SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – After months of rumours awaiting its release, Apple unveiled the iPhone 5, the latest addition to its smartphone fleet.

The iPhone 5 is thinner and lighter than its predecessors with a taller screen that will allow another row of icons to fit on a larger screen. The bigger screen puts Apple somewhat at par with competing smartphones but the new iPhone is still smaller than its biggest competitors.

“The hardware and software engineering that has gone into this product is the most challenging our team has ever taken on,” CEO Tim Cook told a packed house at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on Wednesday.

“What they’ve accomplished is simply amazing,” he said.

Dubbing it the world’s thinnest, Apple said the new iPhone is 18 per cent thinner with an improved A6 processor that is twice as fast as its predecessor. Its high-speed 4G LTE connectivity was a widely anticipated feature.

Apple has also improved the iPhone’s battery life. Both of its cameras have been updated, with its front-facing camera boasting 720p HD video.

The iPhone 5′s dock connector has also been made smaller and a new cable charged dubbed “Lightning.”

The company’s personal assistant Siri was revamped as well, which will be now available on the iPod.

One feature absent from the new iPhone is a chip for near-field communications, or NFC, that allows smartphones to act like credit cards at stores equipped with terminals.

“This was more evolutionary than revolutionary,” technology expert Marc Saltzman said of the release, but added that the updates were far greater than those of the iPhone 4S.

“Overall, the phone form a hardware perspective is impressive but it’s not earth-shattering.”

“But again you need to reserve judgment until you actually lay hands on it,” he said.

Apple said iOS 6 will arrive as an update for many of its iOS devices on Sept. 19.

The company also announced a new iPod Touch model, with a bigger screen and smaller connection port. Its iconic white earbuds, now called “earpods,” have been updated as well, into a tube shape.

The iPhone 5 will be available in black and white. Pre-orders begin on Friday and the device will launch on Sept. 21.

Since the iPhone debuted in 2007, Apple has sold more than 244 million devices.

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Real-time coverage of the announcement was provided in partnership with U.S. technology blog Mashable. Read a re-cap in the window below.