[UPDATED 11:00 a.m. PT] It's the annual ritual: Tech news sites breathlessly promote their live blogs on the great Apple unveil that started at 10 a.m. Pacific time TODAY, so you can find out RIGHT NOW what the NEW iPhone offers. Billions of people follow along, watching every word, and as soon as the order site is live, they all buy one.
This time, the months of interminable rumors were mostly right. Apple replaced the iPhone 5 with two models: the iPhone 5s and the iPhone 5c, to be released on Sept. 20. Both are basically the same size as the iPhone 5, and in fact the iPhone 5c is essentially the old 5 in a polycarbonate shell that comes in a choice of colors and costs $100 less ($99 for the 16GB model, $199 for the 32GB model with a two-year contract) than the iPhone 5. But it's not the cheap iPhone long rumored to appeal to poorer countries.
[ The next frontier for mobile management is information management. Here's how it should work. | Keep up on key mobile developments and insights via Twitter and with the Mobile Edge blog. | For a quick, smart take on the news you'll be talking about, check out InfoWorld TechBrief -- subscribe today. ]
The flagship iPhone 5s is thinner than the iPhone 5 and has a third color option (gold and white). It costs the same as the iPhone 5, starting at $199 for the 16GB model with a two-year contract But the real news is the new A7 processor, which jumps from 32-bit processing to 64-bit, which Apple says will double performance. Graphics processing should double as well, and the newfound support for OpenGL ES 3.0 should mean richer game play (Motorola Mobility's Moto X was the first smartphone to support OpenGL ES 3.0.)
Plus, there's the new M7 processor, a real-time motion processor that works independently of the CPU, so fitness apps (for example) can function without using much battery power. And it has a better camera, now with dual-LED flash and automatic image stabilization. The camera takes multiple photos and chooses the best one -- a feature increaasingly common on digital cameras and higher-end Android smartphones.
Then there's the new Home button feature: a built-in fingerprint scanner so that you can use your thumb as a password. Apple says that only half of users password-protect their iPhones, so this feature might help improve that record. The fingerprint is stored inthe A7 itself and never leaves the device. Essentially, when the iPhone 5s recognizes your fingerprint, it unlocks the device.
Apple also announced the release of iOS 7 for Sept. 18. I've grown to like iOS 7, which I've been beta-testing since June, but I don't need a new iPhone to enjoy that. IT organizations will love it, for reasons I'll explain once I'm freed from my nondisclosure agreement with Apple. But iOS 7 runs on the iPhone 4 and later models, as well as the iPad 2 and later models. The new iPhone isn't about iOS 7; that's just icing on the cake.
More icing for new buyers: Apple's Pages, Numbers, Keynote, iPhoto, and iMovie apps are now included with the smartphone at no charge.