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Buzz over Apple's iPhone 5 might eclipse all previous launches

Published October 4, 2011 9:29 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

It's been a long time coming for Tom Walsh, owner of an outdated iPhone 3G he's almost embarrassed to pull out.

On Tuesday, Apple is expected to lift the curtain on the long-rumored next-generation version of its smartphone, an annual update that is coming months later than in years past.

Many consumers have delayed cellphone purchases in anticipation of the new iPhone, market control that perhaps only Apple possesses.

For Walsh, it has meant sticking with a phone that is "starting to crack a little bit."

"I was geared up to get the new phone in the spring," said the Denver copyright lawyer. "It was kind of hard to hang on for the extra months."

From the iPhone to the iPad, Apple's product launches typically generate tremendous buzz. But interest in the upcoming iPhone might surpass them all, with the exception of the first in 2007.

RBC Capital Markets analyst Mike Abramsky said there is "unprecedented" demand for the so-called iPhone 5 (no official name has been revealed), surpassing the iPhone 4, which was released in June 2010 and featured sweeping improvements over its predecessor.

In a recent research note, Abramsky cited a survey of 2,200 consumers that showed 31 percent were likely to buy the new iPhone, compared with 25 percent prelaunch demand for the iPhone 4.

Two-thirds of existing iPhone owners are likely to buy the iPhone 5, Abramsky said.

That includes Anna Sawyer of Boulder, Colo., who has stuck it out with her iPhone 3GS even though two months ago "it began shutting down, freezing and experiencing weird displacement of menu bars and stuff."

"It costs $200 for a new phone, so I want the new new phone," said Sawyer, marketing manager for Boulder-based Trada.

Several factors are contributing to the hype surrounding the new iPhone:

- It is expected to be the first iPhone to launch simultaneously on multiple carriers. AT&T was the exclusive provider for four years until Verizon Wireless received its version of the iPhone 4 in February. Along with the top two carriers, the iPhone 5 reportedly will also be available through Sprint.

- Over the past year, a number of Android smartphones have launched with popular features not yet available on iPhones, such as 4-inch or larger touchscreens and access to high-speed 4G wireless networks. The iPhone 4 has a 3.5-inch screen and works on AT&T's and Verizon's 3G networks.

- Previous iPhones have launched in either June or July, so the latest iteration has a few extra months of pent-up demand.

- This will be the first notable launch overseen by Tim Cook, a longtime Apple executive who replaced co-founder Steve Jobs as chief executive in August. In the midst of a medical leave, Jobs resigned and now serves as chairman.

- Businesses, not just consumers, have embraced the iPhone. Initially, skeptics wondered whether a phone without a physical keyboard could gain traction in a market dominated by Research In Motion's BlackBerry.

Darhl Thomason, IT systems administrator for a national restaurant chain, said his company is putting off a purchase of 100 phones for its corporate staff to see what the new iPhone will offer.

The company is leaning toward replacing its BlackBerrys with iPhones because of their ease of use. Thomason said the company plans to develop mobile applications to help with quality checks at restaurant locations across the country.

"BlackBerrys are great for email, but for the other stuff, they're not so great," he said. "The Android is probably more of a gear-head device than an iPhone is and probably has a little bit steeper learning curve."