Apple unveils larger iPhone 6, 6 Plus, adds support for VoLTE

Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) unveiled its latest iterations of the iPhone, called the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, placing a bet that larger screen sizes and enhanced specifications will help it regain momentum in the market. As expected, the iPhone 6 has a 4.7-inch display and the 6 Plus has a 5.5-inch screen.

The new phones position Apple more squarely against Samsung Electronics' Galaxy Note line and other "phablet" devices from the likes of  Huawei, Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT) Nokia unit and others.

The iPhone 6 will cost $199 for the 16 GB model, $299 for the 64 GB model and $399 for the 128 GB model, all with a two-year contract. The larger 6 Plus cost $100 more than the iPhone 6, starting $299 for 16 GB model, $399 for the 64 GB model and $499 for the 128 GB model, all with a two-year contract.

Apple's new iPhone 6, left, and iPhone 6 Plus

The new phones will start shipping on Sept. 19 in the U.S. and eight other countries, and pre-orders start Friday. Apple said it plans to have the new iPhones in 115 countries by end of this year. The year-old iPhone 5S will start at $99 for the 16 GB model and $149 for the 32 GB model, and the 8 GB iPhone 5C will go free with a contract, in keeping with past Apple practices of dropping the prices of older iPhone models.

Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ), AT&T Mobility (NYSE: T), Sprint (NYSE: S), T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS), and U.S. Cellular (NYSE:USM) will carry the phones in the U.S. The new iPhones will also be available in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Puerto Rico, Singapore and the UK beginning Sept. 19.

Apple is including more new wireless technologies in the latest iPhones, including a Category 4 LTE modem capable of supporting theoretical peak downlink speeds of up 150 Mbps. The modem also supports carrier aggregation, which carriers are using to enhance capacity on their networks by melding disparate bands of spectrum together for wider channels. The phones support up to 20 different LTE bands, which Apple is said is more than any other smartphone.

As had been rumored, Apple is also supporting Voice over LTE for the new iPhones. VoLTE is starting to get rolled out significantly in the U.S. and Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ) plans to deploy VoLTE nationwide soon. T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) also supports VoLTE across its entire LTE footprint. Notably, T-Mobile will be one of the few carriers to support Wi-Fi calling on the new iPhones. EE is also going to support Wi-Fi calling in the UK. Apple enabled Voice over Wi-Fi with its iOS 8 software, which it announced earlier this year and which will come pre-loaded on the new iPhones.

A larger screen on the new iPhones is likely going to lead to more data consumption. NPD Group said last fall Wi-Fi and cellular data consumption on smartphones with screens 4.5 inches and larger is 44 percent greater than it is on smartphones with screens less than 4.5 inches.

Apple is following a trend toward larger screens, which Samsung arguably helped kick start with the introduction of its first Galaxy Note in 2011. According to a study by mobile analytics firm Flurry, today 6 percent of all mobile users are using phablets, compared to 3 percent a year ago, with the growth coming at the expense of phones with screens of 3.5 inches to 4.9 inches.

Apple is still the world's No. 2 smartphone maker by volume, after Samsung. However, both companies have seen their market share eroded by fast-rising competitors, including Huawei, Lenovo, LG Electronics and Xiaomi. According to research firm IDC, in the second quarter Samsung saw its global smartphone market share slide 7.1 percent year-over-year to 25.2 percent, while Apple's market share slipped to 11.9 percent from 13 percent a year ago.

For more:
- see this Apple release
- see this The Verge live blog

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