After months of speculation, Apple announced its newest smartphone, the iPhone 5, as it seeks to thwart growing challenges from rivals like Samsung, Google and Microsoft.

In a packed conference hall at the Yerba Buena Centre in San Francisco, Apple marketing chief Phill Schiller called the glass and aluminium smartphone the “most beautiful product ever made, bar none,” and also described it as the best engineering that Apple has ever done.

The new phone is available for pre-order on Friday in the U.S., Canada, U.K., France, Germany, Australia, Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore, and will ship one week later. By the end of the year it will be available in 100 countries through 240 carrier partners, Mr. Schiller said.

The new iPhone features a 4-inch screen, the largest-ever on an iPhone, which has sported 3.5-inch screens since the launch in 2007. While Samsung, Motorola and HTC offer bigger screens, the “phone has to be designed for the hand. It should fit in your hand, and be easy to send messages, type emails, and surf the web,” Mr. Schiller said.

Mr. Schiller also shared a few other key statistics about the phone, which at 7.6 mm thick is the world’s thinnest smartphone, 18 per cent thinner than its predecessor. The iPhone 5 weighs 112 grams, 20 per cent lighter than 4S.

The phone runs on Apple A6 chip, which is twice as fast and powerful as the A5 chip used in the previous version of the phone. It will access the latest LTE cellular networks and feature a battery that’s good for 10 hours of web browsing over Wi-fi.

The camera is built around an 8-megapixel sensor and features a precision five-element lens for better low light performance and 40 per cent faster photo capture. Apple also improved video capture and the phone’s audio system, including a noise-cancelling earpiece, Mr. Schiller said.

One big change - the new iPhone is getting a new connector to attach to computers and chargers. It had been using the same one from the iPod. Mr. Schiller said the old connector has “served us well for nearly a decade, but so much has changed.”

That means the new iPhone won’t be compatible with old accessories, though Mr. Schiller said accessory makers are already working to update their products. Apple will sell an adapter to work with older accessories.

Also as expected, Apple is releasing a new version of its phone software, iOS 6. It will have a new mapping software, as Apple ditches the one from Google it had been using. The new software will have turn-by-turn voice navigation, a feature Google had limited to Android versions of its mapping app.

Apple said the phone’s virtual assistant, Siri, will be giving the directions.

Keywords: AppleiPhone 5

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