When I first read this I thought it was bullshit. But now I understand what Gruber means. With the iPhone, Apple is building products at a level of quality that may be unprecedented in the history of mass manufacturing. But the only way to know what that means for you, a user of the phone, is to pick it up and feel it, because objectively it does not sound like a big deal. If I tell you the greatest thing about the iPhone 5 is how it “feels,” you’ll accuse me of being a superficial aesthete who cares more for form than function. You don’t care how a phone was built or how it looks; you just want it to work. But I think that argument misses something important about what it means for a phone to “work well”: When you’re holding a device all the time, how it feels affects its functionality. Or, as Steve Jobs might say, how it feels is how it works.
All top-of-the-line smartphones on the market today do pretty much the same things. Since they’ve all got similar specs—superfast LTE networking, great cameras, great displays, app stores that carry most of the apps people want—the only reason you would choose one over the other is personal taste. If you like a wider screen, you might go with the Samsung Galaxy SIII. If you like Windows’ more informative start screen, you’d go with something made by Nokia. The iPhone’s unique comparative advantage is build quality: If you want a phone that is a pleasure to hold, one that just looks and feels better, there’s no equal on the market. No other phone is even close.
And it’s not like you’re sacrificing anything by choosing the iPhone 5 for the way it looks and feels in your hand. In addition to being beautiful on the outside, it’s also great on the inside. It’s the fastest phone you can buy. Its camera is fantastic. It’s got more apps than you’ll ever need. Its display is unbeatable. And so on and so on—on “function” alone, the iPhone is no slouch. But where it really kills is form.
Now, one final thing. I know what you’re thinking: What about Apple Maps? Actually, that’s not right. If you’ve read this far and you’re skeptical of my argument that the iPhone 5 is amazing, you’re more likely wondering, WHAT ABOUT APPLE’S @##@%$! MAPS?
That’s a fair point. As has been amply documented, Apple’s new app is not good at all. But I don’t think this is a huge problem, even though I use Maps all the time. That’s because the flaw is temporary. Google is working on a new maps app for the iPhone, and when that’s released in a month or two, pretty much all of your mapping troubles will be solved. (“Pretty much” because Apple won’t allow third-party apps to register as default services on the phone, so when you click an address in another program, the phone will still open Apple’s rather than Google’s maps; that will be a hassle but not a fatal problem. I do wish Apple changes that policy, though.)
If you’re unwilling to take it on faith that the maps situation will be solved soon, I’d suggest waiting a couple months to see if the iPhone’s map problems get resolved. What I wouldn’t do is buy a competing phone, now, just because you don’t like Apple’s maps. Mapping is a software problem; it is almost certainly going to be fixed. But any other phone you get now will have hardware that’s inferior to the iPhone 5. And that flaw will be permanent.