A general love of the new notwithstanding, it has always been a bit odd that new flagship phones from Apple have dramatically outsold previous generations. Mostly because so much of the iPhone's value comes from software and Apple tends to preserve nearly all of the functionality in OS upgrades for previous years' models, making them a relatively good value. However, in the case of the iPhone 5s, Apple has implemented hardware in Touch ID that nicely complements the efficiency of its new mobile operating system, iOS 7.
Now, even with the removal of many user interface accoutrements, such as digitized green felt in Game Center that Apple itself has mocked, there are still some whimsical excursions in iOS 7, including the slow-mo video mode and the parallax feature. There are also a few "aha!"-inspiring additions, such as support for the M7 coprocessor that will serve to save battery life by handling motion detection and the two-tone flash that results in more natural-looking photographs.
Overwhelmingly, though, iOS 7 addresses some of the phone's most nagging annoyances. It is easier and faster to search, to find photos, to share with other devices (at least modern, Apple ones supporting AirDrop) and to organize apps into folders without having to devise a personal app taxonomy (even though those folder names still aren't searchable).
Even Siri, that most showy of iOS features, has become far more relevant by tapping more directly into two of the greatest storehouses of human knowledge: Wikipedia and the web.
Even Siri, that most showy of iOS features, has become far more relevant by tapping more directly into two of the greatest storehouses of human knowledge: Wikipedia and the web. The addition of true multitasking will help pave the way for usage cases that were confined to Android. But without question, the feature that best represents iOS 7's improved user efficiency is Control Center. It's hard to believe iOS users had to wait five years to turn off WiFi without spelunking around the Settings app.
This is why the iPhone 5s' signature feature, Touch ID, is such a great thematic match for the new OS. Unlike some of the features in the Moto X or LG G2, it doesn't necessarily cry out its cleverness. Unlike many Samsung features, it's something people will use virtually every time they use the phone. And unlike Siri, the showcase feature of the iPhone 4s, it's reliable, silent and, aside from the removal of the rounded square on the iPhone's home button, transparent -- so much so that no reference is made to it on the 5s' lock screen that continues to advise sliding to unlock. For iPhone users who use passcodes, Touch ID is simply a time saver. But for those who don't because passcodes have been too much of a hassle, it could become a lifesaver.
Of course, there's much more hidden within the familiar iPhone 5s design.
Of course, there's much more hidden within the familiar iPhone 5s design. The A7 marks the first of a new generation of 64-bit processors. While this is expected to encourage development of far more sophisticated apps down the road, for now, the impact will mostly result in faster, more graphically rich games. And the camera takes noticeably better photos, although all major smartphone companies have been upping their games, with the Lumia 1020 still ruling the roost.
Still, the iPhone is the iPhone. Apart from the dock, there's limited customization of the home layer and none of the lock screen or share sheets. There's no universally accessible local file storage and Apple appears to be targeting NFC for the same deathblow it served to Adobe Flash. For these and other reasons, the basic proposition, complete with all the appeal and turnoffs, of Apple's handset remains largely unchanged. Touch ID may not demo as well as Siri did at its debut, but it headlines a feature set integrated with software that helps explain the demand side of Apple's sales success.
Ross Rubin is principal analyst at Reticle Research, a research and advisory firm focusing on consumer technology adoption. He shares commentary at Techspressive and on Twitter at @rossrubin.