Apple revealed the latest version of its popular iPhone Wednesday. It is skinnier and faster than its predecessors, features a longer touch screen, the ability to access high-speed 4G LTE wireless networks, and will come with the latest version of the company’s iOS software.
Apple marketing head Phil Schiller revealed the iPhone 5 to a packed auditorium of journalists and industry analysts at a media event in San Francisco in dramatic fashion: the phone rose gleaming on a pedestal from the stage on which he stood.
The device will be available for preorder on Friday and will start shipping September 21. It will cost the same as the existing iPhone—between $199 and $399 with a two-year wireless contract, depending on memory capacity (as for past iPhone models, the price of the 16-gigabyte iPhone 4S is dropping to $99).
Since the release of the first iPhone in 2007, the device has been a blockbuster hit for Cupertino, California-based Apple. It also helped popularize smartphones overall, which previously were mostly seen as a business tool, and stimulated the development of third-party apps that can be downloaded onto phones.
But Apple now faces a significant challenge in the smartphone market. According to technology research firm IDC, the iPhone accounted for 17 percent of the smartphone market in the second quarter of the year, while handsets running Google’s Android operating software took 68 percent of the market.
Most of the biggest features on the iPhone 5 were anticipated—or, in the case of the software, already known, since Apple previewed iOS 6 this summer.
The iPhone 5 will include a touch screen that measures four inches diagonally, compared with 3.5 inches for the iPhone 4S. It’s the thinnest and lightest iPhone to date at 7.6 millimeters and 112 grams.
Apple used its same retina display on the iPhone 5, but its larger screen gives it a resolution of 1136 by 640 pixels, and Schiller said it has 44 percent more color saturation than the iPhone 4S. Makers of apps for the phone will either need to update their apps to fit on the larger display, or the extra space will be taken up by black bars on the screen. According to CEO Tim Cook, there are now more than 700,000 apps in Apple’s App Store.
The company also added the ability for the iPhone 5 to operate over wireless carriers’ speedy LTE networks, a capability that has been lacking for some time. Many smartphones running Google’s Android operating software can already run on LTE networks, which the major carriers are building out across the United States. In the U.S., the iPhone 5 will work over the 4G networks of Sprint, AT&T, and Verizon Wireless.
In addition to the new capabilities, the latest iPhone has a processor that is faster than one inside the existing model. Apple added its new A6 chip to the device, which Schiller said will speed up opening apps and music, saving images, viewing attachments in e-mail, and more.
The device’s battery life is rated for up to eight hours of talk time over 3G networks or browsing the Web. Over LTE, it is rated for up to eight hours of Web surfing, and over Wi-Fi it should get up to 10 hours of time on the Web.
“I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the hardware and software engineering that has gone into this product is the most challenging our team has ever taken on,” Schiller said.
The device will also come loaded with iOS 6, which includes Apple’s own Maps app, rather than Google’s, which had been built in previously (see “Apple Charts a New Course on Mobile Maps”). It also sports updates to Apple’s virtual assistant, Siri, enabling users to make restaurant reservations and post to Facebook, and a gift-card- and coupon-storing app called Passbook.
During a short test run, the device felt sleek and not much larger than the iPhone 4S. It seemed to stream video and load websites quickly over Verizon’s LTE network. It was also fun to navigate around San Francisco with the Maps app, which includes the ability to see 3-D “flyover” views of several landmarks.
A number of smaller improvements to the device include an additional microphone on the iPhone’s backside, and improved built-in speakers. Apple also changed the dock connector, which was first rolled out with the iPod in 2003, making it smaller, reversible, and sturdier.
The event, which featured a performance by the rock band Foo Fighters, was a platform to introduce changes to Apple’s iPod lineup, too. This includes a redesigned iPod Nano that looks kind of like a small iPhone, and an updated iPod Touch. These devices, along with the iPhone, will come with a pair of Apple’s rejiggered earbuds, which are meant to fit more comfortably.
If the company’s performance so far is any indication, the changes—though clearly incremental—will help keep Apple’s juggernaut moving swiftly along into this holiday season. As is the norm with Apple events, Cook also offered a variety of Apple statistics, one of which was that last quarter the company sold its 400 millionth iOS device, which includes the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad.