Apple yesterday unveiled the iPhone 5, the nameplate everyone wanted last year before they settled, sometimes only after a lot of griping, for the iPhone 4S.
The rumor milled nailed most of the feature set -- one analyst said Apple could have saved everyone time by simply noting, "It's all you thought it was, no surprises, have a good time" -- including LTE, a 4-inch screen, and a bigger battery.
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That doesn't mean there aren't questions. And answers. Here is our first set for the iPhone 5, including the nitty-gritty of when, where, and how much.
When can I get one?
Friday, Sept. 21. That's the on-sale day at Apple's retail stores, as well as the outlets of its carrier partners. It will also be the delivery date for iPhone 5s ordered during the pre-sales stretch.
Apple will open its stores at 8 a.m. local time. The three carriers in the United States will also begin selling the iPhone 5 on Sept. 21, but none -- AT&T, Verizon, Wireless, or Sprint -- has yet said when it will open the doors that day.
Can I pre-order?
Of course -- what would an iPhone launch be without lots of people up at the middle of the night refreshing their browsers every second or two? Pre-sales start on Friday, Sept. 14, when Apple and carriers start accepting orders at their websites (and presumably, by phone too). Sprint said it would begin taking pre-orders starting at 12:01 a.m. PT Friday, so it's likely that's the kick-off time for everyone. (That means the virtual doors open at 3:01 a.m. ET, 8:01 a.m. in London, 9:01 a.m. in Paris and Berlin, 3:01 p.m. in Hong Kong, 4:01 p.m. in Tokyo, and 5:01 p.m. in Sydney.)
The timing fits last year, when Verizon kicked off pre-sales for the iPhone 4S at just after midnight PT on the designated day. Sprint, Apple, and AT&T's websites started taking orders, in that order, over the next hour, although Apple's e-store had the most problems handling the traffic.
What's it cost?
Assuming you're eligible for the subsidized prices because your existing contract is up or nearly so, you're switching carriers, or buying a smartphone for the first time, the iPhone 5 will cost $199 (16GB), $299 (32GB), or $399 (64GB). That last configuration is the second year in a row that 64GB has held the Big Dog spot. Apple hasn't shown any inclination to boost the storage capacity further, even though RAM is a cheap way for the company to add another $100 to its prices.
How do I find out if I qualify for the iPhone 5 at the subsidized price?
Steer to your carrier's site first. Apple's website will also do an eligibility check when you place an order. Prepping for Friday's pre-sale? AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon customers in the United States can check eligibility now at Apple's site.
I want one, but my contract isn't up. What will I pay?
More than you want, we'll bet you that. Because each carrier handles still-in-contract fees for the iPhone 5, you'll have to contact yours to price the move. And that move can be very pricey.
We checked a Verizon iPhone 4 that has a contract set to expire in mid-October to get an idea. According to Verizon, we'd have to pay $649/$749/$849 for the 16GB/32GB/64GB iPhone 5 before the contract expiration date. That's a $450 surcharge. Yikes.
What does the iPhone 5 look like, feel like?
Different. It's taller by 0.3 inch for one thing, a 7 percent increase over the iPhone 4S, 18 percent thinner and about 20 percent lighter, according to Apple's specifications. The device's aluminum case is milled from the same stock used for MacBook laptops. The iPhone 5 comes in the familiar black or white, with corresponding-colored glass in strips on the back's top and bottom to allow radio signals to penetrate the case.
Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi, who attended the iPhone 5 rollout, was most impressed with the feel of the new model. "What really strikes you about the iPhone 5 is how light it feels in your hand," said Milanesi. "But it still retains a quality feel to it. That was the most surprising to me, that when you touch it, the quality is obvious."
Anything different inside?
Tear-down artists will be able to give us the lowdown within a day or two of Sept. 21, but some things we know: The iPhone 5 is powered by an A6 -- not the iPhone 4S's dual-core A5 -- packs an additional radio chip for LTE and support for 801.11n Wi-Fi, and has slightly more battery capacity than the iPhone 4S, with a 12.5 percent increase in claimed "standby" time.
What's the A6?
It's the Apple-designed SoC, or "system on a chip" that combines the processor with other silicon, including the graphics processor, to power the iPhone 5. Apple's not said much about the specs of the A6 -- other than to claim it's twice as fast as the iPhone 4S's A5, and 22 percent smaller -- but Anandtech.com yesterday claimed that it's based on a dual-core Cortex-A15, ARM's top-of-the-line design in the Cortex-A line. According to ARM's website, the Cortex-A15 that's suitable for smartphones is available in 1GHz to 2GHz speeds, in either single- or dual-core configurations.
The iPhone 5 is the first Apple device to rely on the A6; this year's iPad, for example, uses what Apple's named the A5X.
I've been waiting for LTE on the iPhone, but how do I know if my carrier supports it? In the United States, the iPhone 5 supports LTE on AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon; in Canada, it's Bell, Rogers, and Telus. For LTE coverage in your area, check with your carrier. A list of other countries' iPhone 5 LTE-supporting carriers is here, on Apple's site.
Europeans may notice they've been shoved to the back burner. That seems to be Apple's plan, which focuses on delivering hardware to handle the most popular frequency bands in North America and Asia, according to experts.
Will my apps run on the iPhone 5's larger screen?
Yes. Current apps will, depending on the orientation of the iPhone 5, display black bars at the top and bottom, or along the sides, much like an older TV shows "letterbox" movies or a widescreen set displays standard-definition programming. There's no stretching or scaling, as there is when iPad owners run an iPhone app.
Some developers will be quick out the gate with redesigned apps that make use of the full 4-inch screen; Apple cited CNN and OpenTable in its presentation yesterday. Naturally, Apple beat everyone to the punch on full-screen support: The Pages, Numbers and Keynote productivity apps, for example, take advantage of the new display, as do iPhoto, iMovie and GarageBand.
And iOS 6's built-in apps, like Calendar, Facebook, Mail, and Safari, are ready for the bigger screen.
Can I use my existing accessories with the iPhone 5? Not without spending more money. For $29, Apple will sell an adapter to connect older accessories that relied on the 30-pin docking port to the iPhone 5's new, smaller Lightning port. Apple's also selling a cable with old and new connectors at each end for an even-higher $39. But neither ships until October, according to Apple's online store.
Even a connector or cable may not do the trick at times; Cnet yesterday noted that some cars from makers such as BMW, Kia, and Hyundai may not be able to play tracks from a iPhone 5 because of the adapter requirement.
I think I'll pass on the iPhone 5. What's for me?
iOS 6, the operating system upgrade that adds new features to your current iPhone. iOS 6 ships Wednesday, Sept. 19, and can be installed on the iPhone 3G S, iPhone 4, and iPhone 4S. No word on when that day the upgrade will appear on Apple's servers; last year, iOS 5 went live around 1 p.m. ET.
Some parts of iOS 6 require the 4S -- turn-by-turn navigation, for instance -- or either the 4 or the 4S, such as Safari's offline reading list.
Who gets the iPhone 5 first?
Customers in the United States, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, and the United Kingdom can purchase the iPhone 5 on Sept. 21. (That list is the same as last year, with the addition of Hong Kong and Singapore.) Twenty-two other countries -- the list is in this press release -- will follow on Sept. 28. Still more will get the iPhone 5 in December, Apple said Wednesday: It's goal is to have the new smartphone in a total of 100 countries by that month. No word yet on what those markets will be, and on what schedule.
"This will be our fastest iPhone rollout ever," said Apple's head of marketing, Philip Schiller.
My wallet's as thin as possum road kill on I-20, but I still want an iPhone ... what are my options?
Apple again dropped the price of last year's model -- this time it's the iPhone 4S -- to $99. The half-off iPhone 4S is a 16GB device, twice the storage capacity of the $99 iPhone 4 Apple offered last year. Apple's also retained its now-two-year-old device, an 8GB iPhone 4, which will be free at the register or online checkout. OK, not really free, not by a long shot: Like any subsidized iPhone, buyers have to sign a two-year contract with a carrier.
The new, reduced prices were effective immediately; Apple's U.S. online store now shows both the $99 iPhone 4S and the free iPhone 4 as shipping in "1-2 business days" after ordering.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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This story, "FAQ: It's the iPhone 5" was originally published by Computerworld.