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Apple iPhone 5 - Fails To Return To The Top (Part 2)

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Aside from the new Lightning connector, then, the iPhone 5 represents a solid progression. The bigger screen is a major plus, and we love the new lightweight chassis. We don’t, however, hold such affection for the software it ships with: iOS 6.

The new Lightning connector offers a double-sided connection, meaning there’s no wrong way to plug in your cable

The new Lightning connector offers a double-sided connection, meaning there’s no wrong way to plug in your cable

As is customary, Apple introduced its new OS the day before the iPhone 5 was made available to the general public, trumpeting hundreds of new features and enhancements. Most of these are small changes, hardly worthy of mention – under-the-hood tweaks aimed at making the experience smoother. But iOS 6 also contains a few significant changes, and not all of them are welcome.

A mapping calamity

First on the blacklist is the replacement of Google Maps with Apple Maps. On paper, this would seem to be a positive move. The maps, based on a combination of TomTom’s data and Yelp’s listings and ratings content, and developed in-house by Apple, introduce free turn-by-turn navigation with live traffic avoidance and “photo-realistic” 3D views of major towns and cities.

The turn-by-turn feature alone, we had thought, would be worth the upgrade, especially with the traffic avoidance feature. Yet as soon as iPhone users across the globe started using it, the complaints began to flood in. Most of these focused on mapping errors, with many landmarks and even major cities reported to be sited in entirely the wrong position. Others complained about the loss of Street View and patchy business listings.

We have to concur with the majority – a quick search reveals Maps has deftly erased the Melbourne Cricket Ground from existence, applied tens of thousands of years of erosion to the Three Sisters in the Blue Mountains and turned Canberra’s Lake Burley Griffen into a physics-defying mountain of water. Maps’ satellite imagery is less detailed and patchier in its coverage than Google’s.

This isn’t quite the disaster all the reports have made it out to be, however. You can “reinstall” Google Maps (albeit slightly limited) by adding a link to the mobile site on your homescreen, and Google may decide to release a proper, full-blown app soon (although it doesn’t appear to be in a great hurry to do so).

The new panorama feature offers a quick way of capturing broad cityscapes

The new panorama feature offers a quick way of capturing broad cityscapes

Its navigation abilities aren’t bad either. As with Google Maps its facilities are basic, with no local map storage, no speed camera or speed limit indications. We’re a little disappointed to find no indication of ETA in the driving view. But we found the 3D view easy to read, and the voice instructions via Siri delivered clearly and in as timely a fashion as any GPS device we’ve used. We also liked the way Maps shows three alternative routes in the planning stage, with traffic plotted on top so you can quickly pick the quickest route before you start.

A couple of black marks, though: when you arrive at your destination, the screen goes back into timeout mode and turns itself off. And once again, it’s let down by search. Apple Maps failed to find four of the locations along our six-stop test route by name, a performance that would have placed it below most other navigation options in a straight GPS test. The only reliable means of tracking down locations seems to be with postcodes.

Other upgrades

We’ve focused on Maps so far, but there are other improvements. There’s better social networking integration for one, with Facebook included at long last. You can now post status updates directly from the pull-down Notifications menu, for instance; view Facebook events and birthdays directly in the calendar; see Facebook contacts in the contacts app; and post pictures from the photo gallery.

There are enhancements to iCloud photo sharing, which allow the creation of custom photo streams that can then be shared with other iPhone or iPad owners, and even non-Apple devotees via a shared public web link.

You can now post status updates directly from the pull-down Notifications menu

You can now post status updates directly from the pull-down Notifications menu

Finally, there’s the new Passbook app, which is essentially a location- and time-aware repository for storing e-tickets, offer vouchers and the like. This could turn out to be brilliant, but since only a handful of companies in Australia currently have Passbook-compatible apps, it’s too early to say how useful this will eventually turn out to be.

Other stand-out new features include the ability to make FaceTime calls over 3G and – possible our favourite feature of the lot – iCloud Tabs, which synchronises open tabs in Safari across all your iDevices.

Verdict

In many respects this latest iPhone is the most desirable yet, with its gorgeous 4in display, a lighter, slimmer chassis, decent battery life and improved iCloud and social networking integration. And let’s not forget that Apple’s App Store still just about holds the edge over Google’s Play store in the general quality of games and software, although the gap is narrowing.

Yet, with prices higher than its rivals, we feel the iPhone doesn’t quite do enough. Although the hardware is lovely, there’s nothing that takes your breath away, and with the problems over Apple Maps and the Lightning connector undoubtedly damaging its reputation with existing users and potential adopters alike, we can’t see it clawing back ground lost to rivals.

None of this makes the iPhone 5 a bad smartphone, of course. It’s a glorious piece of modern technology that, two years ago, would have caused our jaws to hit the floor at the mere sight of it. Yet, with a smaller screen and a bigger price tag than the Samsung Galaxy S III or HTC One X the iPhone fails to return to the top of our A-List.

 

 

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