It has been two weeks since the release of the iPhone 5, but I am sticking with the iPhone 4S. In the United States two year phone contracts are the norm, and there are financial penalties for upgrading early, or leaving your contract too soon. Until my contract expires, or I am given an iPhone 5, I am avoiding those penalties by staying with the iPhone 4S and its two year old hardware design. John Gruber calls the alternating iPhone design cycle the “Tick Tock design schedule,” and as 4S owner who upgrades every other year that makes me a Tock.
The pattern after 2007 has been for a tick-tock design schedule: new hardware design (iPhones 3G and 4), followed the next year by faster, more refined versions of the same design (iPhones 3GS and 4S)
You might think that being a Tock is like being the runner up in a race towards new technology, but that assumption is only as deep as the millimeters of metal, glass, and plastic that make up the skin of every iPhone 5. Runner-ups like the iPhone 3GS, and 4S have brought considerable innovation to the iPhone lineup, and in this race there are real rewards for coming in second place.
Instead of getting the latest hardware design and all the growing pains that go with it, Tocks can wait while Apple works out the bugs. Remember the iPhone 4 and Antenegate? The iPhone’s reception only got stronger with the release of the iPhone 4S. The iPhone 5 has its problems too. The aluminum anodization process on the black model is easily scratched, and there have been reports of issues with the on screen keyboard. Some of these issues can be fixed in software, but wouldn’t you rather give Apple a year to perfect the manufacturing process, and release a finished product?
The new case design in every other iPhone seems to take precedence over other iPhone features. For instance the iPhone 3G brought a plastic back, a pricier bill, faster than EDGE networking and very little else to the iPhone line up. The iPhone 4 brought a new external antenna design prone to interference. And the iPhone 5’s thinner design with a taller display that will only take longer for app developers to adjust to. If you are a Tock, you quickly learn not to look forward to new hardware designs, but instead expect more substantial features like a better camera, video, Siri, and the oleophobic screen Apple has found time to implement during the second go around.
Having the newest hardware design isn’t everything. In fact it makes shopping for a compatible iPhone case that much harder. Very few cases are available at the launch of a new iPhone form factor. You might have to wait weeks, even months, before your iPhone can be adequately protected. That is a lot of risk to put on a $650 phone your klutzy fingers are just getting familiar with holding. Because the form factor of our phones are less likely to change from last year’s model, Tocks like myself benefit from the wide variety of compatible cases that have been manufactured over the previous year. When we go to the Apple Store on day one to buy our phones, you can guarantee their will be a wide variety of cases to choose from.
The 30-pin Dock Connector has been around since 2003, and every iPhone up until the iPhone 5 has benefitted from its popularity. There are 30-pin dock connector equipped charging stations in airports and hotel rooms. Automobile manufacturers have incorporated it into their car’s dashboards. Almost every iPod and iPhone accessory on the planet has taken advantage of it. In the past most accessory incompatibilities were solved with a white plastic adapter, but this year the release of the iPhone 5 and its new Lightening connector means very few existing accessories will work with such a cheap adapter if they work at all. By the time I get my iPhone 5S this time next year, the latest accessories will already have incorporated the iPhone 5’s new design and Lightening connector, without the need of a pricy adapter. Being a Tock means there is less waiting for your iPhone to work in more places.
Despite the taller Retina display, speedy LTE Networking, and its exquisite manufacturing process, the iPhone 5 is nothing without its operating system. iOS often gets overlooked during the announcement of a new iPhone because its more prominent features have been known months in advance. Even the iPhone 5 would quickly become a second rate smartphone if it wasn’t for the advancements made in iOS 6. And because of its new features it is safe to say that iOS, and not any culmination of silicon, metal, and glass, is the iPhone’s greatest advancement year after year. But the best part of iOS is that you don’t have to purchase a new phone to get it. Ticks, Tocks, and even people that have not upgraded their iPhones in years can still benefit from some of iOS 6’s most prominent features. You don’t always have to purchase a new phone to reap the rewards of features like improved Siri, Facebook integration, PhotoStream Sharing, and Passbook. In fact, last years iPhone 4S can do all of these things just as well as the iPhone 5 at no additional cost.
Being a Tock, and not having the latest iPhone is no reason to feel depressed. Sure it will be another year before you can show off your new phone to your friends, and maybe the hardware design will not be that impressive, but you will be the owner of more polished Apple product which has had most of the bugs worked out, compatibly increased, and software improved. Call it spoiled grapes, but I am glad I am spending another year with my iPhone 4S. I appreciate my phone’s smaller form factor, easier to navigate display, and extra durability that comes from its steel construction and front and back panes of Gorilla Glass. And since my iPhone 4S benefits from all of the features of iOS 6, I have the best features from the iPhone 5 introduction in my pocket free of charge.