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With new iPhone, Apple Inc. also unveils a new version of itself

In this file photo taken Jan. 11, 2011, Tim Cook, Chief Operating Officer of Apple, announces that Verizon Wireless will carry Apple's iPhone, in New York.

Mark Lennihan

The world's most popular smartphone gets a makeover on Tuesday, and so does the company that designed it.

Apple is expected to unveil the new iteration of the iPhone at an event in California today (follow our live coverage here). Like its predecessor, the iPhone 5 will be the centre of the technology world's attention for the foreseeable future – indeed, most tech blogs have been full of speculation for weeks about what features the new phone will come with.

And yet, few seem to believe the iPhone 5 will mark a revolutionary change for Apple. Instead, the company is expected to take what is already a blockbuster product and make it a little slimmer, a little faster and a little more versatile. Perhaps the most groundbreaking new feature expected in the new iPhone is a more robust set of voice-powered controls, in part to better compete with Google's Android operating system. Beyond that, it appears the more significant announcements will have more to do with services such as iCloud and a cheaper, entry-level iPhone 4 than the brand new device.

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That the new iPhone isn't a radical departure from its predecessors isn't a surprise. The iPhone is perhaps the most well-known and positively reviewed consumer smart phone in the world, and a device from which Apple derives one of the highest profit margins of any company in the industry. However this particular launch event will be the subject of greater than normal scrutiny, in large part because it will likely be the first major Apple product launch in many years to feature new CEO Tim Cook at the helm, and not company founder Steve Jobs, who stepped down as CEO this year for health reasons.

Whereas Mr. Jobs has long been seen as the public face of Apple, Mr. Cook has played a vital – but behind-the-scenes – role in making the company one of the most profitable on earth. As CFO, Mr. Cook helped cut myriad low-cost deals with hardware suppliers to build Apple's mobile devices. The result of those deals is that Apple's competitors have had a very hard time competing with iPhones and iPads on price.

But on Tuesday, Mr. Cook will step out of his back-office comfort zone and into the salesman's spotlight, as he tries to sell consumers on Apple's newest products. The man and the phone will almost certainly be a hit – a recent survey found almost half of North American smart phone owners plan to eventually upgrade to the new model, even before any of its rumoured specifications are confirmed.

But unless Apple has a groundbreaking surprise announcement in store – which may well be the case – Mr. Cook's first pitch will be of an evolutionary product, not a revolutionary one. As such, analysts, investors and fans will probably have to wait a while longer to see whether Apple can continue to churn out category-redefining gadgets under new management.

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