While Apple’s widely anticipated iPhone 5 launch event landed with a thud in tech circles, let’s be serious: Consumers are going to snap this evolutionary update up in record numbers, despite its disappointing specs. How does the release of this device change the competitive landscape for Microsoft’s Windows Phone?
Not much. And something tells me that was Apple’s goal from the start.
With the iPhone 5, Apple follows a long-lived but little-understood plan from its marketing playbook. That is, the innovative that marked the initial iPhone release from 2007 is long over, and has never in fact been repeated effectively. But the firm is now playing to its strengths: Convincing its best customers to make annual device purchases whether they’re warranted or not. The iPhone 5 is perhaps the apex of this trend: It includes a few features competitors have had for years—a reasonably sized screen and LTE networking—and continues to miss out on some obvious features competitors are now picking up, including NFC for secure payments and tap-based sharing. In other words, Apple has done the absolute minimum here, just as they did with the tepid iPhone 4S, a device that, by the way, is the best-selling iPhone ever.
Yes, Apple understands this market very well.
Of course, in more learned circles where the lemmings don’t roam, you’re probably wondering how the iPhone 5 really compares to the best Windows Phone devices that are coming out this fall. It’s a fair enough question, and let’s just assume for the moment that the besthandset we’re going to see this year is the Lumia 920. How do they stack up?
Screen. With Apple finally marketing an iPhone that’s a suitable size for an adult hand, the iPhone 5 picks up a 4-inch screen running at a strange 1136 x 640 resolution, good for 326 pixels per inch (ppi). The Lumia 920, meanwhile has a larger, 4.5-inch screen that some may find a bit too big: It runs at a higher resolution, 1280 x 768 (720p+), which also has a higher 332 ppi pixel density. Based purely on specs, the Lumia comes out ahead.
Size/weight. Here, the Lumia stumbles, as does its predecessor, the large and heavy Lumia 900. With a 6.5 ounce curb weight, the Lumia is significantly heavier than the 4 ounce iPhone 5, and it’s also thicker (.42 inches vs. .3 inches), taller (5.12 inches vs. 4.87), and wider (2.78 inches vs. 2.3). Put simply, the Lumia is bigger and heavier. Advantage iPhone 5.
OS/ecosystem. The Lumia 920 utilizes the vastly superior Windows Phone 8 platform, which runs circles around Apple’s tired iOS. That said, this is a hollow victory for the Lumia, since no one buys an iPhone for iOS, they buy into the ecosystem of apps, services, content, and accessories. And while the new dock connector on the iPhone 5 is a ludicrous and unnecessary compromise, that doesn’t change the overall value proposition at all. Advantage iPhone 5.
Processor. Both phones feature a dual-core processor, though Apple provides no real specs for its A6. I think it’s fair to say that both OSes are fairly well tuned for the chipsets on which they run and that no determination here is really impossible. A better measure, down the road, will be real world performance tests.
Storage. Apple offers more choices, with 16, 32, or 64 GB versions of the iPhone 5, compared to the one Lumia 920 model that offers 32 GB of storage; neither is expandable. But Nokia (and other Windows Phone makers) sell other phones that will have expandable storage. For example, the Lumia 820 includes a micro SD slot, so you can increase its capacity with up to 32 GB of additional storage. This one is kind of a wash.
Networking. This is another wash. Both devices offer dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi, LTE 4G cellular data, and modern Bluetooth stacks. That said, the iPhone 5 lacks NFC, which could prove to be a crucial piece of the electronic wallet puzzle.
Camera. This could be a real battleground area. The iPhone 4S had a great camera, and I expect the iPhone 5 to as well: Apple reports it as an 8 megapixel sensor, while the Lumia 920 has an 8.7 megapixel sensor. Apple added panorama; Lumia already had that. Marketing silliness aside, the PureView technologies in the Lumia 920 could put it over the top. I’ll be watching this area closely.
Voice control. Everyone who’s tried Siri knows it’s pathetic, but it’s nice to see iOS 6 finally adding app launching capabilities. Windows Phone has had that since v1. Just saying.
Battery/talk time. Apple rates the iPhone 5 at 8 hours of talk time over 3G. But Nokia says the 920 is better, with 10 hours of talk time over 3G. Based on experience with each makers’ previous devices, I suspect the Lumia 920 is going to win this one. I regularly make it through a full day of usage with a Lumia 900. No iPhone 4S user can claim that.
Colors. Apple will sell you an iPhone in any color you want as long as its black or white. Nokia offers the Lumia 920 in black, white, gray, red, and yellow, and other colors, like cyan, are expected over time.
Frankly, what this really comes down to is which platform you support, and this is what I meant up front by Apple specifically not changing the value proposition at all with the iPhone 5: It addressed two key concerns about the previous iPhone—its ludicrously small screen and equally ludicrous lack of LTE networking---and that’s it. But that’s all it had to do.
For Nokia, Microsoft, and the other Windows Phone 8 partners, the situation is much murkier. Windows Phone is superior to iOS, sure, but no one knows this or seems to care. The Windows Phone 8 ecosystem is vastly inferior to that of the iPhone, with a smaller apps market, less content, and fewer connected services. What’s there is generally excellent and is arguably all that most people need. But perceptions are hard to overcome.
It doesn’t help that Google’s Android also runs rings around the iPhone 5 with a broader selection of devices and partners than Windows Phone offers, a better apps selection than Windows Phone, and viable ecosystem choices from both Amazon and Google.
What we’re left with, it appears, is a continuation of the current situation. And again, that suits Apple just fine. But this is all just theoretical for now. We’ll know more when it’s possible to test both devices head-to-head. I look forward to doing so as soon as possible.