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iPhone 5S – problems and pitfalls

The iPhone 5S is here, and we’d bet our last battery bar that it’ll sell tens of millions of phones over the next year.

However, there are five problems with the iPhone 5S that could mean it’s remembered as a bit of a dud in the iPhone’s illustrious history. Read on to find out what they are.

6. Stock is very scarce

Initial stock of the iPhone 5S is very, very limited. O2 has confirmed that it had no in-store stock for the phone at launch, and although the phone was released on 20 September, the Apple website listed the phone as available in ‘October’ on day one of launch.

Has Apple made a boo-boo? It seems so. Our bet is that the fingerprint scanner is behind the serious stock shortages of the phone.

Not only is it a brand-new element of the phone, it’s also one that could become a PR disaster if Apple isn’t extremely stringent with its quality control. The capacitive sensor (it’s not an optical one) isn’t something we’ve seen before in a phone – it’s not a tried and tested idea. However, Apple’s QA process isn’t going to be a particularly satisfying exuse for estate agent Dave who simply wants to get his hands on the new phone.

5. The camera isn’t as advanced as some might hope

The iPhone 5S has a redesigned camera array. It keeps the same resolution as the iPhone 5, but increases the sensor size by 15 per cent, bumps up the f-stop rating to f/2.2, and improves the flash.

However, most of them feel like half measures. Apple talked-up the 1.5 micron sensor pixels of the iPhone 5S – the larger, the better image quality per pixel – however in reality they’re not that large.

The HTC One has 2.1 micron sensor pixels, for example, and higher-res phones like the Lumia 1020 cleverly block together multiple small sensor pixels to act much like larger pixels.

Its aperture is not all that impressive either. The iPhone 5S has an f/2.2 lens, but several phones use f/2.0 apertures these days, and the Lumia 720 goes even further with an f/1.9 lens.

Other features are provided by software magic rather than real hardware improvements too. For example the ‘image stabilisation’ is actually a super-fast burst mode that takes a bunch of photos with each snap and picks the one it judges the be the sharpest.

It’s clever, but it’s far less impressive than the true optical stabilisation of a phone like the Lumia 925 – which is far closer to what you’d get in a ‘proper’ camera.  

4. Proprietary approach in AirDrop is bad for the industry as a whole

One of the big hardware disappointments in the iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C is that neither has NFC – Near-Field Communication. This is used in most high-end phones these days, and lets two NFC-capable devices talk to each other over short distances.

A common, but not very interesting, use is in transferring files between phones or tablets. Apple offers an alternative proprietary technology for this purpose. It’s called AirDrop, and has featured in Mac OS X gadgets like MacBooks since the Lion software update. It uses Wi-Fi, making it merely a specific implementation of Wi-Fi Direct.

However, it misses out on all the more exciting uses of NFC that won’t apple to AirDrop. There are loads of audio docks and headphones that use NFC to let you quickly pair a phone with the speaker – requiring little more than a swipe of the handset. These won’t work with AirDrop (most use Bluetooth, but without NFC the sync method is clunkier).

NFC was also once a bright hope for wireless payments on the high street. Several retailers trialled the technology too, but after a bright and hopeful start, the technology doesn’t seem to have spread much further. That it still isn’t used in the 2013/2014 iPhones more-or-less sinks NFC’s battleship in this respect.

3. It will take a long time for the iPhone 5S 64-bit system architecture to pay off

The iPhone 5S is the first phone ever to use a 64-bit processor. But will it really be of much use to the phone? Well the first good news is that iOS 7 already support optimisation for the new CPU. But have you ever really been disappointed with how slick a new iPhone’s interface is?

For the processor’s innovations to be at all worthwhile, other developers need to get hold of the tech. And there’s not an immediate need for them to do so, as Apple has sensibly made the iPhone 5S backwards compatible with 32-bit apps and games (i.e. every one made to date).

There’s a clear argument that the 64-bit processor is more of a marketing tool than something that’ll truly increase the performance of the iPhone 5S. The support for more RAM that’s a core part of the benefit of a 64-bit system in desktop PCs doesn’t apply here, and the need to support 32-bit systems for years and years to come severely limits the potential benefits of the iPhone 5S’s 64-bit nature – for the next year at least.

2. The screen size is starting to look out of date

The iPhone 5S has a great screen. However, put it next to any of its Android rivals in remotely the same price class and it looks tiny. It looks like a toy.

Apple has rigidly stuck to a screen that keeps the phone around 6cm wide. This helps ensure it’ll fit in just about anyone’s hand – anyone old enough to have learned to control their own bowels at any rate.

However, is Apple just playing stick in the mud? The success of phones like the HTC One and Galaxy S4 – they’re not only admired by tech heads – suggests enough people have gotten used to holding a larger phone.

We don’t doubt that Apple has considered a larger phone – if not dozens. There are almost certainly large-screen prototypes in an Apple lab somewhere. But the company seems scared to break free of its self-imposed constraints.

1. The Touch ID Sensor is very limited

The Touch ID Sensor – that’s the fingerprint scanner on the Home button – is perhaps the coolest single feature of the iPhone 5S. It uses a capacitive sensor to judge the exact properties of your fingerprint, and is much more secure than the relatively dumb optical sensor seen in other scanners.

However, it doesn’t do much. The way it works means you won’t be able to unlock the phone if you have gloves on, not without reverting to the old passcode system.

The Touch ID Sensor will also never be able to be used by third-party app developers either according to Apple, meaning that its uses are very limited. The reason why is pretty obvious – although a capacitive fingerprint sensor doesn’t store a copy of your fingerprint as such, it records its conductive ‘signature’. And the mere possibilities of national papers hooking onto the privacy and security issues probably means opening up the system simply isn’t worth it PR-wise for Apple.

Its uses, therefore, will be limited to Apple’s own software. For now that means helping out with passcodes and passwords, but it is likely to let multiple users open up their own iPhone profiles in iOS 7.x or iOS 8.

Think there’s another iPhone stumbling block looming in the future? Drop us  your thoughts in the comments.

Next, read the 10 ways the iPhone 5C beats the iPhone 4S

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