The anticipation around Apple’s latest smartphone is building, with many people expecting an announcement on the tenth anniversary of the iPhone. June 29th 2017 is the ten-year sales anniversary and a number of excited voices have highlighted that date for ‘something big’ to happen with the iPhone.
If the presumptively named iPhone 8 is unveiled on the 29th, it would be an uncharacteristically aggressive move from Apple that would go against the strategy that Tim Cook has been putting in place over the last few years. By all means fans should dream of a new iPhone, just don’t expect Apple to change its predictable steps to fit an arbitrary date by disrupting its carefully crafted ecosystem.
Apple is one of the largest companies in the world and arguably one of the most influential. That comes with significant levels of corporate momentum and a huge responsibility to shareholders. Looking back over the last five to ten years of Apple’s history there are very few moments where it debuted genuinely new technology that the market had not seen before.
The principles behind most technologies that were new to the iPhone can be seen in handsets from other manufacturers. Dual camera lenses, waterproofing and fingerprint readers are the most recent examples but if you go back ideas of GPS location, online app stores and touchscreens can be found in handsets that were available long before they appeared in the iPhone. Furthermore, let’s not start comparing the feature list of the Nokia N95 to Apple’s first iPhone.
Apple’s success is built on a mix of marketing and being able to package technology in an accessible manner. The Apple brand has phenomenal power to drive acceptance of ideas. Both the move to USB-C and the removal of the headphone jack from Apple’s 2016 devices had precedence in other devices, but Apple’s size meant that it legitimized these moves. It also acted as a lighting conductor on issues of legacy support but when you are the tall poppy that comes with the territory.
Apple prefers an incremental approach to new technology. The iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus were wonderfully iterative handsets, ratcheting up each area of the device a few notches to improve the overall offering to consumers. Throughout the history of Apple’s hardware (but especially on the iPhone), changes have rarely been revolutionary. Evolutionary keeps sales high, it helps everyone inside and outside Cupertino sync their calendars to a predictable production schedule, and it creates financial stability through the year.
So I’m skeptical when I read reports that Apple will bring forward the launch date of this year’s iPhone. Apple’s strategy is built on a regular tick-tock rhythm and much of the infrastructure around the iPhone is built around one-year and two-year cycles. Supply lines are geared to the yearly cycle and Apple’s design teams have worked on a year-to-year schedule for well over a decade. As well as contracts from mobile carriers that are generally locked into 12- or 24-month lifespans, Apple’s iPhone Upgrade Program works on a yearly cycle of payments and upgrades.
Simply put, September is the month for a new iPhone.
Could Apple simply announce the iPhone in June or July and hold off sales until late September? Yes, but you’d be triggering one of the biggest Osborne Effects in the smartphone world since Nokia announced a switch to Windows Phone ten months before the handsets were ready. Apple has a well-used PR strategy for phone launches built around a short window from launch to retail that includes one or two profile interviews with key staff, handset previews and the careful allocation of the first review units. That would struggle to stretch over three months, Again I’m looking at Apple’s historical precedents and I can’t see a time where it sacrificed quality and planning for a few weeks advantage over a weakened competition.
So let’s assume that the hardware rumors are true. Let’s assume that reading facial reactions at CES reveals the latest hardware choices inside Cupertino. Let’s assume that there are killer advances in battery technology, screen displays, positioning sensors and processing capabilities. Let’s trust in the online voices tilting the conversations towards dreams of a quantum leap with a transparent mixed-reality iPhone.
Why would Apple disrupt its own successful financial strategy by launching the handset three months early?