Apple Inc. unveiled a new version of the iPhone that boasts a bigger screen, faster chip and access to speedier wireless networks, an overhaul aimed at widening its lead over Samsung Electronics Co. and Google Inc. in the $219.1 billion smartphone market.
The iPhone 5 will cost the same as the iPhone 4S did when it debuted, starting at $199 with a two-year contract in the US, Apple said today at a press conference in San Francisco. Meanwhile, the price for the iPhone 4S will drop to $99 for new contract signers, and the iPhone 4 will be free.
The smartphone has a four-inch screen, is thinner and lighter than earlier models, and sports a so-called A6 chip that can process commands more swiftly. The case is made of aluminum and glass, Apple said. The device will be in stores in the US and several other countries on Sept. 21.
New software for the iPhone will feature tighter integration with Facebook Inc., letting users quickly post pictures, links, and other content to the world’s largest social network. The partnership is similar to one announced last year with Twitter Inc.
The iPhone is also getting a new connector to attach to computers and chargers. It had been using the same one from the iPod. Apple marketing vice president Phil Schiller said the old connector has ‘‘served us well for nearly a decade, but so much has changed.’’
Meanwhile, the iconic white earbuds are getting an update. Now called earpods, they sport an earpiece that is more cylinder. Apple says they were built to meld to the shape of your ear. The earpods go on sale Wednesday as a stand-alone accessory and will be included with new devices out in October.
The company also launched Passbook, the company’s virtual wallet app. Apple introduced a new line of iPod Touch and Nano devices and upgraded its iTunes service, in the face of vigorous competition from new services such as Spotify and Pandora.
Coming almost a year after the death of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, the next iPhone is the first hardware redesign of the product since 2010. After popularizing handheld touch-screen devices that offer swift Web downloads and a range of games, entertainment and productivity tools, Apple is seeking to stay ahead of competitors including Samsung, Google, Microsoft Corp. and Nokia Oyj in a market that surged 78 percent last year.
The iPhone 5 “is positioned to be a top seller, given the compelling new features, including the bigger screen and faster wireless speeds,” said Shaw Wu, an analyst at Sterne Agee & Leach Inc. The announcement contained few surprises, “given all the speculation” about the device, he said.
Shares gained less than 1 percent to $664.05 as of 2:13 p.m. in New York, extending the surge that lifted Apple stock 63 percent this year through yesterday.
Because Apple only introduces one new iPhone a year, each unveiling is critical. Apple has sold more than 244 million units since its 2007 debut, and the handset now accounts for about two-thirds of profit. Its popularity has led investors to catapult Apple’s market value to above $620 billion, making it the world’s most valuable company.
“They have built a juggernaut,” said Matt Murphy, a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a venture capital firm that invests in iPhone application companies. “This is going to be an absolutely blowout, homerun product.”
The new iPhone, Apple’s sixth since 2007, works with so- called long-term evolution, or LTE, data networks being introduced by companies including AT&T Inc. and Verizon Wireless. Samsung and Google’s Motorola Mobility are among the manufacturers that have already introduced handsets that run on LTE, which carriers say enables quicker video, music and other content downloads, compared with the existing wireless networks.
By adding a bigger screen, Apple also is following a trend started by other handset makers, including Samsung, HTC Corp. and Motorola Mobility.
The new iPhone software will feature tighter integration with Facebook, letting users quickly post pictures, links and other content to the world’s largest social network. The partnership is similar to one announced last year with Twitter Inc.
Apple also enhanced the speech-command service Siri, adding features that let users search for sports scores and make dinner reservations by speaking to the smartphone.
IPhone 5 goes on sale Sept. 21 and is available for pre- orders on Sept. 14. Apple may sell 10 million iPhones by the end of September, according to Gene Munster, an analyst at Piper Jaffray Cos. The company may sell 48.2 million through December, the average estimate of analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.
Today’s event highlighted Apple’s growing rivalry with Google, the maker of the Android operating system that powers about half the world’s smartphones. Apple introduced its own mapping software to replace Google and also removed Google’s online video service, YouTube, from the batch of applications pre-installed on the iPhone.
With thousands of developers writing programs for Apple’s App Store, today’s announcement is among the most highly anticipated technology events of the year. At TechCrunch’s Disrupt technology conference under way in San Francisco this week, a whole panel was dedicated to digesting Apple’s news.
The iPhone introduction also can benefit the network of suppliers that make iPhone components. Samsung manufactures the microprocessor that is the main brain of the device, while Qualcomm Inc. is the maker of the chip that connects it to wireless networks. The iPhone, like other Apple products, is assembled in China by Foxconn Technology Co.
Material from Globe Staff and The Associated Press was used in this report.