The latest iPhone does include enough innovation to stay ahead of Apple’s rivals – but only just, according to TechRepublic’s exclusive CIO Jury panel of tech decision makers.

The iPhone 5 – unveiled last week – features a bigger screen, better battery life and 4G LTE for faster browsing. But it eschews elements such as an NFC chip touted by other devices, prompting some industry watchers to wonder whether the iPhone’s position as the preeminent smartphone might be at risk.

When asked, “Does the iPhone 5 include enough innovation to keep Apple ahead of its smartphone rivals?” TechRepublic’s CIO Jury voted yes by a narrow margin, with seven in agreement and five against.

Kevin Fitzpatrick, CIO, Sodexo Northern Europe, said: “Smartphones are as much fashion items as technology devices. Apple is still managing to keep the lead in desirability – and pocketing the extra margin that this brings. Form is as essential as function in this market.”

And Graham Yellowley, CTO equities, risk and client service at LCH Clearnet, said while the iPhone 5 might not win out against rival handsets such as the Samsung Galaxy S3 in every respect, the combination of hardware and iOS software still means “Apple has a compelling package”.

Will Weider CIO at Ministry Health Care, said the onus was on Apple’s rivals to come up with something so compelling “that folks comfortable with iPhones are willing to go through the time and hassle of switching devices and the entire ecosphere of services”, including iTunes and iCloud.

However, not all CIOs were convinced that Apple has put enough distance between the iPhone and rival handsets – or even if such differentiation is possible any more.

However, Matthew Metcalfe, director of information systems at Northwest Exterminating, warned: “Apple hasn’t really released anything of substance in the iPhone 5 that isn’t already out there in competing smartphones. If it’s like the previous phones it will be a solid product but at this stage of the game smartphones are converging on commodity status where all of them will pretty much do the same functions.”

Shaun Beighle, CIO at the International Republican Institute, said in the consumer market the iPhone will continue to reign supreme, simply because the average user doesn’t want to deal with learning a new operating platform.

He said one of the reasons Apple has done so well with the iPhone is that it protects users from the biggest threat out there – their own lack of technical knowledge. “Let’s face facts. A user should not need a CISSP to send an email from their phone.”

But he added: “Microsoft, I hope you’re paying attention. Play your cards right and fill that huge hole that Blackberry will leave in the business place with Windows Mobile 8 and Slate, win over the users within the business community, then you might, might, just be able to sneak back into the consumer market.”

Gavin Whatrup, group IT director at Creston, said of the iPhone 5: “Its lighter weight and thinner form are nice. Its better camera and software will be good for holidays and home. Its larger screen, allowing true 16:9 ratio, is marginally better for browsing and the apps that will eventually be customised to take advantage of the new form, with more information on the calendar and email screens. Gaming apps will be able to take advantage of the new processor, but not any business app that I’ve seen in mainstream use.

But he added: “So, will any of that increase the productivity, efficiency, cost or utility, or lower any operational costs? No. But then these are not decisions made only by the head.”

Jerry Justice, IT director, SS&G Financial Services, said while the iPhone 5 allows Apple to keep pace: “I don’t know if it takes them ahead.”

Other members of the CIO Jury pool added their thoughts. Michael Woodford, executive director of IT technical services, USANA Health Sciences, said: “I am not sure that the statement that Apple is ahead of its rivals is accurate. From the side of aesthetics Samsung has already grasped the importance of screen size being a big drawing point along with processor speed and quality of display. It seems that Apple is scrambling to keep up.”

Rob Paciorek, CIO at Access Intelligence, said the gap is narrowing as far as features go, but Apple enthusiasts will continue to buy the devices regardless of that.

“Some of the smaller things – no pun intended – like size and aesthetics will be a big draw for people who don’t care that something like NFC is missing from the iPhone 5,” he added, while Ian Auger, head of IT and Communications at ITN, said with every iteration the gap between the iPhone and rivals such as the Samsung S3 is becoming smaller: “It really is coming down to a preference of interface as to which way you go.”

ZDNet’s Great Debate is also looking at whether the iPhone 5 matters for CIOs.

This week’s CIO Jury was:

  • Shaun Beighle, CIO at the International Republican Institute
  • Kevin Fitzpatrick, CIO, Sodexo Northern Europe
  • Jerry Justice, IT director, SS&G Financial Services,
  • Matthew Metcalfe, director of information systems at Northwest Exterminating
  • Neil Patel, IT director at Apax Partners
  • Mike Roberts, IT director, The London Clinic
  • Kurt Schmidt, vice president of information technology at Capital Credit Union
  • Tim Stiles, CIO at Bremerton Housing Authority
  • Richard Storey, head of IT, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust
  • Will Weider, CIO at Ministry Health Care
  • Gavin Whatrup, group IT director at Creston
  • Graham Yellowley, CTO equities, risk and client service at LCH Clearnet

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