The iPhone 5 was announced on September 12, 2012, ten years ago. It was the first iPhone to ditch the legacy 30-pin dock connector from iPods when it introduced the Lightning adapter.
It was the first reversible data connector in mobile devices, the previous ones -both proprietary and USB- had a “polarity”, that is, there was only one correct orientation.
While this was once an advantage over phones that used microUSB, it’s now seen as a disadvantage and everyone is hoping that Apple will adopt USB-C.
For all its influence in the smartphone market, Apple is sometimes very slow in adopting new technology. This week we will look at several examples, starting with the USB-C we just mentioned.
USB-C: 8 years
Granted, it hasn’t happened yet, but EU law has made it almost certain that Apple will switch iPhones to USB-C in 2023. The law won’t go into effect until 2024, but as new iPhones are introduced to end of the year, analysts expect the change to happen in 2023 with the iPhone 15 series.
It’s not just the EU either, the US and Brazil are considering similar laws that will make USB-C mandatory for phones (and possibly, but not necessarily, other portable electronic devices).
The first Android phones to use USB-C started appearing in 2015, which means Apple will be 8 years late to the party. the The first phone was the LeTV One Max (remember LeTV?).
Interestingly, that also means the first USB-C iPhone will arrive 5 years after the first iPad stopped using Lightning (that was the iPad Pros from 2018). Even more fun, Apple released one of the first USB-C devices ever, the 12” MacBook from 2015.
Quad Bayer sensors: 4 years
After several years of using 12MP cameras, Apple has finally made the jump to a high-resolution Quad Bayer sensor. That’s just for the Pro models, of course, Apple does take a conservative approach to embracing new technology after all.
For years, the Nokia 808 PureView reigned as the highest resolution camera phone: 41MP with a standard Bayer filter. Then, in 2018, the selected Huawei P20 and Mate 20 would almost match it with 40MP sensors. At the end of 2018, Nokia was finally dethroned (in terms of resolution) by Huawei nova 4 and Honor View 20 and their 48MP cameras.
Anyway, the Huawei P20 Pro camera had a Quad Bayer sensor, something completely new in mobile devices back then, we had to make a dedicated article to explain what it does. It allows for things like single-shot HDR (half the pixels take a short exposure, the other half a long one), the extra resolution allows for lossless digital zoom (as the 808 easily demonstrated), and of course there’s always the option Apply demos to reverse the binning and get a higher resolution photo.
By the way, the Nokia 808 PureView was famous not only for the resolution of its camera sensor, but also for its size. The sensors of the iPhone 14 Pro and 14 Pro Max are almost the same size: 1/1.2″ for Nokia and 1/1.28″ for iPhone.
5G: 1.5 years
The iPhone 11 series arrived in 2019 with only a 4G LTE modem. It would not be until the iPhone 12 series in 2020 that Apple would make the leap to 5G. The reason behind this has nothing to do with market strategy or Apple’s usual stubbornness.
Instead, it was a nasty mix of Apple and Qualcomm having a patent dispute and Intel’s modem division failing to deliver. Apple eventually had to settle for Qualcomm and currently uses Snapdragon X modems.
There were rumors that Samsung, MediaTek and even Huawei might supply modems, but to no avail (Huawei even denied this was ever an option, Samsung reportedly didn’t have modems to spare, MediaTek wanted this to happen though).
All the attention is now on Apple’s own modem division, which includes Intel’s modem business that was sold to Cupertino in 2019. Some analysts believe the modem is ready for action, but is being held back by data problems. patent licenses.
The first 5G phone was the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, which went on sale in early 2019. Unless you want to count the Moto Z3, which was introduced in mid-2018 and had an optional 5G mod (although that was only done in pre-order in 2019, so it doesn’t really change the math). So Apple was 18 months behind, it only feels more because Android makers suddenly released dozens and dozens of 5G phones.
Always on display: 6 years (at least)
Apple pioneered LTPO display panels as it needed the extra power efficiency to enable always-on display mode for the Apple Watch Series 5 in 2019. Of course, this same feature wouldn’t be available on iPhones until this week: the iPhone 14 Pro and 14 Pro Max are the first (and only) in the family to have AOD.
In the past, some feature phones could switch their LCD screens to transflective mode, giving them a highly readable and very power efficient mode that allowed them to display the time and notification icons all week. There were also the weird phones like the YotaPhone, which had an e-ink screen on the back (this was also always on, as e-ink only uses power when updating, not displaying a static image).
But putting that aside, the first Android phones to get AOD came in 2016, like the Samsung Galaxy S7 and LG G5. Back then AOD came with a noticeable impact on standby battery life, these days things are much better.
We previously ruled out weird solutions, but we think one is worth mentioning. The 2015 LG V10 had a secondary screen on top of the main one, which had its own display controller and backlight that allowed it to stay on all the time.
Wireless charging: 8 years
As with AOD, wireless charging first arrived on the Apple Watch (the first, actually, in 2014), and it’ll be a few years before it comes to iPhones. The first smartphone with wireless charging was 2009’s influential Palm Pre. Pres were the only real option for a couple of years (with their fancy Touchstone magnetic chargers).
Other platforms would eventually offer wireless options as well like the Nokia Lumia 920 and 2012’s Nexus 4. It took a while, but eventually everyone settled on the Qi standard (MPA was a thing for a few years).
The iPhone 8 and X generation in 2017, the end of the classic iPhone design and the beginning of the notch, also brought wireless charging support to Apple phones. Then in 2020, Apple introduced MagSafe, which included magnets to securely hold your phone and charger (and some snap-on accessories, like wallets). Of course, the Pre did that from the beginning.
Notch: 3 months
Some of you may think that the iPhone X brought the curse of the notch to this world, but you would be wrong. Well, technically incorrect, the iPhone X is without a doubt the phone that made it popular.
but it was not the first to have a notch: not one, but two Android phones outperformed it by three months. The Sharp Aquos S2 went on sale on August 14 and was followed by the Essential Phone just a few days later. Both have pushed their LCD screens towards the top of the phone, leaving the selfie camera on a kind of peninsula, also known as a notch.
Thin top bezels aren’t the only thing that tempted Android makers with this design, of course. The iPhone X ditched the fingerprint reader and offered 3D facial scanning as a secure way to unlock the phone. Android makers toyed with similar technology (and related technology like Google’s Project Soli radar), but quickly went back to fingerprint readers.
Of course, these days that means an under-display fingerprint reader for many phones above the entry level. That’s the technology that Apple has so far refused to adopt, despite plenty of rumors about it. Maybe one day.
We think this is a good place to leave things for the day. There’s a lot we don’t cover: having mentioned the fingerprint reader, the technology predates the iPhone 5s. However, it was the first phone that made the FP reader work well, as previous attempts (reviewed in this post) did not work well.
There’s more ground to cover, things like water resistance, autofocus on the selfie camera, etc. And the “Dynamic Island”, which is a hole drilled with better marketing. If there is enough interest, we can do a part 2.