Apple CEO Tim Cook’s time to shine with new iPhone

SAN FRANCISCO ― Tim Cook finally gets his chance to stride out from under Steve Jobs’ shadow, and he could not have picked a better time or device to mark his unofficial debut as Apple Inc’s. CEO.

The latest generation of the iPhone — still the smartphone industry’s gold standard after four years — is expected to see the light of day this Tuesday, just in time for the holidays.

Even in a dismal economy, consumers should again line up in droves for a souped-up device that also marks Cook’s first major product launch since taking over from Jobs in August.

The so-called iPhone 5 is widely expected to have a bigger touchscreen and faster processor than the current iPhone 4, which helped the company stay a step ahead of rivals in an increasingly competitive smartphone market.

Its challenge will be to “wow” consumers with yet more game-changing innovations and top itself. The aging iPhone 4 is still an unqualified blockbuster: with more than 20 million sold in the third quarter that ended June 25 alone, it is likely to become the world’s top-selling smartphone.

“Consumers view Apple products as a must-have,” said Channing Smith, co-manager of the Capital Advisors Growth Fund, which owns Apple shares. “Apple phones and products have become almost a necessity. We don’t expect them to falter.”

But the latest version of the gadget that helped define the smartphone category is coming at a time when the world economy is slowing and competition is at its peak. More than 550,000 Google Inc Android-based devices — including tablets — are activated each day globally.

Apple’s ability to generate enthusiasm among consumers and its command of the higher-end market, however, may make it less susceptible to a broader slowdown, investors and analysts say.

Cook is likely to take the stage at Apple central at Cupertino’s 1 Infinite Loop, where Wall Street will get a chance to see first-hand how the acknowledged operations maven fares at a major product launch. Although a highly regarded executive, he is not known for pitching products.

Apple product launches are the most closely watched events on the technology calendar. The new model, which some have dubbed the iPhone 5, will have a bigger touch screen, better antenna and an 8-megapixel camera, one source with knowledge of the matter told Reuters in August.

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