The iPhone is now competing with scores of similar devices offered by other… (Jerome Favre, Bloomberg )
When Apple Inc. unveils its new iPhone it will face the difficult task of outdoing the industry's hottest smartphone maker: itself.
For years, the company's product launches have been fueled by the star power of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who has taken the stage in his black turtleneck and blue jeans to wow crowds with flashy new versions of its phones, music players and tablet computers.
But Tuesday will mark the first time in more than a decade that Jobs, who recently resigned as the company's chief executive after a long health battle, will not be running the show.
The spotlight will be on Apple's new chief executive, Tim Cook, whose performance is likely to be closely watched as he presides for the first time over a release of Apple's signature device.
Apple wants "to reassure investors and customers that, despite Steve Jobs taking a much less hands-on role, Apple will still be the marketing superstar," said Alex Spektor, an analyst at research firm Strategy Analytics. "Yes, they're great at hardware and software design, but what's really made them succeed is the ability of their CEO to sell their product to the consumer and the media."
Cook's primary challenge will be to make the case that the iPhone, now in its fifth year, remains a distinctive and desirable product. The iPhone is now competing with scores of similar devices offered by companies such as Samsung Electronics Co., HTC Corp. and Microsoft Corp. Many of the latest smartphones can be found at lower prices than the iPhone, and with features that Apple has not offered, including larger screens and voice-activated controls.
"The issue is always whether they're going to be able to do something exciting," said Roger L. Kay, an analyst at Endpoint Technologies Associates Inc. "They have a risk of not being able to excite their audience enough with the changes they're doing this time."
Rumors have been swirling online for months about what the new device — or devices — might look like, but many analysts believe the new iPhone will feature a set of minor speed and performance improvements, rather than eye-popping major upgrades. The phone's computer processor is likely to be faster, and the phone may be lighter and thinner, potentially with a tapered design.
Some bloggers are speculating that Apple will offer a more economical version of the iPhone, a souped up version of the current square-shaped iPhone 4 but at a lower price.
The iPhone is the company's bestselling product, and the hefty profits its reaps from worldwide iPhone sales have propelled it to its position as the world's most valuable technology company. But over the last year, a group of smartphones powered by Google Inc.'s Android operating system has opened up a substantial sales lead on Apple. In the U.S. alone, nearly 42% of smartphone users own an Android device, while Apple accounts for 27% of the market, according to market research firm ComScore Inc.
Apple may get a boost if it announces that new partnerships with wireless carriers in the U.S. and abroad will enable tens of millions more consumers to have access to the iPhone.
In the U.S., only AT&T Inc. and Verizon Wireless offer the device, but hints have mounted that Sprint Nextel Corp. may join that group. Sprint, the third-place U.S. wireless provider, said Monday that it would hold a news conference Friday to discuss its next-generation wireless strategy.
Still, analysts said that the majority of Apple's growth is likely to come overseas, where large numbers of consumers are beginning to purchase mobile devices — and where demand for Apple products is strong.
Adding Sprint customers "is not nearly as big as what they're doing in China," Kay said. Apple is said to be negotiating a deal with China Mobile, that nation's largest wireless provider with more than 600 million mobile subscribers, a number nearly twice the size of the entire U.S. population. Apple has declined to comment.
"By adding carriers in China, they're multiplying their effect over there a lot more than adding [Sprint]," which has 52 million customers, Kay said, adding that India, Brazil and the Philippines probably would be next.
Beginning at 10 a.m. Tuesday, The Times' website will have live coverage of the iPhone unveiling at http://www.latimes.com.