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Opinion: Buy an iPhone 5s now, or wait for the iPhone 6?

updated 10:18 pm EDT, Fri June 27, 2014

Apple iPhone 5s is the most forward-compatible iPhone ever

If the rumor mill is correct, Apple will launch a 4.7-inch iPhone 6 on September 19, which is less than 100 days away (it may also launch a larger 5.5-inch model at or around the same time). Typically, as the anticipated launch event gets closer of any product, sales of the previous generation model begin to taper. So is it worth hanging on for Apple's next-generation smartphone, or should you jump in and grab an iPhone 5s now anyway? For some people answer to the question is a no-brainer -- wait, and get the next iPhone because it is literally going to be bigger and better. However, there are a few considerations that might still make you want to jump in now and grab and iPhone 5s anyway.

There have been a number of commentators who have called the iPhone 5s an 'incremental update' over the iPhone 5, apparently just because it carries a similar design. Personally, I don't know how anyone can not see the iPhone 5s as anything other than a massive technological leap over its predecessor. It carries the first fully 64-bit mobile chip in the Apple designed A7 processor while also running the world's first fully 64-bit mobile operating system in iOS 7. As I wrote in my review at the time, in delivering the iPhone 5s in August 2013, Apple was offering 2014 technology in 2013. It's 64-bit internals caught the competition completely off-guard. In fact, it won't be until late this year that 64-bit ARM designs will be available from competitors, highlighting the competitive advantage that Apple has gained in developing both its own chips and operating system.

The only other mobile chip player who has subsequently launched 64-bit mobile processors is Intel, although it has yet to gain any significant traction in the mobile segment. To make its 64-bit Atom processors relevant, it has had to take on the job of porting Android to its x86 architecture. It was only at Google I/O 2014 during the past week that Google indicated that it has begun the work necessary to support 64-bit chips when Android L launches later this year, which could be around October. Given how competitive the smartphone market is, it is an amazing achievement by Apple to have stolen a 1 year lead in both hardware and software system architecture. Although not all users will necessarily appreciate this, but it does mean that the iPhone 5s is a special case in a rapidly changing technological landscape.

Put simply, the iPhone 5s is Apple's most forward-compatible iPhone ever. While naysayers have argued that Apple's transition to 64-bit did not mean as much because the iPhone 5s carries 1GB of RAM and not 3GB or more, the performance benchmarks say otherwise, in part thanks to ARM v8 instruction set that is a feature of the new 64-bit ARM-based architecture in the A7 chip. Testing shows that compared to the leading the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800/801 (used in many current Android flagships), Apple is able to achieve more than double the processing single-core performance with the A7 chip clocked at just 1.3GHz. By comparison, the 32-bit Qualcomm Snapdragon chips with twice the clock speed at anywhere up to 2.5GHz and with two or three times as much system RAM are outgunned in this, the most important of performance metrics. Hardly results that one might call a 'gimmick.'

Even if you want to argue that moving to a 64-bit chip design in and of itself was less significant than the newer, more efficient ARM v8 instruction set that came with the move, this level of performance was only ever going to be achieved by Apple switching to the 64-bit architecture early. Still, the ARM v8 instruction set is also designed to take advantage of the greater bandwidth that is inherent in the new 64-bit A7 design with its increased number of pipelines and registers. Whichever way you look at it, the performance results speak for themselves. Apple has been able to deliver a full-powered, battery efficient, smartphone in a compact 4-inch package as a result of its decision, and technical capability, to make the transition to a 64-bit design. For the average end user, there are many, many benefits in Apple doing this, not least of which is that the iPhone 5s will still be a potent smartphone even after the iPhone 6 launches in a just over two months.

One of the most interesting aspects about the iPhone 6 rumors is that there has not been any mention of an iPhone with a 4-inch display like the iPhone 5s that might carry Apple's next-generation A8 chip. All indications are that Apple is set to drop the 4-inch design as its default display size and adopt a 4-7 inch form factor moving forward, likely to be joined by a larger still 5.5-inch model. Given that Apple has sold literally hundreds of millions of iPhones with either 3.5-inch displays, that is quite significant. If you're a fan of the more compact 4-inch form factor, it looks as though you might as well jump in and grab an iPhone 5s now, rather than sticking it out. Also, if you are fan of the all-metal design of the iPhone 5s, you might also want to grab one while you still can. Remember that when Apple introduced the iPhone 5s, it dropped the aluminum iPhone 5 in favor of the plastic iPhone 5c. It might do something similar again, although who knows what iPhone 5s internals in a plastic case might be called.

