iPhone 5: the future of the mobile web?

Paddi Macdonnell.
September 14, 2012

ThumbnailAt last, the much anticipated iPhone 5 was finally announced on Wednesday.

After the disappointment of the iPhone 4S, which was really just the iPhone 4 with a slightly better camera, Apple have a lot riding on the successful reception of their flagship product.

The Android platform now represents 68% of the smartphone market while iOS has fallen to just 17%. In addition, sales of the Samsung Galaxy S3 alone were higher than those of the iPhone in August. Although as most commentators will point out, the likelihood is that consumers have simply postponed purchasing an iPhone in anticipation of the new model.

However in recent months niche providers across the USA have started offering the iPhone as a ‘prestige’ option. In other words, whether Apple still lead the way is less important than the perception among consumers that they do, and where Apple leads the rest of the market has to follow.

What this means then, is that the new iPhone 5 will shape the future of the mobile web for the next few years, and possibly beyond.

New features

4" screen

The single most anticipated feature of the new iPhone is the increased screen size.

It was discovered in August that the iOS6 beta scaled from 960x640 to 1136x640 (but nothing in between), which led to the, accurate, predictions of the new screen size prior to launch.

However, although the bigger screen increases how much of a web page is visible when the device is held in portrait, because the aspect ratio is has changed to 16:9 it actually decreases how much is visible when held in landscape. As a result, responsive design and well positioned call-to-actions will become an absolute necessity.

Baltimore Sun

The Baltimore Sun website at the old and new aspect ratios.


Support for 4G is already available on the iPad, so this was not a surprise.

The assumption is that sites designed or scaled for mobile will be able to be bigger is certainly true for most of North America. Europe is not too far behind, Everything Everywhere (owners of T-Mobile and Orange networks) have just started offering a 4G service in the UK, and other providers are expected to follow next year; but support is patchy throughout the rest of the world.

4G speeds are coming to the mobile web, but slowly.

Panoramic photos

Panoramic photos are already available on jailbroken iPhones running iOS5, but now they are officially part of iOS6.

This will probably mean 360 degree panoramas will become the new design trend, much like the coverflow style image galleries that appeared everywhere after Apple introduced that design.

iCloud tabs

This may be the most significant new feature in iOS6, and have the widest ranging impact.

Mobile Safari now supports iCloud tabs which allow the user to look at a website on one device and then move to another device — start on computer, switch to phone and the page is loaded automatically.

What is significant about this is that many complex sites track visitors using cookies, so what happens to that data when you switch device? Has Apple just sent cookies the way of Flash?

In addition, most of your analytics data is going to be incomplete. A customer who appears to leave your site, may in fact have simply switched devices, especially likely when doing something perceived to be more secure on a desktop than a device, such as completing a checkout process.

There are going to be a lot of companies who offer in-depth visitor analysis scrambling to find a way around this. On the other hand, live testing companies may well reap the rewards.

As with all shifts in the tech landscape, companies that react quickly and effectively will benefit, those who don’t will fall by the wayside.

Established features

Retina display

The retina display was first introduced on the iPhone 4, was added to the new iPad and is now a feature of the new MacBook Pro.

However, many current iPhone users who have been holding off buying a new iPhone until version 5 have 3GS and even 3G models. Those contracts have expired and so the number of retina displays in use is set to rise sharply which in turn means more users can get the benefit of higher quality images and graphics. If your clients haven't complained about their logo looking blocky yet, they're about to.


Apple have signed agreements with a number of tech firms focused on audio quality and speech recognition so whether you love her or hate her, it looks like Siri is here to stay.

The new version in iOS6 supports more languages and more countries, as well as now being available for iPad.

In addition VoiceOver, Apple’s screen reader, is integrated with a number of the built in applications. It may well be that the number of screen readers showing up in web stats will increase significantly as users choose to listen rather than read.

If you aren't designing with accessibility in mind already, you need to start.

Headphones image

Headphones image via Shutterstock


Unsurprisingly, Safari continues to be the default browser on the iPhone.

Other browsers are available free from the app store, including Opera Mini and Chrome, but most users probably won’t even notice. Expect Safari’s features and limitations to be accepted as carved in stone by many iPhone users for some time to come.

On the other hand, that’s not so bad as Mobile Safari already has noticeably better support for HTML5 and CSS3 than many desktop browsers.


iOS6 has improved support for Chinese speaking users with recognition of significantly more language characters among other developments.

Few companies market directly to China, so unless you work for an international corporation it’s unlikely you will see a jump in Chinese users anytime soon.

But, if the chinese economy continues to decline leading to some kind of Berlin-Wall-coming-down type event, the iPhone is set to be the smartphone of choice for the billion plus chinese consumers that will spill into the market.

Good news for the $

All US business is good for the US Dollar, and Apple sales are a significant part of the US economy.

In fact, JP Morgan’s chief economist Michael Feroli recently went so far as to state that iPhone 5 sales could add between 0.25% and 0.5% to the US’s economic growth rate.

And if the US economy recovers quickly to its pre-bust levels then the knock-on effect might mean a bright future for a lot of struggling firms.

A predicted upturn just prior to an election? Democrats would certainly welcome the extra boost this would give their re-election campaign.

What's not included

NFC (near field communications)

It has been rumored to be the most exciting new feature of the ‘next iPhone’ for at least a year, but this particular rumor proved to be false.

NFC, which would give users the ability to make payments locally has not been included, so developers whose bread and butter is PayPal API integrations for local stores will still have work to do for at least another 12 months.

Curved screen

This was the one I was hoping for, and I’m disappointed it’s not been included.

A curved screen on the iPhone 5 had been anticipated for sometime, and some Android models have curved glass so it is possible from a technical perspective; it appears other rumors regarding the high production costs may have been correct.

The big advantage to having a convex screen is the larger hit-area per-pixel, allowing designers to reduce the size of overly large buttons so prevalent in mobile site design.

We can keep hoping for next time.

Google maps

Google maps have gone, replaced by Apple’s own vector-based mapping.

Map image

Map image via Shutterstock

Of course Google maps can still be accessed through a browser, but Google have not yet confirmed if they will release a standalone app through the app store.

Why would Apple drop the most established map application with probably the most comprehensive geographical coverage? Probably because Apple have decided to take advantage of the superior quality and speed of vector graphics over Google’s bitmaps.

And, this may well be the start of a trend across the web as SVG become the norm.

Fingerprint security

Apple have made a purchase offer of $365m for AuthenTec, a company specializing in fingerprint recognition, but it is not due to be ratified by AuthenTec’s board until October 4th, too late to be part of this version’s release.

Once Apple does develop the ability to lock your device to you, expect to see a rise in the number of services which require strict security, such as mobile banking and one-click e-commerce.

3G & 3GS

It’s likely that the 3G and 3GS models will now be retired — certainly Apple isn't mentioning them — with the iPhone 4 becoming the lowest common denominator.

The significance of this? If we saw the same level of product expiry in desktop browsers, IE7 would be a dim and distant memory and we’d be preparing to say goodbye to IE8. And we’d all be much happier for it.


So there it is, a roundup of the new iPhone’s most influential features and the trends we can expect them to trigger.

Was it worth the wait? More importantly perhaps, will consumers worldwide queue overnight for it, or has the Android done enough to burst the iPhone bubble? We'll know in around a week, when the first units start to ship.

Are you excited about the iPhone 5? Do Apple still lead the way or is Android the new aspirational OS? Let us know what you think in the comments.

Paddi MacDonnell

Paddi MacDonnell is a designer and entrepreneur from Northern Ireland, follow her on Twitter.

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