You Can't Get There From Here

Apple's new flagship toy has some great innards, but in a world where apps are everything, doesn't quite deliver everything it could

Feature by Alex Cole | 28 Sep 2012
  • Apple Maps

It’s that time of year again, folks – new iPhones are at last dropping from heaven and into our cash-strapped little hands. Hurray for everyone (unless you happen to have just bought an iPhone 4S, are locked into a contract, dislike Apple on principle, or just don’t have the insane amounts of money smartphones cost).

The shiny new model is longer to fit 16:9 content and another row of icons, is a good measure lighter, to the point where it almost feels like a toy, and has a generally improved set of gubbins inside, including the camera, screen, processor and charger. In fact, this phone is so much about these minor improvements that it’s telling about what the smartphone market has become – a game of little details and style, rather than bombastic new game-changing features. The launch was preceded by a whole host of rumors which got the specs pretty much dead-on, and thus the legendary secrecy of Apple’s releases is just a memory now.

But it’s what Apple took away that really tells the story of this phone – gone is the integrated YouTube app (with a Google version having to come in to replace it), gone is the old familiar charging cable (and in its place an expensive, Apple-only model), gone is the brilliant Google Maps app (and in its place, Apple’s own new version, which in just a week of release has clocked up more ridiculous entries, directions, satellite photos that look like melting landscapes, and users frustrated by the missing local transit directions than was though possible, to the point where even the London Underground staff were taking jibes at it on launch day), and gone is any impression that Apple is trying to play nice with anyone else. This phone is a strategic move, plain and simple, and a middle finger at Google, Samsung, and everyone else.

None of which is to say it’s a bad phone – it’s clearly top of the range and beats the competition in several key areas (the camera really is fantastic) – but rather that this aggressive move into a universe without Google apps baked in (but with Twitter and Facebook in its place, curiously) exposes more holes in Apple’s offering than it should. This is a phone that should be saying 'look at us, we can do it all by ourselves,' and instead comes out like an expensive new footballer immediately claiming injury.