Apple got the iPhone 5's physical design right

As it usually does, Apple made the right physical design decisions with the iPhone 5. The third-generation iPad was an exception to this rule.

iPhone 5 and 4S side by side.  Making it a  little longer and thinner makes a big difference.
iPhone 5 and 4S side by side. Making it a little longer and thinner makes a big difference. CNET

With the iPhone 5, Apple did what it does best: come up with a good industrial design. But that's not always the case.

Until I got my hands on the iPhone 5 -- I picked one up on Friday -- I wasn't sure if Apple had nailed the design (hands-on videos and reviews go just so far).

Well, after 48 hours I'm pretty sure it did. It just looks and feels a lot better than the 4S (which I owned until Friday).

Thinness, in my book, is the foundation for coolness. But thinness isn't just an aesthetic bonus; it can be practical too. In this case, Apple stretched out the 4S just enough to allow for a bigger screen, while making it lighter and easier to hold.

Let's quantify that.

iPhone 4S:

  • Height: 4.5 inches (115.2 mm)
  • Width: 2.31 inches (58.6 mm)
  • Depth: 0.37 inch (9.3 mm)
  • Weight: 4.9 ounces (140 grams)

iPhone 5

  • Height: 4.87 inches (123.8 mm)
  • Width: 2.31 inches (58.6 mm)
  • Depth: 0.30 inch (7.6 mm)
  • Weight: 3.95 ounces (112 grams)

The two-toned back plate is a nice touch too. Not to mention that the metal-clad sides look better when there's about 0.7 inches shaved off.

And the front is more attractive too. The ratio of display area to non-display area (e.g., where the home button is) is greater for the 5 compared to the 4S.

So, my first impression is that the iPhone 5 seems to be a successful physical design.

But let me close with a cautionary note. The physical design of the last Apple product I bought, the third-generation iPad, was a disappointment. I agree with Raymond Soneira of DisplyMate Technologies that the resulting design was plan B for Apple.

Though it has a wonderful Retina display, it's noticeably thicker and heavier than the iPad 2 because of display assembly compromises Apple had to make. A newer product -- particularly in Apple's case -- shouldn't be thicker and heavier than the older model.

Let's hope Apple continues on the thinner, lighter trajectory of the iPhone 5 with future products, including the expected upcoming iPad Mini.

The iPhone 5 I picked up on Friday.
The iPhone 5 I picked up on Friday. Brooke Crothers
About the author

Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.


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