Apple iPhone 5

Apple has announced its latest generation iPhone in San Francisco this morning, featuring a taller body, lighter weight and thinner design, with the added benefit of Australian 4G support. Could this be the best smartphone yet?

It’s always a hyped event when Apple launches its new products, so no surprises to see news crews from around the world surrounding the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco today where Apple has announced its newest baby, the iPhone 5.

While in the past these announcements were a shock and awe exercise with surprising new designs and features, unfortunately (if you ask Apple) we’ve seen a lot more leaks year on year for its new devices. So there was no surprise in terms of the look of this new phone at all, frankly.

It is taller. You will notice that at first glance, most obvious in the display which shows a whole extra row of icons on your screens. It is also thinner, thanks in part to the lack of rear glass, which is now replaced by a nicely designed rear side in aluminium.

Apple iPhone 5

Most importantly though, the phone is much lighter. A few grams here and there might not feel like much, but when you compare the iPhone 4S to a Samsung Galaxy SII (last year’s model which is a similar size in form), you’re talking about 20 grams difference. It’s like holding an Apple brick in one hand.

So when the iPhone 5 is announced at 112 grams (though a video at the event showed it at 114 grams) which is 4 (or 2) grams lighter than that Samsung, it’s much lighter.

Apple’s ticked the standard boxes – thinner, lighter, and faster. A new A6 processor looks to double the speed of many functions like app launches so that will impress users day to day.

And when we talk faster, we don’t just mean app launching. The iPhone 5 was announced with LTE support – LTE means 4G, and after the issues around 4G for Apple at the new iPad launch where 4G was branded but not supported here, it’s good to know that the new iPhone’s 4G is most certainly supported here in Australia. Telstra and Optus (and Virgin Mobile – using the Optus Network) are ready and able to give you super fast speeds on the go.

There’s an updated camera with fancy new features including an impressive panorama mode – a feature seen in many Android phones for some time but no doubt done with an extra degree of care with Apple.

Another subtle little announcement from Apple was “Wideband Audio” which didn’t make much sense in the presentation, until I spoke with Telstra who confirmed this in fact is what carriers around the world call HD Voice. It’s an excellent improvement in quality, requires both participants in the call to have a supported phone – when you have that, you get great new quality sound.  And that is only supported on the Telstra Network in Australia.

So, with this taller screen – what are we getting?

More app icons on screen. 5 Days to a view in landscape mode when looking at your calendar. More emails on screen. Longer webpages on screen, and 16:9 movie viewing which is impressive. But that’s really about it. Apple made a point of showing their “thumb” design reasons – the thumb can only stretch so far, thus the width of the screen has not and will not increase.

Other than those reasons, the screen size increase can perhaps be put down to the need to pack more (LTE + Battery) into a thinner form. It’s a great look, but I’m just not sure the extra screen is needed.

Your old apps, they’ll show with the letterbox style black lines top and bottom of screen like we used to have on TV when Widescreen first started.

Overall, this is a phone that ticks almost all the “as expected” boxes, with one notable exception: NFC, or Near Field Communications. 

With the rise in popularity of “tap and go” payment systems from Visa and Mastercard, plus Apple’s new Passbook application which essentially stores loyalty cards and tickets, this was an easy win for Apple. But, alas, perhaps that’s being saved for the iPhone 5S after they work out how to make more space inside the device for the required NFC hardware.

Expect a marketing and pricing war for the next 7 days between the carriers. Telstra will push its 66 per cent 4G Coverage, Optus its 4G and pricing competitiveness. Vodafone? Well we will have to wait and see, but it’s likely they will drive hard on price.

The iPhone 5 will be available in Australia on September 21, with pre-orders starting this week.

iOS 6, the updated sofware for the iPhone 5 and existing iPhones will be available for download from September 19.