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Will the iPhone 5 Be an Epic Fail?

Why the iPhone 5 might be the phone that finally fails to impress.

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In the unpredictable world of technology, there is only one constant: The gadgets we use, the Web services we rely on for business, and the apps we install on our phones will continue to improve. Even the mighty giants of tech, like Microsoft and Google, know they can never stop innovating so they will continue to release ever-improved (and sometimes ever-bloated) software and services to attract our attention.

Yet, there is one device that might fall flat this year.

When Apple finally releases the iPhone 5, possibly this fall, it might find a radically different smartphone landscape. Last month, NPD announced that 53 percent of all smartphones run the Android operating system compared to just 29 percent for the iPhone. While many users still prefer the iPhone and the iPad, the Android OS is growing by leaps and bounds. There are dozens of Android tablets, including the super-fast Asus Transformer Prime and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1-inch with its clear, crisp screen.

Android has a distinct advantage. For one, Google can crank out new versions of the operating system and offer wireless carriers custom versions that run on smaller “feature phone” models, 7-inch and 10-inch tablets, and high-end smartphones that use the fast NVIDIA Tegra processor.

Meanwhile, Apple’s slower annual or bi-annual releases worked at one time when the BlackBerry was dominate in business and when Microsoft was faltering with the Windows Mobile OS. Now, there seems to be another new Android model advertised every other day. Consumers and business users alike are inundated with Android announcements, each one presumably better than the next.

Google has arguably made the Android Market app store just as compelling as Apple iTunes. You can now use many of the same apps, such as LogMeIn and Evernote, on Android as the iPhone. There’s the Google Music store and a way to rent or buy movies. If you don’t like one method of purchasing content, you can always switch to an alternative—such as the Amazon or Samsung app stores.

There is also a question about where Apple can go from here. Some rumors suggest the iPhone 5 will use an HD screen that packs more pixels into the same 4-inch area as existing models, and will run on a next-gen processor that supports more robust apps for photo-editing, videos, and richly textured games.

But will that be enough? The fledgling HDTV market grew slowly because some consumers could not tell the difference between a widescreen TV on a standard-definition channel versus the HD alternative. If the only truly amazing feature on the iPhone 5 is a bigger and clearer screen, without any significant improvements to the Apple iOS, end-users might balk. There are countless choices from carriers, and only one of them is an Apple product. Walk into a Sprint store today and you will see a large display of Android phones, Windows phones from Nokia, RIM BlackBerry phones, and a small Apple kiosk.

Still, the iPhone started the current smartphone revolution of innovative apps, easy access to music in the cloud, finger-swipes to view a PDF file, and easier text and voice communication. Apple has a proven record of amazing everyone with new OS and hardware features no one else has imagined. Whether they can continue the trend with the next iPhone release is still an open question.

Last updated: Jan 19, 2012

JOHN BRANDON is a contributing editor at Inc. magazine covering technology. He writes the Tech Report column for Inc.com.
@jmbrandonbb




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