So, some of the iPhone 5’s features need more attention…

Last night I did a by-the-minute coverage of the iPhone 5 launch and was pretty impressed by the improvements, even though a large amount of them weren’t related the the phone’s hardware but rather to iOS, Siri and the iPod family. But a few features have been overlooked and poo-poo’d by numerous Apple haters on the internet and I thought that some things should be set straight. Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t, right?

First up, that Retina display and the 16:9 ratio.

Apple’s argument is that they couldn’t extend the width of the screen because that would make it less pocketable and less easy to handle in one hand. That’s a pretty good argument by any standard, but the company has been standardising on 4:3 screens for years now, with the iPhone 4s even boasting a mere 960 x 640 resolution for its 3.5″ screen. With Android handsets stretching to 720p and beyond, this seems a little archaic, doesn’t it?

The problem is that Apple’s always maintained compatibility with previous devices and apps by merely doubling the amount of available pixels, most notably seen with the jump from the iPhone 3Gs to the 4, the iPad 2 to the new iPad and from the 1440 x 900 resolution for the Macbook Pro to the insane 2880 x 1800 resolution for the Retina-display Macbook Pro. Doubling up has always been their game from day one.

In the same vein, Steve Jobs created the original iPhone with a 4:3 screen because it worked out better in terms of how iOS displays information and web pages to the user. One thing that’s always been lacking is a wider screen for watching movies in their original aspect ratio, not cropped as has always been the case in the default settings for the media player. With the prevalence of services like Hulu and Netflix and movies being available on iCloud and the iTunes store, being able to natively play widescreen video was on Apple’s to-do list from the start.

Applications that don’t stretch to the edges of the screen now are letterboxed and centered, with black bars taking up the available space on the top and bottom of the screen. Its a better compromise than Nokia’s move from Symbian S60 to S^3, which put white spaces in the empty screen estate, or with Android, which either stretches apps or compresses them to conform to different screen sizes, sometimes ignoring this altogether for certain devices. If you own the black version, you probably won’t even be aware that the app you’re using is letterboxed, but the white one will make you take notice of it.

Apple’s approach is similar to Windows Phone 8, where WP8 differs because applications and icons are vectorised – they can stretch to any scale or aspect ratio without looking weird. Sadly, vectorised icons are a long way away from being an industry standard and we’re stuck with the Bitmapped ones for now.

And then there’s the Panorama mode inside the new camera app. Now there’s some speculation as to whether this will also be available in the older iPhones and iPod touch models with a camera when iOS 6.0 lands on the 19th. Right now, I can’t say for sure, but it is a better Panorama mode than other solutions I’ve seen up to now. At the reveal Apple showed off a few sample photos at a staggering resolution of 28MP – that’s exactly three separate 8MP photos stitched together. Most other Panorama apps take three or four photos of a smaller resolution for various reasons – maybe the image processor can’t handle the large images, or the processor can’t stitch the photos together without running out of RAM. Its telling that Nokia’s Pureview 808 requires a separate single-core ARMv9 processor just for the camera module, because the super-sampling that goes on requires some decent hardware to push it along. HTC’s One X is able to take out photos from a video because the hardware specifically caters to that, but it creates panorama photos in the same way – three or four images of a lower resolution than what’s normally available.

You also have to take into account the improvements that were first seen in the iPhone 4s with regards to optical image stabilisation and low light levels and then add them to the camera in the 5 to really get a feel for how it will perform. The Lumia 920 also touts image stabilisation as a feature along with back-side illumination as well, but uses the stabilisation to keep the shutter open for longer to capture more light for night-time shots. No-one has said anything about how the phones actually compare, as opposed to just looking at figures on a piece of paper and complaining about how there’s no innovation from the Apple camp.  And it should be left that way until they can be rounded up properly.

Finally, there was a tiny thing that popped up on Anandtech’s feed of the event that sparked my curiosity:

This isn’t advertised on any other web feed that I’ve seen, nor is it really lauded by any one site in particular. The Verge mentions it in a mock-battle by sizing up the iPhone 5’s specs to other mobiles including the Lumia 920, but apart from that there’s nothing concrete. Apple goes on to mention that the display has 44% more colour saturation because of the adoption of sRGB and the integration of the touch layer into the screen itself. This is one area where I consider Apple to have misrepresented facts – sRGB has been available on LCDs for years and the company has used it before on the iPhone 4 and 4s.

In closing, I’ve said before that while the company’s business practices are less than angelic or without fault, Apple does make good hardware and I stand by that. Whatever your reservations are about the company, they have done a lot for today’s market in terms of competition and standards. Phones are now built to higher standards and companies are listening to consumer demands – before 2007, this was the other way around. If you own a Nokia Lumia, A Samsung Galaxy S or even a Google Nexus phone, remember that they wouldn’t be here without the push by Apple to have touch interfaces on mobile phones.

Those of you who wish to see the event in full, you can watch the entire thing here.

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