Another year, more progress. After years of Android manufacturers trying every screen size known to man, Apple finally caved… a little. The iPhone 5 introduced a new form factor with a display that was 18% taller. The result was an additional row of icons on the home screen, a bit less scrolling on the web, and videos that were almost 16×9. The case was slimmer and switched to a mostly aluminum back with glass at the top and bottom. It included the A6 CPU which was, surprise, faster than the A5. The camera was similar to the 4S but had a better sensor. It also retired the 30-pin dock connector and replaced it with the Lightning port we know today.
iPhone 5s (2013)
Fast-forward to October 2013 and we get the iPhone 5s, which is arguably one of the most groundbreaking “s” models Apple released. It introduced the A7, which was the first 64-bit CPU in a mobile phone. The switch to a 64-bit architecture (with fully-optimized software) was a complete surprise to the industry. Competitors called it a gimmick as they secretly searched for ways to quickly double their bitness. In addition to being 64-bit, the A7 was nearly twice as fast as the A6 and remains as the oldest chip that can run iOS 11. It was the first chip since the A4 that was shared mostly unchanged between the iPhone and iPad lines (no “X” version).
The second groundbreaking feature was TouchID, the first implementation of a fingerprint sensor that actually worked. Android phones and PC laptops had fingerprint sensors for years but they were difficult to use and unreliable. TouchID was simple to set up, simple to use, accurate, and much faster than typing in a password. By this time I was required to use a passcode to use WiFi at work and access my work email on my phone. TouchID made an annoyance into something seamless. It was absolutely amazing.
Other features included better lenses on the camera and a better sensor (still 8 MP), a TrueTone flash for improved color balance, automatic image stabilization, burst mode, and slow motion video. It was the first device to ship with Apple’s redesigned EarPods, the first to ship in a gold color, and the first device to include iOS 7 out of the box.
The launch of the 5s was the first time I had to wait in a line to buy an iPhone. Both the 3GS and 4s were available for online pre-order and shipped to my house on release day. The 5s, with its fancy fingerprint sensor, was supply constrained so there were no pre-orders; you had to go in person. I went to a local AT&T store around the corner from work on my “lunch break”. I felt like such a dork standing in line with a bunch of other people just waiting. My one hour lunch break quickly turned into 2.5 hours. By the time I finally got into the store I brushed off the sales person and said I just wanted to pay and set it up at home. They acted like it wasn’t possible but I just walked out after Id’ paid.
I really enjoyed the form factor of the 5s. It was similar to the 4s but provided extra screen space and was a bit thinner and tighter. At the time Apple was all about “chamfered edges” and it looked really nice. I was bummed that they replaced the beautiful slate black of the 5 with Space Gray, but oh well. The form factor was so successful that Apple still uses it in the iPhone SE with an upgraded A9 CPU and more memory.
Touch ID and the camera were the biggest improvements for me overall. TouchID was a tad slow at times but still orders of magnitude faster than typing a password. The form factor fit well in my pocket and the phone was very powerful. It has survived iOS updates pretty well since then. After replacing it with my current phone it became my dedicated CarPod.