Apple Announces the iPhone 5; Bigger Display, Badder Processor, and LTE On Board

After churning through rumor after rumor after rumor for months, we finally have all the official details on the new iPhone 5, which Apple announced today at a press event.

First of all, it is indeed called the iPhone 5, and it’s definitely an upgrade over last year’s iPhone 4S. Predictably, the body is thinner (just 7.6mm), lighter (112 grams), and slightly taller (enough to add another row of icons), and it’s made entirely of glass and aluminum--black with a black back or white with an aluminum-finish back, your choice. The display is indeed larger at 4 inches, and it boasts a 326ppi Retina display with a resolution of 1136x640.

iPhone 5 v iPhone 4
Left: iPhone 5; right: iPhone 4S--notice the height difference

Of course, the increased screen real estate means that apps can display more information, and Apple’s apps have been optimized to take advantage, including the Calendar, iWork apps, iMovie, and GarageBand. (Older apps? They get letterboxed, which is too bad.)

The display itself is also thinner and sharper and supposedly offers less glare in sunlight by dint of having touch integrated right into the display, which eliminates the need for additional layers in the glass.

As predicted, LTE is on board; in fact, the iPhone 5 supports GPRS, EDGE, EV-DO, HSPA, HSPA+ (21Mbps), DC-HSDPA (42Mbps) and LTE (100Mbps max) and uses a single chip for both voice and data. A dynamic antenna allows for switching antenna connections. In the U.S., Sprint, AT&T, and Verizon will all carry the iPhone 5 and will support LTE. The device enjoys dual-channel 802.11a/b/g/n (150Mbps) WiFi, too.

iPhone 5

One of the most important upgrades the iPhone 5 got is the new A6 processor, which purports to offer twice the CPU and GPU power of previous iPhones (while using a 22% smaller chip that’s more energy efficient). A pretty new display is nice, but this new processor is a huge deal if it performs as promised.

Apple promises greater battery life than the iPhone 4S, to the tune of 8 hours of talk time or Web browsing on 3G or 4G, and 10 hours running WiFi.

The camera on the new iPhone 5 is essentially the same as on the iPhone 4S (8MP, 5-element lens) but it’s lighter, thinner, and faster and includes a dynamic low light mode. The processor itself has an image processor to help reduce noise and thereby improve images.

iPhone 5

New features include Shared Photo Streams, which makes it easy to share with family and friends and let them comment on your pics. You can also take panoramic shots by holding down the shutter and moving the iPhone; the resulting image is a whopping 28MP. As for video, the camera shoots in 1080p HD and includes facial recognition and improved video stabilization. Perhaps more impressively, the front-facing camera can handle 720p HD and supports FaceTime chatting over cellular networks.

There is a trio of microphones--one each on the front, bottom, and back of the device--for better fidelity and improved voice recognition (which should help Siri’s performance). The speaker is improved as well, with a five-magnet transducer instead of a two-magnet deal.

iPhone 5

The I/O connector that Intel developed with Apple in tow is called Thunderbolt; now, the iPhone 5 has an all-digital connector called “Lightning”, and it replaces the old dock connector. It can be inserted in two orientations (thank the gods!), and it’s 80% smaller than the original.

Apple says it will have accessories to let users adapt their new iPhones for use with the millions of iPhone-compatible docks and devices that exist all over; for everyone’s sake, we certainly hope so.

One interesting feature of iOS 6 that Apple demoed is called iCloud Tabs, and simply put, it lets you share tabs between your iPhone and desktop browsers--presumably, it will only work with Safari, though.

iPhone 5

Most welcome but not especially enchanting is a revamp of the iTunes store; the user interface has more of a grid look, and it’s easier to get around the store and add to and manage playlists. It also features iCloud integration and a new mini player for your desktop that's nice and unobtrusive.

So, what’s this new iPhone 5 going to cost? It will be $199 (16GB), $299 (32GB), or $399 (64GB) on contract, and that will bump the iPhone 4S down to $99; the iPhone 4 will now be free with a service contract. You can make a preorder for the new iPhone on the 14th, and orders will start shipping on the 21st.