 5 switches from the glass backplate on the iPhone 4/iPhone 4S to a metal backplate. This is the first metal backplate since the original iPhone in 2007 (the iPhone 3G/iPhone 3GS both had plastic backplates). The most significant thing about that from an IT and business standpoint is that it is likely going to be a lot more sturdy and result in fewer replacements when the phone gets dropped. 6. Updated camera - The camera specs in the iPhone 5 are virtually identical to the iPhone 4S--which already had an excellent camera--but Apple had to fit it into a thinner package. There are also a few key feature improvements. The software now includes a new panorama mode. Apple says that the iPhone 5 takes photos 40% faster and takes better low-light shots. CNET's Josh Lowensohn reported that the new camera "combines pixels in the dark, which gives you up to two f-stops better performance in low light. That's an impressive claim." Since lots of different types of professionals--from real estate agents to health care workers to construction contractors--use the iPhone camera as their primary business camera, any improvements can have a positive impact. Apple also upgraded the front-facing camera on the iPhone 5 to 720p, which should bring notable improvements in video calling. 7. Audio improvements - Apple introduced several features to improve the audio quality of the iPhone 5. It increased the number of microphones from two to three. There are now microphones on the bottom, front, and back of the device and the front and back mics work together as an array to do beamforming. The iPhone 5 now features wideband audio (also sometimes called HD Voice), which Apple said will be supported by over 20 cellular carriers at launch. All of this is aimed at improving call quality so that you can make calls when you're in noisy rooms and have a better experience when you're doing things like dialing into conference calls from your iPhone. 8. New connector - In order to make the device thinner and potentially do faster data transfers, Apple replaced the old 30-pin connector that has been on its devices since 2003. The iPhone 5 features the new "Lightning" connector, which is all-digital and is 80% smaller. This will be a major pain for people who already have extra cables and dock connectors for their iPhone. There is an adapter, but Apple is charging an unconscionable $30 for it. The best thing you can say about this new connector is that it is reversible, so there's no way to plug it in upside down. But, if you're an existing iPhone user who will be upgrading to the iPhone 5 then you're going to need to be prepared to buy adapters for your docks and/or buy some extras cables for your laptop bag, your night stand, etc.
Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the upcoming book, Follow the Geeks (bit.ly/ftgeeks).