The iPhone was just part of a larger unveiling of Apple products as officials also showed off a newly redesigned iTunes, a fresh line of iPods including the nano and touch and even a new set of high-end earbuds called EarPods.
The announcement of the company's newest iPhone comes after increasing criticisms from users that the iPhone was beginning to fall behind the innovations of other manufacturers, including Samsung and HTC. Android-based handsets have since risen in popularity with their much bigger screens and newer features.
Fighting back, Apple marketing executive Phil Schiller said Wednesday, "The iPhone 5 is now the best phone we've ever made."
The biggest changes include a larger 4-inch, high-resolution screen that also sports a different aspect ratio (the screen's width to its heighth). As a result, older apps will now run letterboxed with slight black bars on the sides until those apps are updated to run full screen. Although slightly larger, the phone will remain a "Retina Display," Apple's label for its high-resolution, high-pixel-density screen.
The new phone also has a speedier A6 processor that will run twice as fast, Schiller said. And the phone will use a new, smaller connector called Lightning that is incompatible with the iPhone's older connector. That means docks, speaker systems and other accessories that require you to connect your phone through its connector port no longer will be compatible. Apple, however, will be releasing a small adapter that will connect the new phone to the older cord.
The iPhone 5 also is one of the last phones to include 4G LTE connectivity, the ability to connect with carriers' faster data networks so users can stream video, music and browse the Internet at broadband-like speeds. Only Verizon has a 4G LTE network running in Utah. AT&T, which is building up its LTE network in the state, announced it will launch it sometime later this year.
Although the iPhone 5 will be slightly longer than its predecessor, the iPhone 4S, it will be 18 percent thinner and weigh only 112 grams yet have better battery life, Apple claims.
Slight upgrades also have been made to the phone's speaker system, Wi-fi antenna and Siri, Apple's software-based voice controls. Users will be able to ask Siri for movie recommendations and even start apps with their voices.
The iPhone 5 will sport a better camera system and can shoot panoramic photos for the first time, although its resolution will remain at 8 megapixels for the rear camera. Schiller said the camera will perform better in low light than with previous versions of the phone and will be 40 percent faster at capturing images. The front-facing camera for video conferencing will be upgraded to HD, and Apple's FaceTime service will work on 3G data connections (prior, it was Wi-Fi only). But Verizon and AT&T have not said if they will charge extra in order to use the FaceTime video conferencing service on 3G networks, which could cause congestion problems.
The new iPod touch will embrace the iPhone 5's new 4-inch screen size, shape and Retina display. The smaller nano music player gets the biggest design change and will have a 2.5-inch-wide screen display capable of showing video, as well as album art and photos. Those devices will ship in late October.
Apple also announced new versions of its music software, iTunes, for the PC, Mac and iOS operating systems. The latest version of iOS 6, the operating system due next week for the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad, will have improvements, including a new maps application (Apple is doing away with Google Maps).
On other fronts, Apple CEO Tim Cook said his company's Macbook laptop computers have captured the largest U.S. market share for the past three months. Apple's best-selling computer tablet, iPad, has sold 84 million units since it debuted in 2010, controlling 68 percent of the tablet market.
But competition for tablets has been heating up. Last week, Amazon introduced its second-generation Kindle Fire, this time with a larger screen and a higher-resolution display. The newer version will ship Nov. 20 and sell for as little as $299, compared with the cheapest iPad at $499. Also, Microsoft has introduced a tablet called the Surface that will include a screen cover that doubles as a keyboard. That tablet, which will run a version of Windows 8, will debut sometime later this year. A price has not been announced.
Apple has been facing fierce competition in the past year from popular Android-based phones. including the Samsung Galaxy S III, Motorola's new Droid RAZR and the HTC One X. In fact, the Galaxy S III sold 20 million units in its first 100 days, according to Samsung.
Apple's stock price jumped Wednesday $9.20, to $669.70, and another $2.28 in after-hours trading.
Google+: +Vincent Horiuchi
iPhone 5's new features
Size • Slightly longer, while still the same width, although 18 percent thinner and 20 percent lighter than iPhone 4S
Screen • The size, as debuted Wednesday by Apple CEO Tim Cook, grows from 3.5 inches to 4 inches diagonally and will have 44 percent better color saturation
Connectivity • Has 4G LTE technology to connect to faster data networks through Verizon, Sprint and AT&T (Verizon has the only 4G LTE network running in Utah)
Camera • Better in low light, faster at capturing images, and can take panoramas
Storage • Comes in 16, 32, and for the first time 64 gigabytes
Other improvements • Faster processor, improved Siri voice control, better speaker and microphone system, faster Wi-fi performance.