Thursday, September 13, 2012
THE SLEEKER iPHONE 5
Apple introduced a taller, thinner, faster iPhone on Wednesday during a packed event that contained few surprises but showcased plenty of updates that could extend the product's dominance in the smartphone market.
The Cupertino technology giant also showed off the latest generation of its popular iPod lineup at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, along with revamped versions of its mobile operating system and iTunes media application.
The clear highlight of the show, however, was the unveiling of the widely expected and eagerly anticipated iPhone 5.
The big updates closely tracked the rumors that have popped up on tech blogs in recent days: a taller Retina display that now measures 4 inches diagonally, up from 3 1/2 inches in the iPhone 4S. LTE speeds of up to 100 megabytes per second, the fastest of the 4G network standards. And a new, smaller connector, dubbed Lightning.
Apple also altered the design of the handset, which is the company's thinnest and lightest to date. The back is constructed from anodized aluminum with ceramic glass inlays along the top and bottom.
"It is the most beautiful product we have ever made, bar none," said Tim Cook, chief executive officer of Apple, who appeared on stage looking a little like his predecessor, the late Steve Jobs, in jeans, sneakers and a black button-down shirt.
The iPhone 5 features a faster chip that promises to double processing and graphics performance. In addition, it boasts a better camera and faster Wi-Fi connection.
"This is a completely redesigned iPhone, from the chip to the radios to the cameras to the industrial design," said Tim Bajarin, president of consulting firm Creative Strategies. "Sales of the iPhone 5 will be monstrous."
He said that tens of millions of iPhone owners with expired contracts have been eagerly waiting for this phone, which represents a far larger leap forward than the 4S update.
Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster has projected that Apple could sell 10 million in the first week, and exceed 200 million by the end of next year.
If true, it provides further evidence of Apple's dominance in the mobile sector. The varied collection of smartphones running on Google's Android operating system add up to greater total market share, but no single handset comes close to the iPhone. The same is true for tablet offerings.
Android devices continue to be seen as the inexpensive imitators of Apple's, Bajarin said.
"What Apple does is set the bar," he said. "They've forced their competitors to play catch-up."
The iPhone 5 will be available on carriers AT&T, Verizon and Sprint, at the same price as previous versions, starting at $199 for the 16-GB model with a two-year contract. Customers can order the phones beginning Friday and expect them to ship starting Sept. 21.
Apple also upgraded its iPod Touch with a 4-inch Retina display, a 5-megapixel iSight camera and the addition of Siri, the personal digital assistant app that was previously only available on the phone. The new Touch is also thinner, comes in five colors and features a matching wrist strap.
Similarly, the profile of the iPod Nano shrunk to 5 millimeters, even as the display stretched to 2 1/2 inches. The new version of the device plays video, features a pedometer for fitness apps and comes in seven colors.
Apple also introduced a new version of iTunes, with a cleaner interface and improved integration with iCloud, the company's online media storage service. It will be available as a free upgrade in October.
The company had revealed planned changes to its mobile operating system in June, including a new maps application with free turn-by-turn directions and three-dimensional "flyovers" of cities. On Wednesday, the company showed off those features again and highlighted updates to Siri, including improved information about sports and movies.
The software, iOS 6, will be available Wednesday.
"My biggest surprise with the device was how responsive and fluid the apps were," said Carl Howe, analyst with the Yankee Group, after trying out the new phone Wednesday. "Apple's new Maps app is a huge upgrade over Google Maps; the vector graphics eliminate all the waiting.
"The user experience of the iPhone 5 will make Apple owners eager to upgrade, and it will make non-Apple owners want to buy it," he said.
The Apple event did not feature "one more thing," the surprise last-minute product announcement made famous by Jobs. But those in attendance were treated to an unexpected mini-concert by the Foo Fighters.
"One of the great things about being here is getting to meet all the incredible people who are shaping our future," said lead singer Dave Grohl, who compared those interactions with Apple executives to meeting musicians like Little Richard, Tom Petty and Jimmy Page.
Apple iPhone 5
-- Bigger, thinner 4-inch screen
-- Aluminum body
-- Faster A6 processor
-- Connects to LTE networks
-- Better battery
-- Improved 8-megapixel camera
-- Smaller dock connector
-- Improved earbuds (called EarPods)
What it means: A thinner (0.29 inches), less fragile phone with a brighter display, faster operating speeds, longer battery life, improved sound and picture quality, allowing for simultaneous use of phone and Internet.
What it will cost: Same as previous iPhones: $199 for a 16-GB model, $299 for 32 GB and $399 for 64 GB (with two-year contract through AT&T, Verizon or Sprint).
When it's available: Orders can be placed Friday; shipping starts Sept. 21.
Other news: A redesigned iTunes; new versions of the iPod Nano and iPod Touch.
New iPod Touch
The new Touch, used primarily for music and video games, will have a 4-inch screen, a faster processor and longer battery life. Cost is $299 for the 32-GB version and $399 for the 64-GB version. New features include Facebook-enabled apps like Photos; shared photo streams via iCloud; and Passbook, a digital wallet app. Voice-controlled personal assistant Siri is also available.
New iPod Nano
The new Nano is rectangular instead of square, and thinner. It has a 2 1/2-inch screen, plays video, and has a built-in pedometer and support for Nike+ software for runners and gym-goers. Cost is $149 for a 16-GB model. Orders can be placed beginning Friday; the device will be available in October.
Dwight Silverman, firstname.lastname@example.org
James Temple is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist. E-mail: email@example.com Twitter: @jtemple