Apple’s iPhone 5: Bigger, faster and slimmer

September 12, 2012

Apple took the wraps off of its iPhone 5 on Wednesday, confirming rumors that the phone would be bigger, faster and slimmer than its predecessor.

In fact, the rumor mill got just about everything right, from the iPhone’s new 4-inch screen to its A6 processor to its brand-new look.

The new phone will cost the same as the iPhone 4S: $199 for the 16 GB version, $299 for the 32 GB version and $399 for the 64GB version. As happened last year, the two previous version of the iPhone got a price cut. The iPhone 4 is now free, on contract, while the iPhone 4S is now $199.

The iPhone5 is Apple’s most dramatic redesign of its iconic smartphone since its introduction in 2007. Moving away from the fragile glass casing of the iPhone 4 and 4S, the phone now has a metal backplate flanked by glass panels that house a smaller — but better — camera sensor.

The revisions, according to a video on Apple’s Web site, are the products of hours and hours of industrial design and engineering work. Jony Ive, Apple’s lead hardware designer, said that the company was taking the redesign of its top product very seriously and wanted to make sure the creators got it absolutely right.

Apart from that, there was no blowout announcement in San Francisco, no inevitable “one more thing” to set jaws dropping, but rather incremental updates that will undoubtedly sell phones and please fans but may not inspire the same level of excitement that Apple watchers have come to expect.

That’s not to say that Apple’s phone won’t be wildly successful, enabling Apple to keep its marketshare at roughly the same levels as right now.

After all, Apple shareholders didn’t react much to the news, and the stock kept on ticking. While the share price went up and down as the announcement dragged on, it ended up, within a percent of its opening price, after the Foo Fighters had finished playing to the crowd at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

And, it’s worth saying that almost everything is better on this iPhone.

The speakers got a revamp; there are more microphones and a noise-canceling earpiece; and the camera software is updated to take better quality pictures in low light. Even the longtime dock connector and earbuds are new, in line with speculation ahead of the launch. The new phone zips along on its faster processor and is said to offer better color and screen clarity than any other Apple device.

The company had some other announcements, as well. Apple said would refresh its iPod line with a new 2.5-inch iPod nano and a redesigned iPod Touch that packs a more powerful chip, the A5, than its predecessor. The revised iPod touch is focused on gaming — a market that Apple has been steadily siphoning from handheld video game makers Nintendo and Sony. The new Touch has a few other extra features: Siri and AirPlay.

In the end, you couldn’t really call these new incarnations of Apple devices revolutionary. After all, there was nothing new that would change how consumers use their iPhones — nothing like Nokia’s wireless charging announcement, or even Samsung’s somewhat clumsy attempts to push NFC for its new Galaxy S III.

Apple didn’t even offer any new features for Siri that it hadn’t already revealed in June at its Worldwide Developers Conference. Nor did it build on its announcements for Passbook or Maps.

There wasn’t anything that made you think, “Aha! That’s exactly what I’ve been missing,” which has always been Apple’s greatest strength as a company that became a tech giant.

In short, Apple’s new iPhone is its thinnest, lightest, speediest and most beautiful ever released. It has faster data connections, improved WiFi and a higher-quality screen. It weighs less and boasts a better camera and a whole lot of previously announced improvements to its software.

That’s a lot of steps forward for the iPhone. But, at first blush, it doesn’t seem like there were many bold strides ahead.

Related stories:

GRAPHIC: How does the new iPhone 5 stack up against its predecessor, the iPhone 4s, and its rivals?

Event blog: Apple’s big event — larger, lighter iPhone 5 unveiled

Apple reveals iPhone 5: But is it innovative?

Apple’s iPhone 5 : What’s new

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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