SAN FRANCISCO — For the first time, the iPhone is growing. After sticking for five years to the same screen size, Apple on Wednesday revealed a new phone that’s taller, with a bigger screen.
The iPhone 5 will go on sale in the U.S. and eight other countries next Friday, Sept. 21.
Even though it’s taller than the iPhone 4S, it’s lighter, thanks to a new screen technology that makes the whole phone thinner.
The bigger screen – 4 inches measured diagonally – creates room for another row of icons on the screen and lets widescreen movies fit better. Previous iPhone models carried 3.5-inch screens.
In another big change, the iPhone 5 will come with the capability to connect to the fastest new wireless data networks in the U.S. and overseas.
There was little in Wednesday’s announcement that surprised Apple watchers. Despite the pains the company takes to hide its plans, the rough launch date, the new screen and the capability to connect to so-called LTE networks had been reported for months by blogs and analysts.
That’s a contrast to last year, when Apple watchers were first surprised by a delay in the launch, and then by the fact that the phone that was revealed was the iPhone 4S rather than a more radical update.
One thing that did surprise this year: Apple is launching the phone in so many countries so quickly. On Day One, the phone will be available in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore and the U.K., besides the U.S. A week later, it will go on sale in 22 more countries, including Italy, Poland and Spain.
It’s the year’s most anticipated phone. The number Apple can sell, analysts believe, is limited mostly by the production capacity of its suppliers. There had been concerns that supplies could be tight. Even so, analysts were expecting Apple to sell tens of millions of phones before the year is out.
Another surprise was that the phone will be 18 percent thinner than its predecessor. The company was expected to use the space freed up by the new screen technology to expand the phone’s battery, not make the phone thinner.
The bigger screen moves Apple somewhat closer to competing smartphones, but the iPhone is still small compared with its main rivals. Samsung Electronics Co., Apple’s biggest competitor, has increased the screen size of its flagship phone line every year, and it’s now 4.8 inches on the diagonal, about 45 percent larger than the one on the new iPhone. The new iPhone is lighter than Samsung’s new Galaxy S III.
Among devices with even bigger screen – tablet computers – Apple is dominant. This summer, Apple watchers were expecting the company to trot out a smaller version of its iPad when it launched the iPhone 5. But those expectations have been adjusted recently, and that launch is now believed to be next month.
The phone will cost the same as the iPhone 4S did when it debuted, starting at $199 with a two-year contract in the U.S. Meanwhile, the price for the iPhone 4S will drop to $99 for new contract signers and the iPhone 4 will be free.
In the U.S., advance orders will start this Friday.
With the new model, Apple is ditching the connection port it’s used for iPods, iPhones and iPads for nearly a decade in favor of a smaller, narrower one. That means Apple is still the holdout in an industry where other manufacturers have settled on a standard connector for charging and computer backups.
The camera on the back of the iPhone 5 has the same resolution as the one on the iPhone 4S, but takes pictures faster and works better in low light, Apple said.
The front-facing camera is getting an upgrade to high-definition, letting users take advantage of the faster data networks for videoconferencing.
The iPhone 5 will arrive with a new version of Apple’s operating system, iOS. It will be available for download to older phones on Sept. 19.
One feature missing from the new phone is a chip for near-field communications, or NFC. Other top-of-the-line phones are incorporating such chips, which let phones work as credit cards at some store payment terminals. They also enable phones to share data when “bumped” into each other.
Apple also announced a new iPod Touch model that brings over the changes applied to the iPhone 5, including the bigger screen and smaller connection port. For the first time, Apple’s voice-controlled personal assistant software, Siri, will be available on the iPod. Apple is also updating its iTunes software for the Mac and PC, with what it says is a “dramatically simpler and cleaner interface.” It will be available as a free download in October.
In another audio-related update, the white earbuds that ship with all of Apple’s portable devices are getting an update. Now called EarPods, they’re tube-shaped, which Apple says will help meld them to the shape of your ear. The EarPods took three years to design, Apple said. They’ll go on sale Wednesday as a stand-alone accessory for $29, but will be included free with new devices out in October.
Since Apple’s main announcements were largely in line with expectations, investors registered a tepid response. Apple shares rose $9.13, or 1.4 percent, to close at $669.72. The shares have been on a tear as expectations rose for the iPhone 5, rallying 16 percent since Apple’s latest earnings report, in July. On Monday, they hit an all-time high of $683.29.