Apple unveils its Android killer

Apple unveiled a new iPhone on Monday, preparing its fastest-ever global roll-out to try and stay ahead of its rivals in the smartphone market.

CEO Steve Jobs showed off a redesigned iPhone 4 that is a quarter slimmer than the current handset. The device boasts a higher quality screen and better battery life, video chat via Wi-Fi, and a gyroscope sensor for improved gaming.

A slim but energetic Jobs told a media and industry audience at Apple's annual developers' conference in San Francisco that the latest phone will be available 24 June in five countries, expanding to 18 by July and 88 by September in the quickest-ever international roll-out for an iPhone.

That signalled how serious Apple is about gaining traction abroad, where iPhone penetration is still relatively small.

Despite the iPad's success in its first two months on the market - more than two million sold in 60 days - the iPhone remains Apple's main growth line, and the international market is key. Some analysts estimate more than two-thirds of iPhone sales are now coming from overseas.

"It's really just a huge market unit opportunity abroad for the iPhone," Broadpoint Amtech analyst Brian Marshall said.

But many of the innovations on the iPhone 4 had been expected, and industry watchers say it is becoming more difficult to stand out in a crowded field.

Google's Android operating system - used by many brands from Motorola Inc and HTC Corp to Samsung Electronics Co Ltd and Dell Inc - poses the biggest threat, analysts say.

The iPhone's global share surged to more than 15 per cent in the first quarter, making it number three in smartphones. Phones based on Android ranked number four with close to 10 per cent of the market, a huge increase from the previous year and gaining, Gartner data shows.

"There was nothing earth-shattering about what we saw or heard today," said CCS insight analyst John Jackson. "All of that said, you can't think it will be anything other than a phenomenal success."

Hudson Square Research analyst Daniel Ernst called the new device "more evolutionary than revolutionary."

"It doesn't completely change the paradigm for the iPhone," he said.

GOLD STANDARD

Still, Jobs argued the fourth-generation iPhone - which for the first time sports the same A4 processor that powers the iPad - marks the biggest technological leap since the first model debuted and set the standard.

"This is beyond a doubt the most precise thing and one of the most beautiful things we've ever made," Jobs said. 

Apple's CEO displayed all of his famed skills as a pitchman, mixing wry wit with an obvious passion for Apple's products. He even joked about the iPhone prototype that fell into the hands of Gizmodo, which spilled many of its secrets.

Although the iPhone remains Apple's main growth driver, the iPad has stolen some of its thunder. With the early success of the tablet computer, Apple's stock has gained around 20 per cent this year, overtaking Microsoft to become the world's most valuable technology company.

For now, the new device should be more profitable, given price and hardware specifications, Marshall said.

"I feel like we're going to see gross margins expand here on the iPhone," he said.

The iPhone - introduced in 2007 with the touchscreen, on-demand application template now adopted by its rivals - remains the gold standard in the fast-growing smartphone market.

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