There are no big surprises in the new iPhone, but many new and significant features. The screen is longer, but not wider, and movies and FaceTime look better thanks to improved HD support. Better audio and new earbuds round out the multimedia experience. The phone also supports LTE, and has a new--and incompatible--connector called Lightning.

Larry Seltzer, Contributor

September 12, 2012

5 Min Read

The new iPhone will be called the iPhone 5. The device was introduced at an event in San Francisco on Wednesday.

An extended period of rumor-spreading preceded the event and the rumors seem to have been accurate: There are no big surprises in the new iPhone.

The iPhone 5 will be available on Sept. 21 and will cost the same as the iPhone 4S: $199 for the 16GB model, $299 for the 32GB model, and $399 for the 64GB model. The iPhone 4S price will drop to $99 with a carrier contract and the iPhone 4 will be free with a contract. At launch the iPhone 5 will be available in 100 countries on 240 carriers.

The iPhone 5 will be longer, thinner, and lighter than the 4S, but no wider. Apple's Phil Schiller said the company rejected the direction chosen by many Android phones: "For the first time ever, we've increased the size of the display. By making the screen taller, but not wider, you can still comfortably use it with one hand."

The new screen layout was predicted by the rumors. The resolution is 1136 pixels by 640 pixels, changing the aspect ratio to one close to 16:9, that of typical HD widescreen video.

The change in aspect ratio will affect apps, which have been written for the old design. Such older apps will appear "letterboxed" on the iPhone 5, with black borders on the sides, but displaying normally within them. New apps written to support the new screen layout will typically use the added space to display more information. The iOS Home screen will use it for an added row of app icons. Apple showed the Calendar app with a full five-day workweek as an example, and the CNN app with more news in it.

Is the iPhone 5 everything rumors predicted it would be? Read our top 10 iPhone rumors roundup to see how accurate our predictions were.

The iPhone is 7.6mm thick, 18% thinner than before. It's also 20% lighter at 112 grams.

Part of the weight difference comes from a change in materials: The rear of the phone is no longer glass, but aluminum. The device is available with a black or white front; the white-front iPhone 5 has a natural aluminum back plate and the black one has an anodized black backing.

As rumored, the new iPhone will support LTE in addition to earlier interfaces. In the U.S., the iPhone 5 on LTE will be available on Sprint, AT&T, and Verizon. Wi-Fi on the device is dual-channel 802.11a/b/g/n, up to 150Mbps.

The phone is also faster, powered by a new A6 processor, which Apple claims has twice the CPU and graphics speed as the A5 processor in the iPhone 4S, and is smaller and more energy-efficient.

In its announcement, Apple didn't say much about battery life, only that it will meet or exceed the battery life of the 4S. It will support eight hours of talk time or browsing on 3G or LTE, and 10 hours of browsing on Wi-Fi.

The new camera has an 8-megapixel, 3,264 x 2,448 backside-illuminated sensor. A dynamic low-light mode evaluates nearby pixels to give up to 2 f-stops greater low-light performance. The new image processor in the A6 reduces noise and includes a "smart filter" to do better color matching. Panorama photos can be taken natively, supporting the increased vertical space in the images. A demo shown at the event took a 28MP image.

Video also has been improved. The rear camera is 1080p with improved video stabilization and face detection. Users can take photos while recording video. The front camera is 720p, meaning FaceTime now can do HD video. The new FaceTime, as Apple had announced previously, can be run over cellular data connections.

There are audio improvements as well. The new phone has three microphones: in the front, bottom, and rear. These aid in voice recognition and noise cancellation. The earpiece is also noise-cancelling.

Perhaps the most controversial change is the new dock connector, which Apple calls Lightning. The new connector is much smaller than the standard Apple 30-pin connector, which dates back to iPods of many years ago. Clearly there was much room for improvement, but the change comes with a price: incompatibility. Devices designed for the 30-pin connector will not connect directly to Lightning.

On the plus side, Lightning is reversible, meaning that you don't need to orient it--there is no upside-down anymore. It's also more durable. And Apple and third parties undoubtedly will work on conversion accessories for which there will be a large market. Apple says that Bose, JBL, Bang & Olufsen, and others already are working on new docks and speakers. Even though Apple named the connector Lightning, it did not claim that it's any faster than the older one.

As demonstrated earlier when Apple revealed iOS 6, there is a new Maps application and new, non-Google-supplied data in it. The navigation app uses Siri to deliver turn-by-turn voice directions.

As predicted, Apple announced new earbuds. Dubbed EarPods, they have a new shape that Apple said is defined by "the geometry of the ear." However, they don't create a seal the way other earbuds do. The EarPods have multiple "ports"--openings--for airflow, including the one through which sound travels to the ear.

Not every rumor panned out. As BYTE predicted, the iPhone 5 has no near field communications (NFC) chip, perhaps limiting the usefulness of the new Passbook app for managing coupons and similar assets.

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Larry Seltzer


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