Apple Inc.'s (AAPL) iPhone has been a trendsetter for half a decade. Now the question is whether it can avoid becoming a bore.
On Wednesday, Apple unveiled the iPhone 5, packed with new features. The phone is thinner and has a bigger display. It can connect to 4G data networks and has faster processing. Its Siri virtual assistant has grown more powerful.
Yet few heralded the new device as a great leap forward. What's more, the iPhone 5 doesn't have several features that are becoming standard across other smartphones. Those features, such as ways to pay with your phone or even bigger screens, are generating strong reviews from consumers and technology critics.
Those reviewers, quick to call winners and losers in the space, have spent the last few months lamenting that the iPhone doesn't offer more. Even some hard-core Apple fans questioned whether the iPhone can continue to trail blaze or if it's becoming a snoozer. One Apple employee recently confided he had been hoping the new device would have more dramatic changes.
Whether the missing features matter remains to be seen. Tech bloggers Wednesday were gushing over the slick look of the iPhone 5 and analysts are expecting big sales. Consumers world-wide have eagerly snapped up incremental versions of the iPhone in the past. When the iPhone 4S went on sale last October, Apple more than doubled sales to 37 million iPhones that quarter.
Still, the technology gaps are getting more attention. Here's a sampling of what the iPhone 5, available Sept. 21, is missing:
• Digital Payments: Some new Google Inc. (GOOG) Android phones, including the Galaxy Nexus, and coming Windows Phones have a near-field communication, or NFC, chip that powers digital-wallet services. They allow users to pay for goods at certain retailers by tapping their phones. The new iPhone still lacks NFC and has taken only small steps toward payments with a new digital-coupon and loyalty-card service called Passbook.
• Touch to Share: Most new Android phones, including Samsung Electronics Co.'s (005930.SE) Galaxy S III, can share media by touching the devices together (again thanks to NFC). The phones can share photos, videos, contacts and Web pages this way, as well as information between apps. The iPhone can't (although there are third-party iPhone apps that enable some similar features).
• Dynamic Home Screens: The iPhone is sticking to a home screen of static icons that people must tap to load. Lots of Android phones offer more customizable modules that push information that is otherwise buried in apps.
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These Android widgets let consumers see content like weather or Facebook updates on their home screen. Rather than see an icon for their email application, say, people can see their actual emails. Windows Phones, including one expected from Nokia Corp. (NOK) later this year, offer home-screen tiles that provide something similar. (The iPhone does push some notifications—like Facebook updates—to the unlock screen, which is a first step.)
• Face Unlock: Many new Android phones use facial recognition to allow people to gain access to their phone just by looking at it. IPhone users are still swiping screens with their fingers to unlock their devices.
• Even Bigger Screens: While larger than the last iPhone, the iPhone 5's four-inch screen is smaller than some phones on the market, such as the Samsung Galaxy S III, which is 4.8 inches. Indeed, phones with screens as big as 5 inches are hitting the market.
• Wireless Charging: Nokia's new phone running the Windows Phone 8 operating system can be charged without a cord. All you have to do is place the device on a pad that supports a wireless charging standard called Qi. The iPhone 5 has a new charger that is much smaller, but it still has a cord.