Cupertino: The rumours are confirmed; dead accurate. Yes, there are now two lines of iPhone – the new, steel-reinforced plastic-bodied iPhone 5c in five bright, typically Apple colours, and the svelte new iPhone 5s in gold, silver and "space grey" anodised aluminium. Both raise the bar considerably for Samsung and Android in their knockdown, drag-out battle with Apple, the company that, back in January 2007, started the smartphone revolution.
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Apple's iPhone makeover
Apple's newest iPhones look different on the outside but the changes inside could be what really counts, with the premium 5s model selling for $199 in the US.
As became clear to us, an audience of only 200, Apple VIPs, guests and selected US and Australian media, crammed into the "Town Hall" auditorium in Building 4 at Apple's headquarters in Cupertino, California, these phones take the technology significant steps forward, in speed, looks, graphics and, perhaps most particularly, in new security measures they offer against malware and data theft.
The launch was pure Apple theatre – an intimate black-walled theatre, booming, cutting edge rock music, bright colours and senior Apple executives from head man Tim Cook and software chief Craig Federighi to veteran marketing boss Phil Schiller, who was one of Steve Jobs' closest confidants back in the day.
Rock and roll hall of fame name Elvis Costello sang two numbers to wind up the show. Maybe we could have done without him. But he's not a complete Luddite. He said he composes songs in his kitchen on his iPad.
Much more impressive, easier on the ears and more significant is a quite remarkable new security measure on the iPhone5: fingerprint identification. Gone is the vulnerable and clunky four-digit Passcode lock, replaced by Touch ID. But it's not on the phone's touchscreen. It's conveniently in the new home button you tap to wake the iPhone from sleep. As Schiller said: "This sets a new standard for smartphones ... one of the breakthrough features of iPhone5s that really matters to people, a simple and secure way to unlock your phone with just a touch of your finger."
The home button is now covered by a tough, laser-cut sapphire crystal that protects a capacitive touch sensor, which takes a high-resolution image of your finger or thumb print and intelligently analyses it to provide accurate readings from any angle.
The Touch ID sensor recognises the touch of a finger so it is activated only when needed. Fingerprint information is encrypted and stored securely in the Secure Enclave inside the new A7 system-on-a-chip that provides much of the new power of the iPhone 5s; it's not stored on any remote server.
Clearly, Touch ID could be a powerful tool in mobile purchases – once banks and retailers adopt it. Meantime, it can be used to approve purchases from the iTunes Store, App Store or iBooks Store.
Australia will be among the first in the world to get its hands on the new iPhones on the morning of Friday September 20.
Retail prices for the iPhone 5s are: $869 for the 16-gigabyte (GB) model, $999 for the 32GB model and $1129 for the 64GB model. They will be available from the Apple Store, and through Telstra, Optus, Vodafone and larger Apple Authorised Resellers.
The iPhone 5c comes in blue, green, pink, yellow and white polycarbonate bodies and will sell in Australia for $739 for the 16GB model and $869 for the 32GB model.
The lower-cost iPhone 5c is much based on the current iPhone 5. It has the same A6 processor, better battery life, but the advent of the new and much more efficient iOS 7 operating system, overseen by Apple's design genius Jonathan Ive, gives it a lot more smarts than its predecessor. And all of that goes with its spiffy new colourful looks – polycarbonate bodies of wondrous shininess in pink, green, yellow, blue and white. The 4-inch Retina touchscreen is continued from the iPhone 5.
Stiffening the plastic body and adding to the durability of the phone is a steel reinforcing base plate that also acts as the phone's multiband antenna, improving performance on both 3G and 4G networks. The iPhone 5c includes dual-band 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi support for up to 150 megabits per second and Bluetooth 4.0. In terms of battery life, Apple claims 10 hours of talk time on 3G networks, up to 10 hours of web browsing on Wi-Fi and LTE networks and up to 8 hours on 3G networks, up to 10 hours of video playback and up to 40 hours of audio playback.
The iPhone 5s is a significant upgrade on its predecessor, the current iPhone 5. Though the screen is of the same 4-inch dimension, that's about all that's the same. Inside there is a new and much faster microprocessor, the Apple-designed A7 system-on-a-chip that heralds Apple's move to faster 64-bit architecture, a first for the industry and important for mobile gaming. The Mustard Brothers of Epic Games showed their soon to be released Infinity Blade III at the launch event. It runs in real time, has the most astonishing effects and speed and, as Don Mustard said: "It opens a new era of graphic performance on mobile devices."
The iPhone 5s also has a new M7 motion co-processor that measures data from the phone's accelerometer, gyroscope and compass and, said Schiller, is bound to spur among other innovations, a whole new range of healthcare apps.
The camera is much improved – a five-element lens designed by Apple with an aperture of f2.2 and a 15 per cent larger sensor. It uses bigger pixels (1.2 microns), which, Schiller said, recorded more light and give better, sharper pictures with less noise. The technology behind the camera includes auto white balance, quicker auto focus and a "true-tone" flash with two LEDS, one cool and the other warm that gives improved skin tones and colour fidelity. There's also image stabilisation, and, if you hold the button down, you get a burst mode of 10 frames a second for stop motion shots. The camera will even choose the best shot. Slow motion at 120 frames per second has been introduced to the video camera.
The iPhone 5c and 5s benefit by coming from a well-proven design but they also have iOS 7: the totally rebuilt mobile operating system.
Apple software engineering chief Craig Federighi told us it was the most significant iOS update since the original iPhone. It has a rather minimalist, elegant new user interface and a parallax feature that makes the app icons appear to move in 3D on the screen.
There is a new tap-to-reveal Control Centre that can be brought up on the lock screen, as can the Notification Centre. AirDrop is available to share content with other iOS users on the same Wi-Fi network, Siri is smarter and has much nicer voices and she/he can poll Twitter for information, too. There is a new Safari mobile web browser, multitasking and a great way of displaying all your tabbed items in one touch-to-get screen; a display a little like Time Machine on the Mac desktop machines.
Technology analyst firm Ovum sees the new iPhones as "certainly meaningful innovation by Apple".
Tony Cripps, principal device analyst at Ovum said that "moving to a 64-bit architecture means Apple can genuinely claim to have brought something new to the smartphone party. It should certainly help the company further cement its lead as a mobile gaming platform and will give the Android fraternity something to think about."
"Ingratiating itself with the burgeoning community of health and fitness application developers with new sensors is also a good move by Apple at a time when consumer and professional interest in those categories are booming," he said.
"Anyone expecting Apple to come truly down market with the iPhone 5c was fooling themselves. The day that happens is the day the company signals that it has run out of headroom for expansion. It's far from ready to concede that yet as it's greater interest in Japan and China shows."
The writer travelled to the event as a guest of Apple.