Charles Arthur thinks he’s cracked the mystery over when the next iPhone will be introduced, and why:
This might seem blindingly obvious, but lots of people were hanging on to the hope that Apple would launch the iPhone 5/4GS/4G on Monday. The fact that it hasn’t — unlike the past two years, when it has announced new versions of the iPhone at, guess where, WWDC — indicates that Apple is shifting its strategy in phones.
Presently, Apple’s phone market segmentation strategy is to sell the newest model (the iPhone 4, now around a year old) at the highest price, and the second-oldest model (the 3GS, two years old) at a lower price. Hence you can find carriers such as Orange selling the 3GS for free with a £25 per month contract, while the iPhone 4 is still has an upfront price plus a £30+/month contract.
Presently this is as much segmentation that Apple is able to achieve, because it was locked into the yearly release schedule. That’s not surprising; Apple was a comparative newcomer to the mobile phone industry. Remember how the original iPhone couldn’t forward SMS or send MMS? How we laughed.
Now Apple is a serious player. And (we’re hearing from the supply chain) it is shifting the release date of the newest phone to September/October, which means a lot can change.
I’m still waiting on the next iPhone announcement, as I’m still at the tail end of my three-year contract (yes, Canadians only had the choice of a three-year contract when the iPhone 3G came to town). It’s running a very old version of iOS — 3.1.3 — as all the reports from the early adopters said that iOS 4 was a total pig on the 3G. Newer versions of iOS 4 don’t run on the 3G at all.
After August, I’ll (in theory) have the choice of going with the new iPhone or switching to an Android smartphone of some description (provided I can find good functional equivalents of the software I use on the iPhone). Hence, my interest in what Apple is doing for the next iPhone.
Instead, look to Apple to consider iPhone updates on a six-monthly basis. One model in September/October; another in March/April. That allows for incremental differences between versions which provides the updraft for sales, which carriers will like. But it also means that Apple doesn’t have to sweat too hard on how different to make the next handset — unlike the present situation, where every new model has to blow the bloody doors off.
Yet it also means that it will have a wider range of handsets to offer over time because of the natural segmentation of age: the iPhone 4, iPhone 4GS, some time next spring, the iPhone 5; in the autumn, the iPhone 5G (or whatever). And so on. The ages of the devices will create the tiers, which will allow it to slice the market into different price tiers and compete with Android — and more importantly RIM, which Apple clearly has in its sights as a rival to be crushed (why else introduce iMessage, which looks like a clone of BlackBerry Messenger?).
So that’s it: if you’re wondering where your iPhone 5 (4GS/4G) is, it’s being built in a factory in China. And Apple is getting ready to unveil a completely different way of slicing and dicing the phone market.