SAN FRANCISCO -- Over the past several weeks and months, I can't tell you how often I've gotten the question, "When is the new iPhone coming out?'" We now know the answer to the question. Apple announced a brand new iPhone 5 today. The obvious follow-up question: "Is it worth it?"
My true answer must wait until I've had a chance to put the iPhone 5 through its paces, and details are still emerging as I sit in the audience at Apple's event here. But the new iPhone looks awfully inviting from my vantage point. Like many people, I've had an iPhone 4 that has frankly grown stale. But I also postponed the purchase of a new smartphone -- waiting to see what Apple would do.
The new iPhone 5 has the same retina display as on its predecessor. But Apple finally upped the screen size to 4 inches, up from the 3.7-inch display that was on all its predecessors. That permits a fifth row of app icons on the home screen. It's still a smaller screen than the display on many rival Android devices. But the extra real estate is welcome, just the same.
Apple says the new device a little taller than its earlier models and is the thinnest and lightest iPhone ever made -- 18% thinner, in fact, than its immediate predecessor, the iPhonje 4S. And the iPhone 5 is one-fifth lighter than the 4S. It is made entirely of glass and aluminum.
And yes -- as had been rumored and as I had hoped -- the iPhone 5 can tap into speedy wireless 4G LTE networks. Apple will be working in the U.S. with AT&T, Sprint and Verizon Wireless, as well as several other carriers in Canada and overseas.
Apple says users will get up to 8 hours of 3G talk time off its battery
The new iPhone runs off a zippy A6 chip, Apple says, meaning you can launch photos, music, and various apps much quicker. I'm anxious to compare this to its predecessors.
It has an improved iSight camera that Apple says increases performance in low light. Apple says it can capture pictures 40% faster than before. Apple's Phil Schiller joked about the pictures you can take with the new camera: "Kids look happier." (I'll let you know if I'm happier after taking my own pix.) With the new phone, you can also capture panorama images. On stage, Apple showed a stunning 28-megapixels panoramic image of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Apple also improved the front-facing FaceTime camera. And the phone has three microphones, and what the company says are better speakers. Apple has incorporated new "wideband audio" technology to bolster sound by filling up more of the frequency spectrum.
Now a controversial topic: iPhone has used the same 30-pin connector that has been on the iPhone since 2003. Of course, there are now lots of other ways to connect -- Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi syncing. And now Apple is evolving the connector to something called Lightning, playing off the name of Apple's other emerging connector, Thunderbolt. The new connector is 80% smaller and Apple is working with Bose, JBL and others. But what of all the accessories you have that use the older connector, like those in your car. Apple is coming out with an adapter that would let you hook up those other devices. But this is a potential inconvenience, and it's not yet known if Apple will throw in the adapter for free or charge for it. Either way, it's just something else you have to worry about taking with youâ??and not losing.
At the core of the new iPhone, of course, is the previously announced iOS 6 software upgrade. Apple is late to the party with turn-by-turn audio directions, a feature that has been on Android phones for a while. (Third-party developers have helped fill the void on the iPhone up to now). But better late than never, and the built-in Maps and directions in iOS 6 are very sweet. You can zoom in to get virtual photo-realistic tours of an area through Maps. During the event, Apple zoomed in on London's Big Ben.
IOS 6 made enhancements to Notification Center and Safari. Through iCloud Tabs, you can access webpages that were open on your computer back home. Among the new Mail features is the ability to make certain senders your VIPs, so you can easily access their mail amidst all the junk.
I'm particularly high on another iOS 6 addition called Passbook, a repository for boarding passes, coupons and such. You can even display your boarding pass from the iPhone lock screen.
With iOS 6 comes Shared Photo Streams. As the name suggests, it's a way to share images with friends.
Apple has also made improvements to Siri, letting you ask the phone's chatty virtual assistant for sports scores, movie recommendations and to launch apps.