SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Apple Inc's new iPhone goes on sale on Friday with a bigger screen and 4G wireless technology, as the company seeks to maintain its edge over rivals such as Samsung Electronics Co Ltd and Google Inc.
The iPhone 5 met the expectations laid out by gadget geeks and tech analysts ahead of the unveiling on Wednesday, but offered few surprises to give Apple shares -- already trading near record highs -- another major kick.
"There is not a wow factor because everything you saw today is evolutionary. I do think they did enough to satisfy," said Michael Yoshikami, chief executive of the wealth management company Destination Wealth Management.
Other industry analysts turned quickly to speculating about what else was in Apple's product pipeline ahead of the crucial end-year holiday season, especially as the company stayed mum about an oft-rumored TV device or a smaller iPad.
"We would really like to see the iPad Mini in the product offering for the all important holiday quarter. They still have time," said Channing Smith, co-manager of the Capital Advisors Growth Fund. "As soon as we see that, we will have more conviction about the stock heading into the final quarter."
Shares in Apple ended the day up 1.4 percent at $669.79.
The latest iPhone comes as Apple faces new competition from Microsoft Corp, which is pushing its Windows Phone 8 operating system as a third alternative to Apple and Google's Android, the most-used mobile operating system in the world.
Analysts have forecast sales of 10 million to 12 million of the new iPhones in this month alone.
CEDING A LEAD
Apple has sold more than 243 million iPhones since 2007, and the device ushered in the current applications ecosystem.
But Samsung now leads the smartphone market with a 32.6 percent share followed by Apple with 17 percent, according to market research firm IDC. Both saw shipments rise compared to a year ago, with Samsung riding its flagship Galaxy S III phone.
Going on sale Friday from $199 with a data plan, the iPhone 5 will sport a 4-inch "retina" display, ability to surf a high-speed 4G LTE wireless network, and is 20 percent lighter than the previous iPhone 4S.
The iPhone 5 comes with Apple's newest "A6" processor, which executives said runs twice as fast as the previous generation. It will have three microphones and an 8 megapixel camera that can take pictures in higher resolutions.
It will hitch a ride on the three largest U.S. carriers -- Verizon Wireless, AT&T Inc, and Sprint.
One popular enhancement was improved battery endurance -- the iPhone 5's power core can support eight hours of 4G Web browsing.
"It has always been a major drawback on Android phones," said Yoshikami. "To have a thinner phone with a bigger screen with more battery life is a pretty impressive technology advancement."
Apple's annual events usually adhere to a set framework, but Chief Executive Tim Cook and his management team diverged from that script somewhat on Wednesday. Cook began the event by saying the company's notebooks now rank tops in U.S. sales, leading in market share in the past three months.
Then executives quickly introduced the iPhone 5 and its features, before moving on to a new line-up of iPods and ending the event with a rousing performance by rock band Foo Fighters.
Apple telegraphed many of the software changes to expect in iPhone 5 when it debuted iOS 6, its latest mobile operating system, in June.
The new iPhone will improve on the search capabilities of its Siri voice assistant and will use Apple's own mobile mapping service instead of Google's software. Other additions include turn-by-turn voice directions for navigation, and a new in-house app called "Passbook" that organizes a user's electronic airline tickets, movie tickets and restaurant loyalty cards.
Earlier, Cook told the audience that its apps store now has more than 700,000 on tap -- the industry's largest library.
Apple also is making headway in a corporate market that has been dominated by struggling Canadian smartphone maker Research in Motion. Cook said almost every Fortune 500 companies was testing or using its iPhones and iPads.
(Additional reporting by Jennifer Saba in New York, Alexei Oreskovic and Alistair Barr in San Francisco and Bill Rigby in Seattle; Writing by Edwin Chan; Editing by Leslie Gevirtz)