Apple struts lighter, faster, bigger iPhone 5

Pre-orders start Friday, sales on Sept. 21 (see video below)

Apple CEO Tim Cook and other company executives today unveiled the iPhone 5, a faster, slimmer upgrade that for the first time in the five-year history of the smartphone, boasts a larger screen of 4 inches.

None of it was much of a surprise, analysts said after the 90-min. presentation, which took place in San Francisco.

"It was an hour to tell a five-minute story," said Ezra Gottheil of Technology Business Research, referring to the first 60 minutes where talk of the iPhone 5 dominated. "They essentially said, 'It's all you thought it was, no surprises, have a good time,'" said Gottheil.

The Apple rumor mill had, as Gottheil noted, nailed all the high points of today's unveiling -- the most important new features, the look of the iPhone 5 -- weeks before.

But analysts still had things to say about the new phone.

"What really strikes you about the iPhone 5 is how light it feels in your hand," said Carolina Milanesi, a Gartner analyst who covers Apple, comparing it to the older iPhone 4S's heft. "But it still retains a quality feel to it. That was the most surprising to me, that when you touch it, the quality is obvious."

In his second iPhone introduction since he took the reins in 2011, Cook kicked off the iPhone 5 launch, then introduced several top Apple officials to spell out details.

"Today, we're taking it to the next level, we're making a huge leap," said Cook at the start of the event. Near its end, he added, "This is the biggest thing to happen to iPhone since the [original] iPhone," referring to the first-generation smartphone that former CEO Steve Jobs launched in January 2007.

The iPhone 5 will go on sale at 8 a.m. local time Sept. 21 in Apple's retail stores in the U.S., Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore and the U.K. Carrier partners and some authorized resellers will also begin selling it that day. Online and phone pre-orders will start two days from now, on Friday, Sept. 14. The iPhone 5 will be priced at $199 for a 16GB model, $299 for 32GB, and $399 for 64GB of storage space.

Apple is also retaining the last-generation 16GB iPhone 4S, and pricing it at $99, a 50% reduction. In addition, it will continue distributing an 8GB iPhone 4 -- the 2010 version -- for free, the second time its dipped into two-year-old inventory.

All prices -- including the free iPhone 4 -- require a two-year commitment to a mobile carrier. AT&T, Sprint and Verizon will carry the new phone in the U.S.

The three-tier line-up impressed analysts, who saw it as a much more integrated family of phones, design-wise, and believed Apple had a lot of upside with the free, discounted and full-priced models.

"They'll gain market share on all fronts," said Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy. "The iPhone 3GS had an industrial design that stuck out, but these three look like they're from the same family. And the [free] iPhone 4 is the value proposition."

On the outside, the iPhone 5 looks dramatically different from 2011's iPhone 4S. "It is the most beautiful product we have ever made, bar none," said Philip Schiller, who heads Apple's marketing.

The iPhone 5 takes the tape at 4.9-in., about 7% taller than all previous models. It's thinner -- just 0.3-in., or 7.6 millimeters -- by 18% and lighter by approximately 20% compared to the iPhone 4S. Its 4-in. screen boasts an 1136-x-640-pixel resolution. The case is a combination of aluminum and glass, with the chassis composed of the former.

The new 16:9 aspect ratio will display existing iPhone apps in their current resolution, with black bars either beside the app, if the iPhone is held in landscape fashion, or at the top and bottom if held in portrait fashion. "All your software works just like before," Schiller said.

Keith Shaw and Ken Mingis discuss the features of Apple's iPhone 5 smartphone, and whether the larger screen, 4G LTE network and other features will excite the legions of Apple fans.

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