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Apple is betting big on design. With two new iPhone models, the elegant iPhone 5s and the whimsical iPhone 5c, each sporting a flat, rainbow-hued software interface that breaks with past versions of iOS, there's no missing how important design is to the company. Thick fonts have been starved into thinness. Textured backgrounds have become flat. Icons rendered with reflections and shadows have been redrawn as pencil sketches.
Not that design hasn't always been a major point of differentiation for Apple, but its importance has been magnified as the mobile market and mobile product lines have matured.
In 2007, Steve Jobs, then Apple's CEO, introduced the first iPhone by calling it "a revolutionary and magical product that is literally five years ahead of any other mobile phone."
Jobs was more or less right. But more than six years have passed and the competition has caught up, at least from a technical perspective. Back then, it was revolutionary and magical to have a phone that also worked well as a portable Internet-connected computer and as an iPod music player. Today, it's mundane. What once was revolutionary is rapidly becoming a commodity, at least in the U.S., Europe and mature Asian markets like Japan.
Apple has fought to protect its turf in court and prevailed against Samsung, the leading Android handset maker, in closely watched patent litigation last year. Microsoft has also sought a share of Android's success (and the advancement of its own Windows Phone platform) through patent claims, and it has obtained licensing agreements with Android handset makers.
But legal victories haven't slowed Android's momentum significantly. Google recently said it has activated more than one billion Android devices. Apple CEO Tim Cook couldn't quite match that, noting that by the end of the month Apple expects to have sold more than 700 million iOS devices. Unit activations, of course, don't tell the whole story: Apple earns far more from its phones than do its competitors. But that's unlikely to last.
Confronted with technology that's more or less as good as its own, Apple in June doubled-down on design because it's hard to copy and it can be protected with design patents. At its Worldwide Developers Conference, it launched an ad campaign under the tagline "Designed by Apple in California."
The ads have been poorly received. Ace Metrix, a media consulting firm said in July that one of the spots in the campaign, "Our Signature," scored 489, less than the industry average of 542 and significantly less than Apple's 2011 average of 614 for iPhone ads. Because Ace Metrix doesn't disclose specifics about how it evaluates ads, the figures should be viewed with some skepticism. But the firm's overall assessment bears consideration, particularly because it is not alone in its criticism of Apple's design-centric pitch.
But the devices that Apple is marketing are more compelling than their advertisements. The iPhone 5s looks great, runs fast, sports a new operating system and generally has a lot going for it. The camera alone is probably worth the price of the device. And the iPhone 5c recalls the old candy-colored iMacs that revived Apple as a company in the 1990s. They may help bring some fun back to a company that has been dealing with the loss of its visionary co-founder, a decline in stock valuation, the challenge of developing scalable cloud services, labor issues at its manufacturing partners, and investor pressure for another blockbuster product line.
Take a look and decide for yourself. Then share your thoughts in the comments section.
The upscale iPhone 5s is available in silver, gray and gold. Of course it's not real gold; it's golden. But if you want to make a statement, gold is your color. Other smartphone makers like BlackBerry and Sony have tried gold-hued devices and haven't won much love for doing so. At least Apple didn't go with the ghastly wood back plate available for Motorola X phones.
The iPhone 5c doesn't take itself too seriously, and that makes it all the more appealing. Though it lacks a Touch ID fingerprint sensor, plenty of potential buyers will consider that a plus.
If you make iPhone accessories, enjoy sharing your lunch with Apple. The company is offering $29 silicone rubber cases for its iPhone 5c and $39 leather cases for the iPhone 5s.
Apple has added a Touch ID fingerprint sensor that will allow iPhone 5s users to unlock their devices and make purchases with a tap, no password required. Though security experts are skeptical, consumers are likely to appreciate the convenience.
Next to being able to make phone calls, send text messages and access the Internet, the camera is probably the most important iPhone feature. The iPhone 5s' 8-megapixel camera boasts an impressive f/2.2 aperture and comes with a dual-LED flash that improves the appearance of skin tones with an amber-tinted light.
The iPhone 5s is the first smartphone to ship with a 64-bit processor. To make use of the faster chip, iOS 7 has been updated to support 64-bit apps. In conjunction with OpenGL/ES 3.0, you have a device that will deliver great performance, even for graphically intensive apps.
The new look of Apple's mobile operating system will not please everyone, but great design isn't about consensus. Give it a try. You may like it more than you expect. And the new functionality -- like AirDrop, improved multitasking and Control Center -- makes iOS 7 eminently useful.
The iPhone 5s' camera offers image stabilization to reduce the occurrence of blurred images. It can capture four images in rapid succession and create a composite single image that's sharp instead of out of focus.
Apple has revised its default Camera app to include eight different filters. While that may not quite match Instagram or other third-party photography apps, it's a positive sign that Apple recognizes the need to refresh its default apps.