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Despite lack of NFC (here’s why) and wireless charging (you still need  to plug a wireless charging device somewhere), the manufacturing precision with which the iPhone 5 is made is seen as one of its biggest selling points. Piper Jaffray analst Gene Munster previously predicted “the biggest consumer launch in history”, calling the iPhone 5 arrival “the mother of all upgrades”. He’s back at it again, likening the iPhone 5 in today’s note to clients to “a Rolex among a sea of Timexes”…

Compared to the exquisite build quality of the iPhone 5, competing phones, Munster writes, feel like plasticky Timexes.

Fortune’s Philip Elmer-DeWitt relays the note:

We view the iPhone 5 as the Rolex of smartphones in terms of quality and build. While the majority of other phones are dominated by lesser quality plastic and feel more like Timexes. Why would someone buy a Timex when they can have a Rolex for the same price?

Hm, where have I heard this before?

Apple’s marketing collateral says that the iPhone 5 is “made with a level of precision you’d expect from a finely crafted watch, not a smartphone”.

He predicts 8-10 million iPhone 5 units in the first week and 49 million iPhones next quarter, adding:

We believe that pictures and video of the new iPhone 5 do not sufficiently convey the level of upgrade the product represents.

Damn right, Gene!

The iPhone 5 is eye candy, but wait ’till you hold it in your hand

The iPhone 5 is eye candy, but wait ’till you hold it in your hand

He then explains:

We were able to see and hold the device following the launch and believe there are two aspects that will pleasantly surprise consumers.

First, we believe the actual feel and build of the phone is beyond that of any prior iPhone iteration.

Second, we believe the weight difference between the iPhone 5 and the 4S is meaningful and consumers will notice the difference in their pocket, despite the larger screen size.

Be that as it may, I certainly agree with Munster’s assessment concerning build quality.

As I wrote in my yesterday’s article, everything matters once you hold an iPhone 5 in your hand: the materials is being made with, the remarkable precision with which is being built.

Crystalline diamonds are used to cut the chamfers for that expensive looking sheen.

Crystalline diamonds are used to cut the chamfers for that expensive looking sheen.

His company is assembling the iPhone 5 in Chinese plants, using sophisticated equipment custom-designed specifically for iPhone production.

Gou told China Times back in June that Apple’s next phone “would put Samsung’s Galaxy III to shame” and we now know he was referring to build quality.

Apple’s souped up PR shots don’t do the justice.

Check out how thin it is.

One more.

Journos who were given some hands-on time with the device following Wednesday’s announcement felt that it feels substantially lighter in your hand and noticeably thinner.

Combined with its lightly textured back and the  highly polished chamfered edge with a nice sheen to it, the iPhone 5 should by far remain the most precisely built smartphone on the market. I have an iPhone 4S and I still marvel at the manufacturing precision with which it is being made so I can only imagine that the iPhone 5 would knock my socks off in terms of build quality.

I think Apple’s design boss Jony Ive put it best in the iPhone 5 introduction video:

We don’t want to just make a new phone, we want to make a much better phone.

Making a much better phone doesn’t mean just making a bigger screen, a faster processor and putting LTE and ultrafast wireless chips inside. It means refining the familiar design (so that people can tell you upgraded) and improving on production processes so users feel like they’re holding a finely crafted object in their hand.

After all, it is a pricey phone and you’d expect top quality for that kind of money, especially from Apple.

Wouldn’t you agree?

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How The Iphone 5 Is Made

The iPhone 5 is made with a level of precision you’d expect from a finely crafted watch, not a smartphone, says Apple’s marketing collateral. It ain’t just marketing talk. From these gorgeous shots to hands-on reports, everyone seems to agree that Apple has outdone itself with this year’s iPhone in terms of shininess and smoothness.

In order to avoid being leapfrogged by competition (the Galaxy S III feels pretty solid in one’s hand, doesn’t it?), Apple really upped the ante on build quality, traditionally its area of expertise. The manufacturing precision and craftsmanship that go into mass-producing these new iPhones is enough to give any gadget maker a pause.

From the handset’s lightly textured back to its highly polished chamfered edge with a nice sheen to it, Apple felt so confident in its manufacturing prowess that the company saw fit to brag about the unique production techniques it developed itself in order to build this phone…

Jony Ive, Apple’s SVP of Industrial Design, shed more light on the iPhone 5 production process in Apple’s presentation video.

