SAN FRANCISCO – After weeks of speculation, anticipation and a hearty dose of hype, Apple unveiled the next generation iPhone at a special event in San Francisco on Wednesday.
Apple CEO Tim Cook and vice president of marketing Phil Schiller took the stage at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, where Apple has held many past product launches, to release the newest, largest, fastest iPhone ever.
"It's an absolute jewel," Schiller told the crowd of fans.
Made entirely of glass and aluminum, the new version of Apple's flagship device is 18 percent thinner than before and 20 percent lighter than the 4S, thanks to new technology that eliminates a separate touch-sensing layer in the screen. It sports a larger, 4-inch screen, meaning the company could fit in an extra row of icons.
The 30 best apps for the new iPad
The Tech Toys 100: The best gear money can buy
15 devices your iPhone replaces
iPhone users, delight: New YouTube app to fill looming void
Smartphone smorgasbord ahead of iPhone 5
Meet the naked cowboy of iPhone repairmen
The best apps for your iPhone
iPhone 5 Just the Stimulus the U.S. Economy Needed?
Apple iPhone 5's New Features
Apple Unveils Thinner, Faster 4-Inch iPhone 5
How an accessory maker guessed right on the iPhone 5 and wrong on the iPad Mini
It's also compatible with several new wireless networks, including HSPA+, DC-HSDPA, and LTE -- meaning the iPhone can finally match the wireless speeds of competing products such as the Samsung Galaxy line. The new iPhone 5 is also twice as fast as the 4S, Schiller said, thanks to a smaller, faster processor called the A6.
The new phone sports an 8MP camera, similar to earlier models, but it has better low-light performance and faster image captures. Schiller showed off a photograph captured by the new phone that he said was 28 megapixels.
"Here's pictures from the iPhone 5. These are from the camera... untouched," an apparent reference to Nokia, which was called out last week for faking images from its flagship Lumia 920 phone.
But not everything about the new phone is sure to delight. Schiller confirmed the rumors that had alarmed millions of fans prior to the release of the phone: The old dock connector is going away.
"A lot has changed and it's time for the connector to evolve," he said. The smaller new connector uses fewer pins and is reversible; to use old devices such as speaker docks with the new phone will require an adapter named "Lightning."
The iPhone 5 will run a new version of the software that powers the iLineup, deemed IOS 6. It contains mapping software with turn by turn directions and satellite imagery, a full-screen version of the Safari web browser and an improved version of the Siri voice-control system.
Owners of older iProducts, specificlaly the iPhone 4S, 4, 3GS, new iPad, iPad 2 will be able to upgrade for free to iOS 6, he said.
"We think you're going to love it," said Scott Forstall, senior vice president of software for the company.
At the same event, Apple unveiled several new products, including revamped versions of the popular iTunes music store software and new iPod music players.
"It's an amazing time at Apple," Cook said to begin the show, noting that 83 million visitors popped by their local Apple stores and over 7 million people downloaded the latest operating system update, Mountain Lion. The company sold 17 million iPads last quarter, Cook said.
"[Apple] sold more iPads than any PC manufacturer sold of their entire PC line," Cook told the crowd -- 84 million as of June.
The phone will cost the same as the iPhone 4S 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.
The new iPhone will ship on Sept. 21; IOS will be available Sept. 19.