The rumor-mill nailed the main part of Apple’s Tuesday announcements: The company is indeed releasing two new iPhones, the 5s and the 5c, the first with dramatically improved hardware, the second with a dramatically lower price. It also committed to a date when it would release iOS 7. But rumor-mongers rash enough to predict new Apple TV hardware or software, new iPads, or a smartwatch were disappointed.
New iPhones: Surprise!
In the past, Apple has provided a ‘budget’ alternative to its current smartphone by continuing to sell previous generations at sharp discounts (see, for example, the simultaneous availability of the iPhone 5, iPhone 4s, and iPhone 4). But now the company now has two current iPhone product lines, one at the higher-end, the other one more affordable. (It’ll continue to sell—or, rather, give away—the 8GB iPhone 4s.)
The iPhone 5s (no word this time on what the ‘s’ stands for—and it is indeed lower-case) provides a couple of features to justify its higher price. The first big one is a fancy new A7 processor, which Apple says is roughly a jillion times faster than the chip that powered the plain old iPhone 5. It also sports a brand new M7 “motion coprocessor” chip, which could empower some nifty new motion-sensitive apps.
Apple is also touting the 5s’s new camera, with a new Apple-designed lens plus a larger active sensor area and bigger pixels on the sensor. (Bigger pixels should in theory lead to better pictures.) The camera also includes a new True Tone Flash (to adjust for ambient lighting conditions), automatic image stabilization, and a burst mode that’ll take 20 pictures in two seconds.
If you’ve ever cursed your iPhone’s log-in screen (and who hasn’t?), you’ll be interested in the fingerprint-scanner built into the 5s’s Home button: Touch a finger to it and you won’t have to type in a passcode. There’s no word yet on whether third-party developers will be able to take advantage of the new Touch ID technology, but just bypassing that passcode could be good enough for a lot of users.
Pricing for the iPhone 5s is the same as for the 5: a 16GB model for $199, 32GB for $299, and 64GB for $399. It'll be available in three new metallic finishes: silver, gold, and "space gray."
If that’s too rich for your blood, Apple is also going to ship a new low-end iPhone 5c. You might think the ‘c’ stands for “cheap”: Pricing for the 5c starts at just $99 for an 16GB model. But Apple would probably prefer that you think that it stands for “color”: The new low-end phone comes wrapped in a plastic case that’s available in five bright tones (green, blue, yellow, red, and white). Other than that, it isn’t much different from the previous generation iPhone 5.
A couple more things
It also announced that it’s going to make the mobile versions of its iWork and iLife apps—Pages, Numbers, Keynote, iPhoto, and iMovie—free to anyone who buys a new iOS device. When you start up your new device, a new setup screen will offer to install whichever of those apps you want.
As usual, Apple CEO Tim Cook also took the announcement event as an opportunity to tout some of his company’s notable numbers. Most notable of them: Apple expects to ship its 700 millionth iOS device next month—up from the 500 million the company said it had sold as of January 2013. Looks it’s been a good year for the iPhones.
Updated at 2:50 pm PT to correct iPhone 5c price.