Every now and then, Apple releases some brand-new product that completely changes the market. The original iPhone was one of those, in 2007, as was 2010's iPad.
Most of the time, though, an Apple product release refines an already-winning formula. The iPhone 5 was such a release, according to critics; Rebecca Greenfield of The Atlantic Wire summed up their reactions by calling it "Better, but nothing too exciting." Most of the iPhone 5's improvements were incremental, and added on to existing specs.
It did gain the ability to do a few new things, though.
Watch movies in 16:9 aspect ratio
For its entire five-year history, the iPhone (and all subsequent models up to and including the iPhone 4S) had a screen with a 3:2 aspect ratio. And as any home theater buff will tell you, that's not really ideal for watching movies. Because whether you're watching movies in 16:9 widescreen or 4:3 "fullscreen" ratios, your movie is either going to have black bars across two of the edges or have some of the picture cut off.
The iPhone 5 fixes that. Its 4-inch screen is at the same 16:9 aspect ratio as most of today's widescreen movies and monitors, and while its Retina Display doesn't quite pack the pixels to play back 720p movies at native resolution it comes pretty darned close. The downside? App developers are going to have to update their software so that you don't get letterboxing on your games and apps, since unlike with Android all iPhone apps were designed for the same screen size.
Make FaceTime calls over cellular networks
FaceTime, which is sort of like a version of Skype video chat that only works between Apple devices, used to be Wi-Fi only. On the iPhone 5, it will work over your wireless carrier's cellular network as well, so long as you're on a plan that supports it. Jordan Golson of MacRumors has the details, but the upshot is that AT&T customers will need to be on a "Mobile Share" data plan. Everyone else can just use their carrier's normal one.
Connect to high-speed LTE networks
4G LTE is sort of like the HD of wireless Internet. It's just not so much sharper as it is much, much faster. And for a couple of years now, it's been a major selling point for Android "superphones," with large batteries and very little talk time. But the technology has now been refined to the point that it can be built into the iPhone 5 without giving it an HTC Thunderbolt's battery life.
Jared Spurbeck is an open-source software enthusiast, who uses an Android phone and an Ubuntu laptop PC. He has been writing about technology and electronics since 2008.