Is it just me or did Ive put on a few pounds?

Is it just me or did Ive put on a few pounds?

He said:

To create the new iPhone, we began with the design that we really loved. But to build it, to implement it – we had to look way beyond what we knew to be possible.

It took all of our learning, our best thinking, to realize something so simple, so clear and yet so truly extraordinary.

In order to build a product with this level of fit and finish and manufacturing sophistication, Apple had to develop production processes that Ive says are its “most complex and ambitious”.

Take the iPhone’s Unibody enclosure and the mirror-like finish of its diamond-cut beveled edge.

Starting with the aluminum, we machine all of the surfaces of the enclosure. We then polish and texture them. We then use crystal and diamonds to cut the chamfers.

We then use crystal and diamonds to cut the chamfers.

The end result: the near-mirror finish of the iPhone’s beveled edge.

The two-tone metallic backplate?

According to Apple:

The back of iPhone 5 is made of anodized 6000 series aluminum — the same material used in Apple notebooks — with inlays along the top and bottom made of ceramic glass (on the white and silver model) or pigmented glass (on the black and slate model).

Production of the iPhone 5 inlays and fitting them together posed a whole new set of challenges as parts have to match perfectly. Otherwise, customers would notice and feel imperfections where the inlays meet.

So, how did Apple solve this challenge?

With the part on the conveyer… …two high-powered cameras take pictures of the housing (and by ‘high-powered’ Apple means a whopping 29-megapixels… …and instantaneous analysis is done… …and then the best match out of the possible 725 cuts is determined.

…and then the best match out of the possible 725 cuts is determined.

Having this many pieces seamlessly come together results in the manufacturing precision where the variances from one iPhone 5 to another are now measured in microns – that is, one-millionth of a meter.

The in-cell process for the Retina display on the iPhone 5?

Here’s from Apple:

Making a thinner, lighter iPhone meant even the display had to be thinner. Apple engineers accomplished that by creating the first Retina display with integrated touch technology.

Which means instead of a separate layer of touch electrodes between display pixels, the pixels do double duty — acting as touch-sensing electrodes while displaying the image at the same time.

With one less layer between you and what you see on iPhone 5, you experience more clarity than ever before. All on a display that’s 30 percent thinner than before.

Yet another example: sapphire lens cover on the iSight camera.

Why sapphire?

Because sapphire is thinner and more durable than the cover glass on your iPhone 4/4S and because keeping optics in pristine condition is crucial for camera performance.

Here, a few snaps of the sapphire lens cover production.

By the way, hardness of sapphire crystal is second only to diamond (on the scale of transparent materials), which means that the surface of the lens on your iPhone 5 is far less likely to scratch.

But why agonize over such mundane things many won’t appreciate fully?

I mean, it’s just a phone, right?

We believe that going to such extreme lengths is the only way that we can deliver this level of quality.

We’ve developed manufacturing processes that are our most complex and ambitious. Never before have we built a product with this extraordinary level of fit and finish.

Fit and finish, materials and manufacturing processes are Jony Ive’s life.

But what’s in it for us, the consumers?

These techniques create a dramatic distinction between the product’s lightly textured back and its highly polished chamfered edge.

Most people don’t ever think about the difficulties Apple faced to make possible that smooth feel to the iPhone 5 in your hand.

To me, this obviously means Apple did a terrific job. People only pay notice of build quality when they pick up a crappy handset with ugly design and plasticky feel to it.

That’s when I begin to ask rhetorical questions, like “gee, they did this high-powered handset with a massive display and I can still hear the plastic cracking in my hand?”

Wrapping up, what makes the iPhone 5 so unique from manufacturing standpoint “is how it feels in your hand: the materials is being made with, the remarkable precision with which is being built”.

Bottom line: no details is too small and everything matters in an Apple product.

If you’re eager to learn even more about the iPhone 5 production process, Apple’s web site is your friend.

And no, it’s not about the looks.

Design is how it works.

So, materials and build quality…

Would you say this is something you take into consideration when choosing a smartphone?

Is Asia Tiring Of The Iphone?

Are iPhone owners going through the Asian version of the 7-year-itch? Once head over heels in love with Apple’s iPhone, many consumers in Singapore and Hong Kong are straying, increasingly adopting Android devices. The iPhone could be a victim of its own success as some Asian Apple fans increasingly turn to Samsung as a way to show they are different from the crowd.

From Hello Kitty to crazy game shows, the West traditionally turns to the East for cutting-edge trends. The latest import could be a wave of anti-iPhone sentiment sweeping the Pacific Rim. One Asian nation has gone from one of the world’s largest iOS markets to a doubling of Android devices. Are we witnessing the beginnings of  ‘iPhone fatigue?’…

The iPhone is “a victim of changing mobile habits and its own runaway success” in Hong Kong and Singapore, Reuters reports Monday.

In the case of Singapore, just 50 percent of that nation’s mobile devices are now powered by iOS – down from 72 in January 2012. Meanwhile, Android devices rose to 43 percent of the market, up from 20 percent since the start of last year.

Elsewhere, in Hong Kong, iOS has slid to 30 percent of the market, down from around 45 percent a year ago. During the same time, Android is used by almost 75 percent of mobile consumers there.

What’s the cause for the iPhone’s eclipse among the wealthy and hip Asian consumer? One possible reason: Apple no longer is the only ‘cool’ technology available.

While still seen as a “prestigious brand” one Singapore developer told Reuters “there are just so many cool smartphones out there now that the competition is just much stiffer.”

In both Singapore and Hong Kong, the white earbuds of iPhones are being replaced with Samsung devices – Apple’s chief Android rival. One Singapore app developer said 70 percent of her audience – young college students and graduates in their 20s – already own an Android phone or intend to switch.

Along with developers turning to Android, dollars are also migrating from iOS. Reuters quotes a Hong Kong-based mobile marketer who says Apple retains its premium pricing while Samsung is promoting its alternative.

In Bangkok, another market (who owns a Samsung Galaxy S3) likens iPhones to designer handbags.

Unlike US iPhone owners, which tend to stay with Apple year after year, mobile users in Hong Kong and Thailand are described as “very fickle” and “not very brand loyal,” tending to follow the latest trend.

Indeed, some credit the explosion of Samsung fans to the growing interest in K-Pop. (Don’t know anything about K-Pop? Talk to your teen or pre-teen for clues.)

But should we dismiss the fashion-fickle young Asian market?

Not totally.

After all, Asia is part of the “emerging market” we so often hear as fueling the future growth for both Apple and Android. In fact, Southeast Asia is a red-hot market. Consumers there increased smartphone spending by 78 percent in 2012 as compared to 2011, Reuters reports.

There are some clues Apple could use in this trend report, however. Foremost, Asian consumers love larger screens both to accomodate Chinese writing, but also to display movies, an increasingly popular use of smartphones.

Another competitive move would be to promote the iPhone in a more price-conscious way. However, some differences between the current Apple and past leadership cannot be changed.

“After Steve Jobs died, it seems the element of surprise in product launches isn’t that great anymore,” remarked a young ad executive based in Hong Kong.

What about you?

Feeling the iPhone fatigue yet?

Foldable Smartphones: The Good, The Bad, The Caveats

I remember back in 2003 when the first Motorola RAZR phones were coming out. They were very thin, aesthetically pleasing, and more durable than the majority of flip phones on the market back in the day. These phones were promptly replaced with solid-bodied smartphones around the year 2007. These “smart” phones, ironically, brought us back to a time when screens were out in the open.

Why It Might Be a Good Idea

Having a “flip” smartphone might sound like some kind of frivolous novelty, but the concept itself has proven quite effective before smartphones ever appeared on the market. This happened for three important reasons:

A flip phone protects its screen. In case you drop your phone, the casing will take the brunt of the impact while the screen remains neatly tucked inside.

Flip phones tend to have a physical response for incoming calls. Swiping to the right does not provide as satisfying a response as actually opening the phone. Psychologically, this presents a satisfying tactile response to input.

Since the casing is always in contact with the outside world, you have less of a risk of accidental screen activation while walking. Wearing pants with thin pocket linings or having very sensitive screens can lead to phones detecting a touch when you don’t intend them to.

One more thing: Because we are applying this kind of design to a smartphone, its utility will also change. See, smartphones are currently limited to having screen sizes that can comfortably fit in your pocket. A flipping smartphone can double that size without presenting many more complications. So, if you implement this design, you’ll be able to have a phone that doubles as a tablet!

