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Bigger screen, faster internet: iPhone 5 is here

Apple's updated icon goes on sale next week with faster data and a bigger screen

Every year, there’s one day that has Apple fans and gadget lovers around the world frothing with anticipation. Last night from the Yerba Buena Arts Center in San Francisco, Apple CEO Tim Cook and colleagues announced the new iPhone. Cook, on his third Apple keynote, was relaxed, confident and decidedly bullish, saying the company was the strongest it had ever been.

The iPhone 5, as it’s called, goes on sale on 21 September for the same price as the iPhone 4S when it launched last October (from £529). Like the earlier phone, the display on the iPhone 5 will be exceptionally high resolution, the same width as before but longer, making it widescreen resolution – ideal for watching video.

But if it looks like just a tall version of the iPhone 4S, wait until you feel it. It’s noticeably thinner, much lighter and great to the touch thanks to a glass front and aluminium back.

This year’s model is also the first 4G iPhone, and the first 4G mobile to go on sale in the UK. The potential of 4G is that mobile data will move five times faster, promising fast web browsing, speedily updated maps and more. The iPhone 5 will work on 4G frequencies including the one just launched by EE, the company formed by T-Mobile and Orange. EE turned on its 4G network yesterday, promising coverage in four UK cities shortly and 12 more by the end of the year. Other networks will have 4G next year, and EE will launch other handsets imminently, but for now the iPhone 5 is on its own.

Other new features on the phone include iOS 6, the latest operating system. Many of the improvements will work on current iDevices, giving them a new lease of life for those whose phone contracts don’t allow an upgrade just yet. Key updates are the Maps, now provided by TomTom, featuring turn-by-turn navigation and super-cool photo-realistic overhead views of some cities.

There’s also a hugely improved version of Siri, the voice recognition program for the iPhone 4S, iPhone 5 and the most recent iPad. Siri can now respond to questions asking it to find stores in the UK, as well as restaurants and more. It’s very well informed about movies and some – US-oriented – sports.

The new iPhone has a much smaller connector (called Lightning) to reflect how our need to upload data is now nearly all wireless. However, umpteen millions of iPhone speaker docks will no longer connect. Of course, there’ll be adaptors available, but don’t expect them to be free.

The iPod, often seeming a neglected member of the Apple family, was a surprise feature of the evening, with new, catwalk-thin iPod touch models announced in a raft of colours – with Siri included to work over wi-fi. There was also a version of the smaller iPod nano with a much bigger screen.

At first glance, the new iPhone may look underwhelming. But once would-be buyers have touched it, seen its new features and tried out its 4G capabilities, it’s likely Apple will have hotcake sales all over again.