As expected, Apple today officially introduced the long-awaited 4G LTE iPhone 5, with a new 4-inch display and running the company's next-generation operating system, iOS 6.
The new iPhone, made completely of glass and aluminum – no plastic – will go on sale on September 21 with pre-sales beginning this Friday (September 14) from Apple, AT&T, Sprint and Verizon, at the same prices as last year – $199.99 for the 16GB model, 32GB for $299 and 64 GB for $399 – in black or white.
And all Apple mobile products – even the iPhone 3GS but excepting the original iPad – can be upgraded to iOS 6 on September 19.
For bargain hunters, Apple slashed the price on the iPhone 4S to $99 (likely just the 16GB model) and the 4 to free with the usual two-year deal (presumably just the 8 GB model).
The biggest tech company on the planet also updated its iPod Touch and Nano line, which former featuring the same 4-inch, 1136 x 640 pixel display as the iPhone 5.
But first, the new iPhone.
As expected, there were few surprises in the hardware specification details for the iPhone 5, which are:
- 4G LTE connectivity, along with compatibility with all the other HSPA "4G" networks as well as 3G connectivity
- 4-inch, 1136 x 640 pixel, 326 pixels-per-inch Retina display, a longer screen which will accommodate an extra horizontal row of icons (was 5 rows, now 6 rows), and create a fuller-screen 16:9 aspect ratio video watching experience – no letterboxing top/bottom on videos – with 44 percent more color saturation
- new in-cell LCD screen technology, creating greater touch sensitivity and enabling thinner overall design, and thinner Gorilla Glass 2 scratch-resistant protection
- 18 percent slimmer and 20 percent lighter – 7.6mm/.3-inches thin (vs. 9.3mm/.37-inches for 4/4S), 112 grams/3.95 ounces (vs. 140 grams/4.9 ounces for 4/4S)
- 8 MP rear camera (same as 4/4S) and 1.3 MP front-facing camera (upgrade from VGA lens on 4/4S) with improved low-light performance and 40 percent faster shutter speed
- 1080p video recording from rear camera (same as 4/4S) and 720p video recording from front camera (upgrade from 4/4S)
- 3 microphones (front, back and bottom) for improved voice recognition and noise cancellation
- improved battery life offering 10 hours of 4G talk, Web surfing or video viewing time, 40 hours of music listening, 225 hours – nearly 10 days – or standby, all of which represent only a slight improvement over 4/4S but accommodates LTE heavier power needs
- new smaller 9-pin connector (more info on this below)
- headphone jack relocated to bottom of phone next to new connector, between stereo speakers
Good and bad news
One unexpected hardware bonus: the new 5's brain is Apple's powerful dual core A6 processor chip, which boots apps and loads documents and graphics more than twice as fast as the A5 chip in the 4/4S. It had been expected the iPhone 5's brain would be the same A5X processor currently in the iPad 3.
But there's no word on whether you'll get a mobile hotspot – the ability to use the phone to create a mobile Wi-Fi connection for other portable devices, such as a laptop or iPad. 4G mobile hotspots has been a ubiquitous feature 4G LTE Android phones.
One other expected hardware disappointment: no NFC.
Aesthetically, iPhone 5 isn't a radical re-imagining of the iconic device. Other than some minor cosmetic updates (less silver, more black), it simply looks like a taller version of the iPhone 4/4S with all the buttons in the same place (albeit with a relocated headphone jack and smaller connector). The black version sports an anodized aluminum rear; the white a raw aluminum back panel.
But the elimination of what little plastic iPhone had will make the 5's build quality even more evident when compared to the plastic enclosures on most other smartphones.
With the extra screen real estate, app makers will be adding more functionality; older un-updated apps will be the same shape as now with black bars above and below.
Perhaps iPhone 5's most important ergonomic improvement is the new smaller connector – it's reversible. No more fumbling to turn the jack over to snap it in.
Dubbed "Lightning" (to match Apple's faster desktop Thunderbolt connector), the new plug also enables faster uploads/downloads and syncing – it's compatible with the USB standard, which transfers data 10x faster that the current USB 2.0. (Most new USB 3.0 connectors have a blue rather than white jack interior.)
But Lightning isn't compatible with microUSB jacks. You'll have to deal with the proprietary jack, and shell out extra dough for adapters to use the new phone with older iPhone accessories.
There's no word if iPhone 5 will comes with at least one Lightning adapter to use older iPhone 30-pin jacks or docks. I'll cross my fingers.
While you still get the same fabulous (for a smartphone) 8 MP rear camera, producing the same 3264 x 2448 pixel images, Apple has improved low-light performance and, thanks to the faster processor, has sped up the shutter lag by 40 percent.
Apple also has added Shared Photo Streams. It takes just a few taps to share photos with family and/or friends. The recipient gets notification in their Photos app and can choose to accept the incoming photo flow.
Also added is a long-missing panorama mode; just sweep the scene to get a 28 MP extra-wide image. iPhone 5 is smart enough to compensate for weird movement, either by you handling the phone while you're sweeping or by anyone moving in the image to create a seamless and smooth panorama.
You also can now capture video and still photos simultaneously, a feature first found in HTC Android phones.
Finally, you'll be able to use FaceTime video chatting over a cellular connection, not just Wi-Fi, although Apple didn't say if this cellular FaceTime was limited to 4G connections.
New iPods, earbuds
Lost-in-the-sauce as usual during Apple's annual iPhone unveiling are an array of new iPods, including a new iPod Touch employing the same 4-inch in-cell display as the iPhone 5.
The new iPod Touch is just 6.1mm thin and weighs just 88 grams, trimmer and lighter than the already featherweight fourth generation models. Like the iPhone 5, the iPod Touch also uses the new smaller Lightning connector and has a higher-resolution front facing camera for 720p video and FaceTime chats over Wi-Fi. The rear camera captures 5 MP stills and 1080p video.
Ergonomically, there's also a strap loop, with color-coordinated bracelets in raw aluminum, black, blue, yellow and red.
Apple has also boosted the iPod Touch storage capacity – the 32 GB model will sell for $299, a new 64 GB version for $399. The current 16 GB iPod Touch sells for $199 and the 32 GB edition for $249.
New Nanos ($149 for 16 GB) sport a new 2.5-inch widescreen, measure just 5.4mm thin (38 percent slimmer than the current models), include a pedometer and an FM tuner you can pause and rewind.
All three new iPods will go on sale next month.
Finally, Apple has redesigned its iconic in-ear stick earbuds, now better fitting and better sounding. You can buy them now for $29 starting today.
As per usual, I'll attempt to be the first on my block with a new iPhone 5 and hope to bring you my initial impressions as soon as I can next Friday.