The Caveats

While it might actually be a decent idea to design smartphones that flip open (as opposed to using a solid body design), there are a few things that raise serious concerns. Let’s look at Samsung’s patent for a second. The idea here is that it’s not a traditional flip phone (with a hinge that rotates). Instead, we have a “foldable” phone with a flexible body and screen. Here are the possible caveats with that idea that stick out the most to me.

There will be more wear and tear on the flexible portion of the phone’s body. Hinges tend to remain intact and functional for longer than the lifespan of the device as a whole. Try bending a piece of flexible polymer a couple hundred thousand times. You’ll notice small tears in the material.

The phone itself will be at least twice as thick as a standard smartphone, since it is folding over itself.

Because the smartphone cannot use a hinge, it will have to constantly stretch and contract all the interior connections in its hardware. This could provide some serious issues after prolonged use.

You can’t design a smartphone to be very useful with a full-blown hinge, so that is out of the question; you’re kind of forced to use a flexible single body. That may be a bit troubling, but manufacturers tend to address these things as time passes, if not during the initial design phase.


As with any new technology, I offer words of caution before buying into it. But as long as manufacturers focus on the caveats discussed earlier, there is real potential in having a phone that could unfold into a fully-functional tablet. To some, this may represent a heartwarming throwback to the days when flip phones were all the rage. To others, there will be a sigh of relief as they will finally have access to a decent-sized tablet that they can stow in their pockets!

Miguel Leiva-Gomez

Miguel has been a business growth and technology expert for more than a decade and has written software for even longer. From his little castle in Romania, he presents cold and analytical perspectives to things that affect the tech world.

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The Pixel 5 Is Google’s Smartest Phone Since The Nexus 5

When Google unveiled the Pixel 5 alongside the Pixel 4a 5G at its Launch Night In event on September 30, I was perplexed. On paper and in pictures, the $699 Pixel 5 made little sense compared to the $499 Pixel 4a 5G, not to mention the Pixel 4 XL.  I struggled to understand why Google made a smaller phone with very similar specs for more money.

Michael Simon/IDG

A hole-punch camera helps Google keep the bezels nice and uniform on the Pixel 5.

I also get what Google is trying to do. Google is calling it “the ultimate 5G Google phone,” but its focus isn’t on gimmicky features like Motion Sense or Active Edge, or even niche camera tricks that show off Google’s AI prowess. Rather, the Pixel 5 is about taking the high-end Pixel experience and distilling it in a smart and stylish package that challenges the very definition of a flagship.

A design without compromises

Much like the Galaxy S20 and S20 FE, the Pixel 5 and 4a are extremely similar phones. Both have a small hole-punch camera in the upper left corner that looks a lot better than the Pixel 4’s giant forehead or the 3 XL’s notch.

The Pixel 5 has subtle enhancements that give it an almost luxurious feel. The aluminum back, Simply Sage color, and chrome power button all add a touch of luxury compared to the plastic 4a. It doesn’t quite feel as metallic as the original Pixel duo to the paint over the wireless-charging-friendly plastic, but it has a very nice texture. It’s downright Apple-like, a comparison I never thought I’d make for a Pixel phone. It’s like the iPhone 11 versus the Pro, or the XR versus the XS. 

Michael Simon/IDG

The camera bump is a lot less bumpy on the Pixel 5.

The Pixel 5 is also the first Android phone I’ve used that actually has uniform bezels around the screen. Google is using a flexible OLED to bend the display under itself and reduce the chin, a surprising and impressive bit of engineering for a phone that doesn’t cost a thousand bucks. While it seems like a small thing, once you turn it on for the first time, you won’t look at another Android phone the same way. Even the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra doesn’t have quite the same visual appeal after switching over from the Pixel 5.

Altogether, the $699 Pixel 5 is the first phone Google has made that actually feels like a premium device. At just $200 more than the Pixel 4a 5G, it’s a smart addition to the lineup.

The same but different

The Pixel 5 has the same Snapdragon 765G processor as the Pixel 4a 5G, but overall, the Pixel 5 feels like the faster phone. That’s because it has a bit more RAM (8GB vs 6GB) and a faster display (90Hz vs 60Hz), more seemingly small changes that make a big difference.

Michael Simon/IDG

The chrome power button brings a touch of class to the Pixel 5.