The iPhone form factor question is an interesting one. There is no doubt that Apple will continue to offer a 4-inch iPhone for the time being, and certainly for some time, I was of the view that 3.5- to 4.0-inch smartphones were an ideal form factor. I explored this issue a couple of months ago, asking how Apple would manage the one-handed usability of a larger iPhone. As I argued at the time, although smartphones with larger displays (and their success) has been a happy coincidence, smartphones with displays 4.5- to 5-inches have become easier to operate one-handed as they have become thinner. Personally, I think that the 4.7-inch display is currently the ideal form factor for a smartphone. In particular, I can point to the sadly overlooked Motorola Moto X having hit a sweet spot for overall display size, general comfort and overall usability.

If you look at the 4.7-inch Moto X pictured next to the iPhone 5s, it isn't actually much larger in terms of its overall footprint. Its edge-to-edge display, coupled with relatively narrow top and bottom bezels makes it highly usable, while also offering additional screen real estate. Yet at the same time, Apple has worked hard to get the absolute maximum out of every pixel on the 4-inch iPhone 5s, and iPhone 5c for that matter. iOS already has the excellent, but somewhat underutilized 'Reader' function in Safari that automatically converts a compatible webpage into a much more legible format. Dynamic text resizing is also an option in the Settings, that allows you to adjust font size system wide, completely taking potential eye strain out of the equation. iOS 7 also works hard to make push content forward by dynamically reducing the size of the toolbar in Safari, while redesigning other apps with a similar approach. Even if Apple's rumored 5.5-inch iPhone may carry some additional features that power users may appreciate, it seems likely that the expected 4.7-inch iPhone will be the volume seller - at least outside of Asia.

Given the trend towards increasing consumer adoption of smartphones with larger displays, Apple could not afford to wait any longer before introducing an iPhone with a larger display. But if you buy an iPhone 5s now, you'll miss out on being part of the hype and excitement when it launches. While the choice is ultimately up to the individual, there are several good reasons why you might still want to jump in and grab iPhone 5s now in full confidence that you will continue to enjoy a great user experience even after the iPhone 6 launches. All the advertised features of OS X Yosemite , which is launching this fall on the Mac, will bring fantastic new capabilities to iPhone 5s users who also own a Mac. In fact, Apple assures us that all of the features announced in iOS 8 that are designed to work on its next iPhone will also work perfectly on the iPhone 5s. The company also highlights the fact that iPhone 5s users are will enjoy at least two years of compatible and free software updates and is quick to point out that iPhone 4S, which launched in 2011, is also compatible with iOS 8.

So what do you think; would you hold off an wait for the iPhone 6, or would you be just as happy to get an iPhone 5s now, even at this relatively late stage in its current tenure as Apple's flagship smartphone?

By Sanjiv Sathiah

by MacNN Staff



  1. jink

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 01-07-09

    Hmm, since it's only a few months wouldn't it be better to wait anyway and see rather than trust in someones guesses? It's not like the 5S will get more expensive, in fact more likely the opposite.

  1. aviamquepasa

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 10-22-11

    Long article, but most people buy for fashion reasons, at least women

  1. Spheric Harlot

    Clinically Insane

    Joined: 11-07-99

    Originally Posted by aviamquepasaView Post

    Long article, but most people buy for fashion reasons, at least women

    There is so much wrong with this simple sentence; I don't even know where to start.

  1. Arne_Saknussemm

    Forum Regular

    Joined: 04-05-11

    Long article, but most people buy for fashion reasons, at least iFans

    There, fixed that for you.

  1. Spheric Harlot

    Clinically Insane

    Joined: 11-07-99

    Originally Posted by Arne_SaknussemmView Post

    Long article, but most people buy for fashion reasons, at least iFans

    There, fixed that for you.

    Thank G*d those mindless lemmings who buy anything with an Apple logo on it for fashion reasons are such a tiny minority that they're actually outnumbered by the mindless trolls who desperately spew the same old tropes that didn't even work fifteen years ago.

