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iPhone 5 launch reveals few surprises … but will it matter?

The new iPhone is longer, thinner and lighter than previous versions. EPA/Yonhap

As had long been predicted, Apple today (AEST) announced the launch of the iPhone 5. The famously secretive Apple had sprung many leaks over the past few months, despite claiming it would be doubling down on secrecy.

In fact, nearly every detail about the new iPhone was revealed in advance but now the rumours have been confirmed, how does the new iPhone stack up?

Longer, skinnier, lighter

The iPhone 5 delivers a new form - it’s slightly longer than previous models and is also skinnier and lighter. The screen is a four-inch (10cm), 1136 x 640 pixel “retina” display (close to a 16:9 aspect ratio), which will be well received by those who watch movies on their phone.

The screen is longer than in previous models, with the home screen now fitting five rows of icons rather than four. Native applications from Apple will support this new screen size, with existing apps “letterboxed” – with black bars placed above and below the app – until they are updated to natively support the new resolution.

The iPhone 5 features an A6 processor which, according to Apple, doubles the processor and graphics capabilities of the A5 processor (the processor behind the iPhone 4S and the two most recent versions of the iPad). Operations such as rendering a web page or opening a document are expected to be considerably faster.

4G, finally

Support for 4G (LTE) networks has finally arrived for the Apple faithful, who, until now, have had to look on in envy at their Android-touting counterparts.

The new iPhone packs 4G support for countless carriers across the globe. Apple’s marketing chief Phil Schiller confirmed during the keynote that the new iPhone will work on 4G networks in Australia including Telstra, Optus and Virgin Mobile.

New phone, new connectivity

To achieve a slimmer form factor, Apple has moved to a smaller connection interface called “Lightning”, a move that’s sure to cause thousands of accessory makers and millions of owners to cry out in terror. A bridge between the old and the new connection has been offered by Apple in the form of a clumsy US$29 adaptor, which will be cold comfort for many.

The new iPhone has also introduced a new form factor for the SIM card. Apple was one of the first manufacturers to embrace micro sims in an ongoing effort to reduce the size and weight of its phones. Now, Apple is using “nano sims” which are smaller and lighter again.

Consumers must hope that their network carriers produce nano sims in sufficient quantity to keep up with the demand.

iOS 6

Alongside the new iPhone model, Apple has also announced the release version of iOS 6 – the operating system that powers iPhones, iPads and other Apple devices.

The iPhone 5 will ship with iOS 6 pre-installed and the operating system will also be available as a software update from September 19 for recent Apple products, such as the iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4 and 4S, iPad 2/3, and the most recent iPod touch (4th generation).

The latest iOS has a number of enhancements to satisfy existing and new iPhone owners. Apple very publicly dropped support for Google Maps, replacing it with its own native mapping solution – “Maps”.

Maps includes turn-by-turn navigation, traffic overlays and a 3D “flyover” view. But the jury is still out on how Apple’s own mapping service compares with Google’s more-mature and well-loved service.

After numerous false-starts, the long-awaited native Facebook support is now available as part of iOS 6. This upgrade deeply integrates Facebook into the operating system, enabling sharing from many native and 3rd-party iOS applications.

Safari users will find iCloud tab-syncing invaluable, allowing to view all open browser tabs across mobile devices, such as iPhones and iPads, and Safari browsers on the desktop.

Apple has also launched Passbook, a centralised place where you can store electronic versions of plane tickets, movie passes, loyalty cards and more. Disappointingly, the iPhone 5 (just like previous iPhones) doesn’t support Near-Field Communication (NFC) – the technology found in transaction systems such as Mastercard’s PayPass.

NFC has already been deployed in some Android phones and tablets and the lack of this technology in the iPhone 5 potentially limits the usefulness of the new Passbook feature.

For folks tired of their phone vibrating throughout the night as emails and Facebook notifications arrive on their phone, iOS 6 introduces a “Do Not Disturb” mode, allowing you to suppress notifications while you get some rest.

Finally, Apple’s Facetime video chat feature is now available via 3G, making the service more accessible when you are out of the range of a wireless hotspot. Previously, Facetime was only available over Wi-Fi.

It’s nearly here

Many were expecting Apple to launch the iPhone 5 last October. Instead, to the disappointment of many, Apple launched the iPhone 4S which contained only modest internal hardware and software improvements over the iPhone 4.

Siri was initially lauded but the novelty wore off quickly. The faster processor in the 4S was nice but not a game changer and the lack of 4G was conspicuous.

The iPhone 5 brings a new form factor to the table, delivering a higher resolution screen with a cinematic 16:9 aspect ratio. A faster processor and support for high speed 4G (LTE) networks represents a significant upgrade over previous models. This pairs nicely with the growing trend of streaming media over iCloud, Spotify and other similar services.

Australian users won’t have to wait long to get their hands on the iPhone 5, with the first phones expected to go on sale next Friday, September 21.

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