Apple says new iPhone 5 is thinner, lighter

SAN FRANCISCO — Apple Inc. on Wednesday unveiled the iPhone 5, saying it’s thinner and lighter than the previous model, even though it has a bigger screen. The new phone hits stores in the U.S. and several other countries Sept. 21.

Phil Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of worldwide marketing, watches on stage the unveiling of the new iPhone 5 at an Apple event in San Francisco.

Apple marketing head Phil Schiller unveiled the year’s most eagerly awaited phone at an Apple event in San Francisco.

The release is expected to help Apple recapture attention and revenue after it lost the lead in smartphones to Samsung this year.

Apple’s announcements were largely in line with investor expectations, and their response was tepid. Apple shares rose $9.13, or 1.4 percent, to close at $669.72. Shares have jumped as expectations rose for the iPhone 5, rallying 16 percent since Apple’s latest earnings report in July.

The first launch countries are Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore and the UK. A week later, the phone will be available in 22 more countries, including Italy, Poland and Spain. Prices for overseas locations were not announced.

There was little in Wednesday’s announcement that surprised Apple watchers. “There was nothing unexpected in terms of the new features of the iPhone,” said Tavis McCourt, an analyst with Raymond James.

Apple watchers expect the company will introduce a smaller version of its iPad next month.

As expected, the iPhone 5 screen is taller than on the iPhone 4S, making room for another row of icons.

The bigger screen moves Apple somewhat closer to competing smartphones, but the iPhone is still small compared to its main rivals. Samsung has increased the screen size of its flagship phone line every year, and it’s now about 45 percent larger than the one on the new iPhone.

The new iPhone is lighter than Samsung’s new Galaxy S III. Schiller said the screen is 18 percent thinner and 20 percent lighter because of new technology that eliminates a separate touch-sensing layer in the screen. The new phone is made entirely of glass and aluminium.

The iPhone 5 will also come with the capability to connect to the fastest new wireless data networks, both in the U.S. and overseas. That’s another feature that was widely expected.

Sales of Apple’s iPhones are still strong. Samsung Electronics Co. benefited from having its Galaxy S III out in the U.S. in June, while Apple was still selling an iPhone model it released last October.

Amid expectations of a new iPhone, Amazon, Nokia and Motorola all tried to generate interest in their products last week, hoping that a head start on the buzz will translate into stronger sales. Makers of consumer electronics also are refreshing their products for the holiday shopping season.

One big change: The new iPhone is getting a new connector to attach to computers and chargers. It had been using the same one from the iPod. Schiller said 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 said accessory makers are already working to update their products. Apple will sell an adapter to work with older accessories.

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.

Also, as expected, 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 said the phone’s virtual assistant, Siri, will be giving the directions.

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, Siri will be available on the iPod.

Apple is also updating its iTunes software for the Mac and PC, with what is 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 said will help fit the shape of the ear. They’ll go on sale Wednesday as a stand-alone accessory but will be included free with new devices out in October.