Does the iPhone 5S point to a whole new class of computing devices? Something beyond traditional smartphones and tablets? I think it might, and here is why.
My first clue was the A7 chip beating away at the heart of the new iPhone (and now the new iPad Air and Retina). Much was made, by Apple, about its 64-bit architecture and ‘desk-class computing’ power. Some (but not all) commentators felt the chip, when coupled with just 2GB of RAM, wasn’t as huge a leap forward as Apple thought. Whichever side of the argument you find yourself on there is no doubting this is powerful chip, capable of computational feats unheard of in such a small form factor even two years ago.
My second clue came when I upgraded my phone contract to 4G (as LTE is known in the UK). I’d actually forgotten that the new iPhone could handle this standard, and enabled the feature on my contract almost as an afterthought. When the 4G icon appeared in the top left of my screen I downloaded one of those ‘speed test’ apps and checked my Internet connection – I hit nearly 18 Mbps for downloads and 8 Mbps for uploads. Wow. These speeds are four times those I got with 3G and are actually faster than my current home and work broadband connections.
Before I continue I am well aware that other smartphones posses the characteristics described above. I know Android phones have been shipping with Quad Core processors for some time, and that LTE isn’t a particularly new standard. I know Windows phones, and the latest Blackberry devices, are all capable of matching the new iPhone in different ways. But for me this was the device where it all came together.
Whoever the manufacturer it seems I can now have a device in my pocket that is capable of running 64-bit desktop-class software, and can access the Internet faster than any other computer I own. In addition this device knows where it is (thanks to GPS and Wi-Fi), knows which way it is orientated, and is now even counting my steps without me knowing. In some ways it has matched or even surpassed traditional computer hardware, in other ways it offers features those old machines can only dream of.
So how does all this add up to a new class of computing? Well imagine your iPhone as a desktop computer of old, in that it provides the horsepower but not the means of input/output. People already attach removable keyboards, and connect external displays to phones and tablets. But what if there was a smarter way to approach this? What if your phone rarely ever left your pocket or bag, and you used other means as the primary way of interacting with it? Google might suggest we use some variant of their Glass eye wear, while Samsung might point us toward their Gear smart-watch. Yet neither of these feel quite right yet, quite innovative or natural enough.
Apple have yet to show their hand in this area. But surely they are laying the ground work for a new class of device. One that provides portable power and connectivity, but is interacted with in a whole new way – maybe using a heads up display, mini projector, virtual keyboard, or even some kind of motion control – the list is potentially endless.
Hopefully somewhere inside an Apple, Google, or Microsoft lab their are means of interacting with our smartphones being devised that we haven’t even considered yet – something as innovative as the original iPhone was back in 2007. What is clear right now though is the humble smartphone has outgrown its cramped screen and fiddly keyboard, and is ready to take the next step in its evolution.