Apple took the wraps off its new flagship iPhone, the iPhone 5S, today in Cupertino, Calif. And what an iPhone the 5S is.

We expected something that looked like the current iPhone 5 but with a few new colors, a faster processor, a better camera, a fingerprint sensor, and maybe a few other bumped specs.

Apple calls it “the most forward-thinking phone anyone has ever made.” Strong words.

What Apple actually gave us was:

  • Processor: the new, faster 64-bit A7 chip with one billion transistors
  • Speed: up to twice as fast
  • Graphics processor: Apple M7 chip, with twice the graphics performance
  • Colors: silver, gold, and “space gray” … no more black!
  • Battery life: 10 hours LTE browsing, 250 hours standby, 40 hours of music
  • Camera: new 5-element Apple-designed lens with a 15 percent larger light sensor, auto-image stabilization, burst mode, and 120 frames-per-second slow-motion options
  • Fingerprint sensor: a feature Apple calls Touch ID, so you never have to use a passcode again to access your mobile phone … and yes, you can buy stuff with it
  • Pricing: 16GB at $199, 32GB at $299, 64GB at $399, all on contract
  • Timing: available on Sept. 20 for nine countries, including China

“It’s built in a design that is absolutely the most beautiful, and stunning design in the entire phone industry,” Apple senior VP of marketing Phil Schiller said.

But Apple spent a huge amount of time in the keynote on the nuts-and-bolts hardware, focusing on the new A7 chip, the new 64-bit processor running the phone, and the fact that graphics performance is twice as fast as previous iPhones, with amazing visuals and gaming performance.

“The PC world made the transition from 32-bit to 64-bit, and it took years. Today, you’re going to see that Apple is going to do it on one day,” Schiller said.

The new flagship Apple smartphone also has the best camera ever in an iPhone, with a bigger sensor with bigger pixels for more light and better pictures. It has new software that takes multiple pictures simultaneously and selects the best one. Also, the flash is a dual-element flash with up to 1,000 possible color temperatures for better pictures in different light conditions, and the camera has a new burst mode that will take up to 10 pictures in quick succession.

“When you do take a picture, unbeknownst to you it actually takes multiple pictures,” Schiller said.

The big new feature that differentiates the outside of the iPhone is the fingerprint sensor, a capacitive 500 ppi resolution scanner that reads your fingerprints at a subdermal level to give you access to your phone. Apple will also use it to authenticate purchases, at least for iTunes.

This is interesting and has plenty of possibilities for future commerce potential, but it also has plenty of opportunity for misuse and privacy violations. Apple said, however, that fingerprint information stays on the phone and never gets uploaded to iCloud or any other server.

The Apple 5S has a big task ahead of it.

Apple ignited the smartphone revolution in 2007 with the original iPhone and has significantly pushed the smartphone industry forward with every major iteration. The question is whether this new iPhone 5S continues that tradition — or interrupts it.

With Android taking over global smartphone markets with 80 percent market share, Apple needs an answer on the low end — the iPhone 5C — but it also needs an answer on the high end to counter top phones like the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the HTC One, which many have called the best Android phone on the market and some have called the best phone available, period.

Apple may need low-end phones to grow, but it also needs top-end phones to retain industry cachet and the ability to inspire pure gadget lust. That’s critical to maintain the otherwise-inexplicable urge in Apple fans to rush out and replace yesterday’s perfectly good phones with shiny new devices.

Nearly half of existing iPhone users plan to purchase the new iPhone 5S, in a survey released last week, and Apple needs to maintain that kind of momentum.

Is the 5S that phone? Let us know in the comments below.

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