One of the biggest new hardware features in the iPhone 5 that everyone seems to be glossing over is the new technology Apple worked into the display.
No, I'm not talking about the larger screen. I mean the new touch sensors that are integrated into the glass. In earlier iPhones (and other touchscreen smartphones), the display and touch sensors are two separate parts that are laminated together. With the iPhone 5, there's only one panel with both pieces integrated, resulting in a thinner screen.
I'm told by a source with firsthand knowledge of Apple's iPhone development that the company has been working on this screen technology for several years.
The integration of the touch sensors into the display itself provides a noticeable reduction in thickness. I wrote when I first saw the iPhone 4 in 2010 — Apple’s first retina display and the first time the company laminated the display to the glass surface, eliminating the thin layer of air between those components — that it looked like pixels on glass rather than pixels under glass. Now, after seeing the new iPhone 5 display, my iPhone 4S display seems as thick as a Coke bottle.
It gets better.
My source tells me it'll actually be cheaper to replace the new iPhone 5 display than it was to replace older iPhone displays. Now, if disaster strikes and your iPhone 5 screen cracks, Apple only has to replace one part instead of two.
It's easier and cheaper for Apple to produce the new thinner displays than take the separate touch sensors and displays to laminate them together. That's because the lamination process often screwed up, leaving bubbles and bumps in some displays. Those had to be thrown away, adding to the overall cost. With the new displays with integrated touch sensors, that's not a problem.