One of the most popular guessing games in the tech press is the “when will the next Apple event be” which is closely tied to “when will Apple announce the next…” device. Graham Spencer at MacStories makes a compelling argument for not just why Apple is going to switch to twice-yearly iPhone and iPad announcements, but also some degree of how as well.
Instead of going through Graham’s arguments and point-counterpoint analysis (which is excellent), I’m going to start with his conclusion:
My current guess is that Apple has moved to a biannual schedule with the iPhone and the iPad – but only just. One particular fact that makes me less confident is whether Apple can keep innovating the iPhone and iPad fast enough to justify the twice-yearly updates. Something I think Apple would be concerned about is the press and general public being ambivalent about the new iPhone because it isn’t that different to the last one they released just six months ago. My guess is that Apple may decide to focus the Spring updates on design changes and the Fall updates on performance improvements or something along those lines. Let me just finish with this quote from the Asymco article that was the genesis of this post:
I would also add that this change in cycle time is an enormous undertaking. Since Apple is an integrated company, not only production but marketing, design, hardware and software engineering must be re-configured.
Apple may or may not actually move to a twice-yearly release schedule for the iPhone and iPad this year, but in any case, bring on 2013 – it’s bound to be another interesting one for Apple.
Graham points to the short, but smart, analysis from Horace Dediu at Asymco as the genesis of his reasoning and from the two posts, you can see the logic, but are they correct?
I think Apple wants to not only keep Samsung (and everyone else, but mostly Samsung) guessing about what is going to come next, but also give them less time to react to it. So how do more frequent releases do this? If you know something is coming every six months, how is that guessing? It’s like in football, you know a play is coming, but you don’t know exactly what. A team might always run the ball in a certain situation (say fourth and inches or right on the goal line), but how that run is going to take shape is the mystery. You might be able to guess the safe play most of the time, but if a team has its back against the wall, a great team will come up with something new that will catch you off guard.
Apple is a great team.
So knowing that Apple will release brand-new devices in the Spring and refreshes in the Fall (or vice versa), gives everyone time to get set and plan, but until Apple actually pulls the rabbit out of the hat we don’t know what is coming. That keeps Samsung off balance. You can guess at what Apple’s next iteration might be to match it, but you’re taking a gamble. For refresh announcements, you might get it right most of the time, but new stuff is going to blow you away.
How to pull this off.
That’s a harder one for Apple. Sure we know they have stuff in the pipeline years away from being ready. All tech companies do. However, it’s a big challenge to take a prototype that was a year or more from being production ready and bump it up six months. A challenge, but not impossible. Apple does have the benefit us being in a period of rapid technological advancement. Some things that weren’t possible a year, six months, or even three months ago now are possible because the tech has arrived to support it. Maybe Apple has a really cool idea for tablets or iPods that really needs the strength of Gorilla Glass 3 to happen. Now it’s here.
But there is a risk to frequent product launches—consumer paralysis.
When to get a new iPhone becomes a lot more complicated when you know that a new one is coming in a few months or an update in a few more months (or whichever is closer). This is the Catch-22 that Apple faces. No matter how often Apple announces things, everyone knows another “something” is coming in short order. Stick to once a year and the quarter previous is going to be soft. Twice a year and the fluctuations will be there, but maybe evened out over the entire year.
In the end, I think Apple will go for a twice-yearly iPhone and iPad schedule. I think it lets them introduce updates with less “they should have done more” and give more focus on the next big upgrade when it does come.