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October 10, 2012

Slate: The iPhone 5 is a miracle

(Continued)

"The bored-by-the-iPhone tech press/industry experts surely value niceness, but they do not hold it in the same top-tier regard that Apple does. They are not equipped to devote an amount of attention to niceness commensurate with the amount of effort Apple puts into it. Apple can speak of micron-level precision and the computer-aided selection of the best-fitting of 725 identical-to-the-naked-eye components, but there is no benchmark, no tech spec, to measure nice. But you can feel it."

When I first read this I thought it was bull****. 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.

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