SAN FRANCISCO -- Apple rolled out the newest model of its wildly popular iPhone Wednesday morning. The iPhone 5 is capable of faster data speeds, sports a taller screen and features new mapping software that is linked into the Siri virtual assistant introduced last year on the 4S model.
The iPhone 5 will be available in stores in the United States on Sept. 21, with pre-orders beginning on Sept. 14. The phone will work with fourth-generation, or 4G, cellular networks, something Samsung's Galaxy S III and many other iPhone rivals already do.
Apple Inc. also plans to update its phone software and will ditch Google Inc.'s mapping service for its own. The two have become rivals as Google promotes phones running its Android operating system.
In anticipation, several gadget makers refreshed their lineups last week, hoping to beat Apple on the buzz. Nokia Corp. and Google Inc.'s Motorola Mobility division announced five new smartphones between them, while Amazon.com Inc. updated its Kindle Fire tablet computer and announced new stand-alone e-reader models.
Sales of Apple's iPhones are still strong, though the company lost the lead in smartphones to Samsung this year.
Samsung Electronics Co. benefited from having its S III out in the U.S. in June, while Apple was still selling an iPhone model it released last October. A new iPhone will allow Apple to recapture the attention and the revenue. Analysts are already estimating that Apple will sell 8 million to 10 million iPhone 5s before the company's quarter ends Sept. 30.
That said, the iPhone has been trailing Android phones in sales. On Tuesday, Google executive Hugo Barra declared on his Google Plus social networking page that 1.3 million Android phones are added each day, with 500 million devices activated globally. As of June, Apple has sold 244 million iPhones since the first one came out in 2007.
Apple's event Wednesday is taking place at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater, where Apple has held many product launches.
Here's a running account of the event, presented in reverse chronological order. All times are PDT. Appearances are made by CEO Tim Cook; Philip Schiller, the senior vice president for worldwide marketing; and others.
Apple is updating the iPod Touch -- essentially an iPhone without the ability to make calls. Like the new iPhone and the new iPod Nano, it will use the new connector, which Apple calls Lightning. It will have a 5-megapixel camera and the same panorama feature as the new iPhone. It will be possible to edit photos on the Touch for the first time.
Although the new iPhone was the big announcement, Apple also unveiled a new version of its iTunes software for traditional computers.
There are new ways to create playlists and to decide what to listen to next. It also promises improved search -- as you type the name of an album, for instance, those in your music library will be suggested.
The iTunes software comes with a new mini player -- a small window from which you can play songs while you are still in your music library.
The new software will come out in late October.
Apple is also refreshing its iPod Nano. The seventh generation of the device is thinner than the previous one, with a bigger display. It now has a home button similar to that on the iPhone and the iPad. It also will come with Bluetooth wireless capability, allowing you to stream music.
Prices will be the same as older models, starting at $199 with a two-year service contract. The iPhone 4S will now go for $99. The 2010 model, the iPhone 4, will now be free, though a service agreement is required.
Advance orders will start this Friday. It will start shipping on Sept. 21 in the U.S. and other countries, plus additional markets a week after that.
Older phones will get the iOS 6 upgrade for free next Wednesday. Apple has said it will be available for the 3GS, 4 and 4S models, though some new features won't work on them. It will also be available on last year's and this year's iPad models and newer iPod Touch devices.
Apple reminds the audience that the new phone is thinner and lighter than previous models.
Compared with the closest competitor, Samsung's Galaxy S III, the iPhone's screen is still smaller (the S III is 4.8 inches, compared with the iPhone 5's 4 inches). The iPhone 5 is lighter than the S III -- 122 grams (4.3 ounces) compared with 133 grams (4.7 ounces).
The new phone software promises enhancement to email. You can deem certain people "VIPs" and flag emails from them so you can go back to them more easily.
Apple also demonstrated Passbook, a central place to keep your boarding passes, tickets and gift cards.
It's improving Siri, which is supposed to get better at fielding questions about movies, restaurants and other things. Apple is partnering wtih OpenTable Inc. to make reservations, for instance.
The new software also has a better tie-in with Facebook. You can talk to Siri to post a status update, for instance.
And Facetime video calls will work over cellular networks for the first time. It had been limited to Wi-Fi connections.
The new phone will come in black and white.
As previously announced, Apple is releasing a new version of its phone software, iOS 6. It will have a new mapping software, as Apple ditches the one from Google it had been using. The new software will have turn-by-turn voice navagation -- a feature Google had limited to Android versions of its mapping app.
Apple says the phone's virtual assistant, Siri, will be giving the directions.
The new iPhone has three microphones instead of two. They are located on the back, the front and the bottom. It also comes with a noise-cancelling earpiece for better sound.
One big change: The iPhone is getting a new connector to attach to computers and chargers. It had been using the same one from the iPod. Schiller says the old connector has "served us well for nearly a decade, but so much has changed.”
That means the new iPhone won't be compatible with old accessories, though Schiller says accessory makers are already working to update their products. Apple will sell an adapter to work with older accessories.
Schiller says the new phone will have a battery with eight hours of talk time and eight hours of Web browsing. It will have an 8-megapixel camera, with special features to eliminate noise in images and perform better in low light. There's also a feature that lets you stitch multiple images of a landscape for a panoramic view.
As expected, the new phone will be capable of using the faster 4G cellular networks known as LTE. Sprint, Verizon and AT&T will support it in the U.S. Apple says the iPhone 5 will have faster Wi-Fi, along with a faster processing chip.
The new phone is made entirely of glass and aluminium. Apple calls it its thinnest and lightest yet, at 7.6 millimeters (0.3 inch) thick and weighing 122 grams (4.3 ounces). It's 18 percent thinner than the iPhone 4S and 20 percent lighter. It also has a bigger screen, measuring 4 inches diagonally.
Schiller introduces the iPhone 5.
Cook gives an audience of journalists, analysts, bloggers and other guests a review of Apple's achievements.
He says the company now has 380 stores in 12 countries, with one opening in Sweden on Friday to make 13.
Cook recalls the summer launch of a new operating system for Mac computers, known as Mountain Lion. He says 7 million copies have been downloaded so far. He says Mac computers are selling well, as are Apple's iPad tablet computers -- 84 million so far.
He pokes fun at tablets from rival companies: "I don't know what these other tablets are doing," he says, suggesting they are probably being kept in drawers somewhere.
That remark drew laughter.
Cook is on stage and showing an Apple store in Barcelona.