But what really gives the Pixel 5 its edge over other phones in its class (and higher, to be honest), as always, is its camera. The Pixel 5 has the same general dual-camera array as the Pixel 4 XL, though the secondary telephoto lens has been swapped out for an ultra-wide one. It’s something of a matter of preference, though I’d personally like both of them in the Pixel 6. But even with a different lens, the results aren’t categorically different from those of the Pixel 5 versus the 4XL. Photos take a touch longer to process due to the slower CPU, but for the most part, the experience is very similar to that of the previous Pixels.

Michael Simon/IDG

The back of the Pixel 5 isn’t quite metallic, but it has a nice texture.

The feature is Android

As expected, the Pixel 5 ships with Android 11 on board, and it feels very much like Google designed it strictly for the new Pixels. The gesture navigation feels better than ever with less bottom bezel, and the optimizations make the Pixel 5 feel like a phone with a much faster chip and much bigger battery. A new Extreme Battery Saver mode will help your Pixel last for up to two days by disabling features, throttling the processor, and limiting notifcations by prioritizing apps.

Michael Simon/IDG

The Pixel 5 dispenses of the ugly chin that previous Pixel phones had.

With the Pixel 5, Android is the premium feature. It reminds me of the last great Nexus phone, the Nexus 5. At the time it was the launch device for Android 4.4 KitKat, and it showcased the new design, improved performance, and Google now Launcher. It wasn’t flashy or over-the-top, but it got the job done. 

And so it is with the Pixel 5. I’ll get into the camera and performance in my full review, but on a high level, Google dispensed with the gimmicks and focused on the things that matter. We finally have a true alternative to the Galaxy S20 and iPhone 12 that leans on the things Google does best. It could lead to some truly impressive phones to come.

Is ‘Open’ The ‘Organic’ Of The It Industry?

Guest editorial by Neela Jacques

Is ‘open’ the ‘organic’ of the IT Industry? Or is it the ‘natural’ of the IT industry? What’s the difference? Everything

‘Natural’ in the United States is a vague term completely devoid of meaning. You don’t have to buy different seed, stop using pesticides, or frankly, do anything different.

‘Organic’ is different. It actually stands for something. Use of the term is regulated by the FDA. But it wasn’t always that way. It started first with farmers who decided that there was something that mattered more than the rat race of ever more pesticides. How did they enforce the use of the term? They began to craft guidelines that became rules, then certification organizations sprung up, and finally the FDA stepped in.

I am starting to see we have the same problem in IT these farmers had 20 years ago.

Why do I tell you all this? Because I fear that ‘open’ may get ‘natural-ed’. As with the unenlightened farmers before them, it is far easier for a vendor to market their software as ‘open’ than truly invest in changing the way they do business. Fortunately I am seeing this question being asked over and over again: “Is XY vendor/standard/open source project truly open?” What’s brought this up most recently is the launch of OpFlex and the Group Policy projects in OpenDaylight and Congress project in OpenStack. 

First let’s talk about what ‘open’ is not. Open is not merely publishing an API, it’s not submitting your proprietary way of doing things to a standards body, nor is it throwing some code on GitHub. These things aren’t enough.

Open isn’t about fundamentally changing the equation for the end user. What end users of technology are looking for is the ability to select technology from multiple vendors and have it work together. The ability to not be dependent on a single vendor and to switch non-disruptively if a vendor chooses to go in a different direction.

So what is ‘open’? First of all it’s something everyone can see, everyone can access, the community can change and anyone can build on. It’s not easy, it’s hard. Good open source is open. How do you know good open source? Look at the community. If there is diversity, meritocracy and a high level of activity it’s probably ‘open’.  Hadoop, MySQL, Linux, and OpenStack all make the grade. Cloud Foundry is getting there; Open vSwitch has really come a long way.

Open source works when some people propose something and others who are not affiliated with the original contributor(s) can change/influence the proposal. Are standards ‘open’? Generally yes, but not always. If someone shows up within a standards body and gets their tech rubber-stamped, that’s not open. A standard is open if others can and do challenge parts of it, make suggestions, make it better and it becomes something that’s broadly embraced.

Beware of the item on your grocery store shelf with a picture of a lovely green field, the word ‘natural’ plastered all over it and an ingredient list that looks like my son’s science experiment. Don’t just take at face value vendors who insist that they’re being ‘open’. Ask them what they are doing to really encourage interoperability, to standardize and reduce duplication of un-differentiated elements of the stack, and to truly participate in open collaboration with others in the industry.

Neela Jacques is Executive Director at OpenDaylight Project

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