The iPhone 5 has been discussed since the beginning of the year, but now it has gone on sale, it’s out with the old and in with the new. Cue the rumors about its upcoming replacement. We haven’t yet heard anything about features or spec changes. For now, the talk is all about its release date. DigiTimes, the Chinese publication that has a wildly varying success rate with this type of thing, has estimated the iPhone 5S – if that’s what it’ll be called – will be released in mid-2013, a date provided by those working in the supply network. What’s surprising is, if true, Apple will have abandoned its traditional yearly refresh cycle for yet another product.
iPad 4 all over again
When Apple announced the iPad Mini it also updated the full size iPad, giving it a new processor and changing the old 30-pin connector for the Lightning connector seen on the iPhone 5. The November 2 release came a little more than seven-and-a-half months after the release of the iPad 3, which was unceremoniously discontinued.
Anyone who had just purchased a new iPad was rightfully upset, but few expected the level of outrage the fourth-generation iPad’s announcement would generate. A poll of 2,000 iPad owners in the U.S., conducted by Toluna QuickSurveys, found 45-percent were “disgruntled” with Apple’s decision.
A mid-2013 release date would see the iPhone 5S arrive around eight or nine months after the iPhone 5, a considerable change from the 11 months between the iPhone 4S and iPhone 5, and even more so from the iPhone 4 to 4S, which took 15 months.
If Apple took some heat over the iPad 4, it’s nothing compared to what it would receive should the iPhone 5S come halfway through the iPhone 5’s expected life. Smartphone ownership isn’t the same as tablet ownership, as in this case not even those with 12-month contracts could upgrade without incurring a fee.
A return to the old days
For the first four years of the iPhone’s life, Apple announced and released new iPhones at the beginning of the summer. That is, until 2011, when it debuted the iPhone 4S in October rather than during its Worldwide Developer Conference in June.
WWDC turned out to be an all-software show that year, and the iPhone 4S took center stage at its own event later on.
Having gone to the trouble of shifting the launch dates around, and following it again for the iPhone 5, could Apple be considering switching back to a WWDC iPhone announcement?
The Worldwide Developer Conference is Apple’s primary annual event. In 2011, we were treated to previews of OS X Lion, iOS 5, Siri, iCloud, iTunes in the Cloud, and iTunes Match. This year hardware made a return, with the announcement of new MacBooks, the MacBook Pro with Retina, iOS 6 and OS X Mountain Lion. And since then, we’ve had another MacBook Retina and a refreshed iMac range.
So what’s in store for WWDC 2013? We assume a new version of OS X, version 10.9, is inevitable, as is discussion about iOS 7. As for hardware, will the similarly rumored Apple TV make an appearance? If not, the “iPhone 5S” could fill a hole.
But why would Apple want to bring the iPhone back to WWDC? Arch-rival Samsung may have something to do with it, as it’s likely to launch the Galaxy S4 during an event in May – or as some rumors have stated, late February at Mobile World Congress - leaving Apple slightly behind the curve in terms of brand new hardware to flaunt.
The 5S is also likely to be another incremental release, much like the iPad 4, which could suggest Apple plans to experiment with a six month refresh for iOS devices before a redesigned model is launched after 12 months.
But probably not
DigiTimes has a spotty record at Apple rumors. This year, it correctly pegged the iPhone 5’s release as September but tripped up when it came to features and materials used in its construction.
The last time Apple launched an iPhone at WWDC was in 2010, when it focused exclusively on that and iOS, with no OS X announcements at all during the two-hour event. Considering Apple has been updating OS X annually now, it seems unlikely to abandon it during the show next year.
Although a refreshed iPhone released part way through the year would stop that dip in sales Apple usually sees in the run up to a new iPhone being announced, it could alienate as many buyers as it would attract. Recent figures showed 16 million iPhone 4S phones were sold nearly a year after launch, so it’s not as if it’s trickling out the door. The iPhone 5 is still a rarity in stores, and the company still hasn’t released the device across the globe yet. Why would it be thinking of another model so soon, when it can’t make the existing one fast enough?
The Samsung argument doesn’t wash either, as it’s not really Apple’s style to worry about the competition so much that it alters its plans. Look at the iPad Mini. It came out long after everyone else was producing cheap 7-inch tablets at a far higher price tag. Apple prefers to battle Samsung in the courtroom, leaving its products to do the talking on the street.
Some analysts also don’t agree with DigiTimes’ mid-2013 release date either. Piper Jaffray’s Gene Munster says the next iPhone will be out in September 2013, which is in keeping with an annual update schedule.
Most of all though, Apple has to be mindful of annoying its usually loyal customers. Like the iPad 4, releasing a new iPhone so quickly could come off as money grabbing, and the backlash could be more serious.
While we won’t know for sure until after WWDC 2013, or at least until we approach the summer months, it seems probable that the iPhone 5S won’t be present at the show and for once, we’re sure most people will be pleased.