Saturday, August 27, 2011

What the iPhone 5 or iPhone 4s Need To Outpace the Android Army

Historically, Apple has brought the iPhone to market with specs and features that far surpass or are at competitive with the top android handsets. This persistent "first to market" advantage has played a major role in the iPhone's success. While the new iPhone 5 or iPhone 4s (whatever the name will be) will likely sell well regardless of how it compares to current high end Android devices, its sales will be profoundly better if it can beat, or at least closely match, the best that Android currently has to offer.

Before discussing what the new iPhone needs to bring to the table, let's take a look the history of the Android vs iPhone story. 

iPhone and iPhone 3G
When the original iPhone (released June 29, 2007) and predecessor, the iPhone 3G (released July 11, 2008), hit the the shelves, Android handsets were still just a twinkle in Andy Rubin's eye. These two iPhone releases revolutionized and expanded the smartphone market. Before this time, smartphones were mostly produced by RIM and Palm, and primarily appealed to business users. The iPhone was the first smartphone to gain traction with the average consumer.

The Android operating system was revealed by Google on November 5, 2007, but it wasn't until October 22, 2008 that the first Android handset, the G1, was released in the US, well over a year after the first iPhone began shipping.

iPhone 3Gs
The iPhone 3Gs (June 19, 2009) was an evolutionary step up from the iPhone 3G. It was the first phone to feature a 600 MHz ARM Cortex A8 chip, offering improved performance over the previous generation processor. As well as an improved processor, the iPhone 3Gs offers twice the RAM (256MB) and PowerVR SGX 535 graphics. As with the previous two generations, the iPhone 3Gs featured a 3.5" HVGA display.

Android competition at the time of the release of the iPhone 3gs was very limited. In fact, the only Android handset available in the US at that time was the G1, manufactured by HTC. Compared to the iPhone 3Gs, the G1 featured a slower processor (528 MHz Qualcomm MSM7201), less RAM (192MB), and a smaller 3.2" screen. Given these hardware differences, the iPhone 3Gs was clearly the best phone available at the time of its release. It wasn't until several months later, when phones like the HTC Hero, Motorola Droid, and the Nexus One were released,  that google handsets were able to hold their own against the iPhone 3Gs.

iPhone 4
The release of the iPhone 4 (June 24, 2010) was met with huge excitement, due to its revolutionary industrial design and top of the line internals. Visually, the iPhone 4 is a masterpiece. It just looks amazing. Major upgrades at this time included the high resolution "Retina" display, a faster processor (ARM Cortex A8 based "Apple A4"),  a front facing camera and once again twice the RAM (512MB),

Despite the wonder that was the iPhone 4, Apple faced much stiffer competition from the Android crowd this time around. HTC released the Evo 4G only a few weeks before the release of the iPhone 4, as well as the Droid Incredible in April of 2010. These phones also featured ARM Cortex A8 processors, though they carried Adreno 200 GPUs, which are notably weaking than the iPhone 4's PowerVR SGX 535 graphics chip. These phones also have well known battery woes, and have difficulty getting through a full day on a single charge. Though the race was a lot closer in this generation, at the time of its release, the iPhone 4 was still the king of the hill.

The Present
Now the smartphone market is a crowded place, with high end android offerings available from Samsung, LG, Motorola, HTC, and others. From a hardware standpoint there have been a lot of innovations that have already been implemented in these Android handsets. Since the introduction of the iPhone 4 there have been major improvements in processor and graphics power, data speed, screen size and resolution, and RAM capacity. The follower are the minimum specs the new iPhone needs to catch up with the android competition that is already on the market:

  • Dual core ARM Cortex A9 based processor (likely the A5 that is now being used in the iPad 2)
  • 768MB+ of RAM (there are several phones already on the market with 1GB)
  • 4 inch screen (there is not a single high end android phone with a screen smaller than 3.7 inches, and most are 4.3 inches. Compare this to the iPhone's measly 3.5 inch screen)
  • 8 Megapixel Camera, 1080p video
  • WiMAX, HSPA+, or LTE connectivity
Keep in mind that these are the specs the new iPhone would need just to catch up, not to be the leader of the pack like it has always been in previous generations. In order to differentiate its new phone, Apple will need to add something special, especially considering the phone likely won't see another refresh until mid 2012. Here are some ideas of things the new iPhone might have that will allow it to retain that magic at launch:
  • A 4 or 4.3 inch display in a phone that is small in comparison with other phones with that screen size
  • Given the bigger display, add in a very high resolution display, perhaps 720p
  • the first LTE phone available on AT&T