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iPhone 5 takes next step in smartphone evolution

Jason Snell | Sept. 26, 2012
It's been a little more than five years since Apple released the original iPhone. During that time the world has changed.

It's been a little more than five years since Apple released the original iPhone. During that time the world has changed. People now expect fast, reliable Internet connections and bright touchscreens on devices they can fit in their pockets.

In the meantime, the iPhone has remained recognizably the iPhone. Each successive generation has added welcome features, but none have strayed so far from the previous one as to be unrecognizable. Indeed, from the very first iPhone upgrade, Apple has been taken to task by critics for following that initial exciting burst of revolution with years of steady evolution. (Meanwhile, the iPhone has become wildly successful, proving that phone buyers are excited by the product even if the pundits aren't.)

Now here's the iPhone 5, and is it any surprise that this model doesn't reimagine the iPhone in a completely new way? No, it too is recognizably an iPhone, an evolution of previous models--yet it offers major advances on almost every front. In the technology industry's fastest-moving product category, it's the very best version of the most successful product produced by the world's most valuable company. If the iPhone 5 bores you, you are deficient in joie de vivre.

Improving on the unimprovable

Almost every new Apple product is thinner, faster, and lighter than its predecessor. But I've wondered how much further down that path Apple could go with the iPhone without rewriting the laws of physics. Given that the iPhone 4S was just 9.3 millimeters thick and weighed a meager 140 grams, I had assumed that any changes in future iPhone dimensions would be perceptible only on spec sheets, but not by regular people.

Turns out I was completely wrong.

In photos, a silver-and-white iPhone 5 looks not much different from the white iPhone 4 or 4S. But photos don't do justice to how thin it feels when you pick it up; the thinness is palpable, not theoretical. Thanks to major materials upgrades (including thinner glass and the elimination of a layer of touch sensors), the iPhone 5 is about 80 percent as thick as its predecessor.

Even more impressive is the weight. As one observer pointed out to me on Twitter, the iPhone 4S was as dense as a slab of Pyrex glass. At just 112 grams, the iPhone 5 doesn't have that same density. It feels almost like a movie prop when you pick it up for the first time, as if behind that glass screen there's foam rather than circuitry.

To make room for its taller display, the iPhone 5 is nearly nine millimeters taller than the iPhone 4 and 4S. (It creates an optical illusion: Several people have told me the phone seems less wide than older models, but it's not. And, of course, black is slimming.) Yet the iPhone 5 is so thin that its overall volume is 12 percent less than that of the iPhone 4 or 4S and a third less than the original iPhone.


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