Tech Talk: Apple’s core audience

Is the new iPhone worth the fuss? David Behrens reports.

Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, speaks on stage

APPLE’S new iPhones, it won’t have escaped your notice, went on sale yesterday. As is now the established practice, people formed orderly queues outside phone shops – apparently taken by the unlikely fear that they’d better get there early lest there be too few to go around.

iPhones have always been as much fashion accessories as communications devices, and their real triumph has less to do with technology than with marketing. No other product launch gets this much press.

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But is the iPhone 5S (and its new cut-price stablemate the 5C) different enough to warrant an upgrade? And will it supplant rival phones from Samsung, Sony, HTC and others?

The 5S is the new flagship phone, and costs £549, £629 or £709, depending on storage capacity. Innovations include a fingerprint sensor which Apple says will do away with the need for some passwords.

Its cheaper variant is the 5C, which comes in a choice of colours and costs a still hefty £469 or £549, depending on storage. But as with all phones, the prices are misleading because few of us buy them outright, preferring to spread the cost over the length of a contract.

If your particular contract entitles you to a new handset any time soon and you already have an older iPhone, either of these new models will give you more of your money’s worth. The 5S is the more powerful of the two but in most essential respects, they’re the same.

What hasn’t changed – not since the original iPhone in 2007 – is the device’s primary purpose as a conduit for selling you content from Apple’s iTunes store. And that’s why, no matter how good the iPhone itself, I still prefer the rival models.

It’s Google that’s behind most of the Samsung, Sony and HTC phones. Its operating system Android also tries to push content at you through what Google now calls the Play Store, but it’s nowhere near as prescriptive. You’re free to acquire content from lots of other sources, including stuff you already own and have stored on other devices. On the other hand, fewer apps are available and the iPhone’s software is without peer for speed and simplicity. Apple has been losing market share to Android lately and the new models, especially the “lite” 5C, are a clear attempt to redress the balance. But as you decide whether to buy one, keep in mind not just what it can do but what it can’t.