My iPhone 5 already feels like a relic

Published: November 23, 2012

This year, I managed to kick my long-standing habit of buying a new phone or tablet every few weeks. In years past, I have gone through 10 tablets and at least three times as many phones – mostly just for personal use. But this year, I purposefully cut back and have only purchased two tablets and five phones, some of which were returned or sold after I lost interest.

Yesterday evening, our intern, Anna Scantlin, asked a great question: "When did your phone start to show its age?"

These days, smartphones seem to grow older for me more slowly than they used to. The market may still be speeding up and product cycles may be getting shorter. But my interest in always having the latest gadget is fading. As long as my phone works and works well for what I need without giving me too much trouble, I'm likely going to remain content with it for some time.

For instance, I used the HTC One X – almost continuously – for six months straight, only switching between it and the Galaxy Nexus until I received a Samsung Galaxy Note II review unit. And before picking up an iPhone 5 for myself, I used the iPhone 4S non-stop for a year with few complaints. Sure, it could have had a larger display and LTE, but those gripes were silenced with the introduction of the iPhone 5.

And here I am using the iPhone 5 and Galaxy Note II. That's my current setup, and I'm mostly content with it, except for one, minor detail. The iPhone 5 is two months and two days old and it already feels ancient. Even with the improvements over the last model – like a taller display, LTE and a thinner frame – it hardly feels any newer or better than the 4S.

It's not just the hardware that makes it feel old, though. In fact, the hardware is great. And scaled-up to house, say, a 4.5-inch or 4.7-inch display, it would arguably be the best design and form factor out there.

Instead, it's the software that makes it feel old.

Apple's ecosystem, no doubt, is outstanding. The services are sufficient for most consumers' needs. And the App Store is as broad as any, now offering over 700,000 applications. But it's the interface and the severe limitations of the software that are making it age so poorly. I explained in the past that iOS is in dire need of a face-lift. The interface elements, such as the native Back navigation method and the bluish-gray headers and footers look like they're straight out of the 20th century.

Take a gander at the Settings app (above); it reeks of 2007.

Old software on new hardware is oddly reminiscent of my former love, BlackBerry. The thought hit me yesterday when I was visiting my family for Thanksgiving. I stumbled across my old BlackBerry Tour 9630 at my sister's house, and immediately, it dawned on me that the 9630 and iPhone 5 aren't all that different.

Just two weeks ago, I paralleled Apple and Research In Motion, stating that the Cupertino-based firm is trailing down the same path that landed RIM in the state its currently in. The BlackBerry makers were too cautious and resistant to change, and it eventually led to BlackBerry losing its enormous market share lead and relevance. Now RIM is banking on its last-stitch effort, which has already been delayed countless times and lost much of the interest it had originally garnered, BlackBerry 10.

By not updating the interface and only dabbling in adding niche features to the mobile OS, Apple is walking a very thin line. And the iPhone 5 and iOS 6 are a tell-tale for just that. Using the iPhone 5, I feel exactly how I felt using a BlackBerry Tour 9630 in 2009. The device itself was new, but it carried a stench of rotting software.

Do any iPhone 5 users out there feel the same way? It is time Apple brings some refreshing changes to iOS with the next major update? Or is it fine the way it is with small, incremental feature updates and virtually no change to the interface?

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