  1. Gazoobee

    Forum Regular

    Joined: 02-27-09

    The author leaves out one excellent reason for *not* buying a 5s right now ... uncertainty.

    This year is probably the most uncertain year in terms of what types of iPhone will be released, in how many models, and for what price or size. It's also more uncertain this year than any previous year, which of the older phones (if any) will be retained. It's also the more uncertain this year than any other how the public will receive these myriad changes.

    Will the 5s become a hot commodity? If Apple doesn't make or sell a new 4" phone it certainly will, but if the 5s is re-issued as the 6c in plastic, then probably not. There is simply no way to tell whether the iPhone 5s will be so hard to get a hold of that it will be a priority, or whether it will be looked at as a piece of junk that no one wants anymore.

  1. Steve Wilkinson

    Dedicated MacNNer

    Joined: 12-19-01

    I agree that the iPhone 5s is a pretty incredible phone, but I'm not sure that indicates 'buy now' unless it is likely that we won't be able to find a 5s after the 6 is introduced. I am a bit concerned about the size factor (I want a phone, not a little tablet) and it seems Apple isn't keeping a small and big version anymore (as even the small is getting quite huge and then they might have a super-huge version). I'm also a bit concerned that the incredible build-quality of the 5s might be gone. But, I'm a bit too curious what will be added to the 6 to make a decision this close unless we start seeing some deals on the 5s.

  1. Mike Wuerthele

    Managing Editor

    Joined: 07-19-12

    There are at least two significant deals on the 5s now.

    Friday Deals -- OS X BioShock, free Android apps, FitBit One, iPhones | Electronista

  1. RobOnTheCape

    Senior User

    Joined: 01-16-04

    I'd upgrade from my 5S if they kept the size the same, and had an upgraded camera, but for me the size is key, and think that anything much bigger gets to be uncomfortable in the back pocket.

  1. qazwart

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 04-10-01

    Okay, the iPhone 5S was an incredible upgrade over the iPhone 5. I bought one last year. It's a great phone. I love it. But, if I was thinking about buying another phone, should I wait patiently for a new one that will come out in 3 months, 1 week, 3 days, four hours, fifty seven minutes? (Oh, that's a long time to wait. No be patient!), or should I get one now, and find out in a mere three months I could have gotten an absolutely incredible phone that will make me want to toss my iPhone 5S in the garbage? The iPhone 5S isn't going away any time soon. Apple will be upgrading the OS for it for the next two years or so. The camera is excellent, and you'll be satisfied with it. After all, it's the same one offered a mere 9 months ago. Plus, just because a new iPhone is announced and is on sale doesn't mean you'll get one. It may take a few months before they're readily available. So, it's not 3 months, but maybe five months away. Still, if I was making a decision to upgrade let's say an older 4S, I may prefer to wait it out. The 4S is a nice phone, and is quite useable until the iPhone 6 comes out. However, if you really need a phone now, get an iPhone 5S now. Just be happy to know that your contract will be up when the new iPhone 7 comes out, and makes all those people who went out and bought an iPhone 6 look like a bunch of Luddites clinging to their outmoded ways.

  1. Chongo

    Addicted to MacNN

    Joined: 08-16-07

    My wife is need of a new phone. She has an upgrade on her line. We have a free 32GB 5C that the Verizon rep told us was available. I'm going to wait and when/if the new iPhones are released, the Mrs will get my 5S and I will use her upgrade for the the 6.

  1. SierraDragon

    Mac Elite

    Joined: 03-22-04

    The 5s rocks (I own one) and I am one of the folks who prefer a smaller phone in pocket. If I was buying a new phone I would for sure want to spend some time in the store handling any new size before buying. Who knows, Apple may need to keep the 2014 5s size in the long-term lineup just to service folks like me.

  1. pairof9s

    Senior User

    Joined: 01-03-08

    Originally Posted by Spheric HarlotView Post

    Thank G*d those mindless lemmings who buy anything with an Apple logo on it for fashion reasons are such a tiny minority that they're actually outnumbered by the mindless trolls who desperately spew the same old tropes that didn't even work fifteen years ago.

    LOL...hear, hear, Spheric!! It's like saying the only reason people buy an Android phone is because they're cheap!

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