Apple Expands Campaign to Build Third-Generation iPhone Buzz

June 4th, 2009

To answer the most obvious question, yes I know that Apple has yet to officially say anything about the next iPhone. However, they did release lots of information about the forthcoming iPhone 3.0 software, and you know that, with the possible exception of a few things on the original iPhone, most of the features will be available to everyone using an iPhone or iPod touch.

That’s just a part of the picture, though. Knowing what the software is going to be like doesn’t necessarily give us any clues as to the form and configuration of the next iPhone, due this summer and sometimes called the third generation model.

Therein lies a tale that’s still being written.

The first attempts to understand what Apple is up to came with the extraction of purported icons for the new iPhone in beta versions of iPhone 3.0. However, you can’t tell much from a tiny icon and, from having seen what the rumor sites produced, it didn’t seem as if the shape was altogether different. Blink your eyes a moment, and it seems identical to the iPhone 3G.

Following that came reports of purportedly accidental entries discovered in online ordering forms from Best Buy and other vendors, which supposedly mentioned 16GB and 32GB versions. Now, real or not, this seems a pretty logical development. Forgetting any other differences for the moment, the odds are high that Flash memory on the new iPhones will be double that of the old, for roughly the same price as the previous model.

Some are suggesting a low-end configuration with 4GB, but I can see keeping an 8GB version around for $99 to really pull in customers for whom higher prices are deal breakers. Now I should point out that the competition from RIM and Palm are asking $199 or more for competitive gear, so it’s not as if there’s an Apple Tax on their smartphones.

But don’t get me started about that.

The real issue is why I think Apple is engaged in a marketing campaign to ramp up expectations for news about the next iPhone during the keynote on June 8th at the WWDC in San Francisco. While it’s not that some isolated rumblings should necessarily prove that Apple is behind it, when premature entries “accidentally” appear on catalog listings, you have to wonder just what’s really afoot.

More interesting is the Palm Pre review from Wall Street Journal tech columnist Walter Mossberg. He actually likes the new Palm smartphone and finds it a credible competitor to the iPhone. But he also cautions that may all change with the next model: “I expect to see an iPhone with up to 32 gigabytes of memory, video recording, a higher-resolution camera, a compass, and greater operating speed. Plus, there are persistent rumors that Apple will announce at least one iPhone at a drastically lower price than $199.”

Before you suggest that Mossberg may be doing nothing more than repeating the rumors we’ve all read, bear in mind that he probably knows exactly what he’s talking about here from personal experience. You see Mossberg, The New York Times columnist David Pogue and a few selected journalists from Newsweek and Time, frequently get review samples of new Apple gadgets weeks or months before anyone else. So on the day of a product’s actual release, these favored few are able to publish their reviews.

Assuming that a new iPhone lineup will be announced next week and officially placed on sale four or five weeks later, you can be reasonably assured that Mossberg already has one or more units in his possession. Now maybe it’s a preproduction model — and he would get the regular retail product shortly — but he still knows the final configuration. When he says “I expect,” he is just going along with Apple’s marketing people. His expectations are very likely confirmed facts.

Add that to that the less-confirmed rumors spreading online and on the printed page, and you have to feel Apple is behind the surge of publicity. If I am right about all this — and I always reserve the right to be dead wrong as usual — next week’s carefully rehearsed production will go on as scheduled and will provide both the expected announcements and perhaps a few surprises.

I have, of course, already suggested that there’s a possibility Steve Jobs might do a short cameo during the keynote. That suspicion comes from the recent stories about Steve Wozniak’s conversation with Jobs and his assurances that he seemed quite healthy, plus the rumors that Jobs has actually been seen on the Apple campus.

Of course, it would be far more fun to see a dated photo of Jobs at Apple, perhaps taken with a Palm Pre for the appropriate level of poetic justice. But I don’t really expect that’s going to happen.

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One Response to “Apple Expands Campaign to Build Third-Generation iPhone Buzz”

  1. MichaelT says:

    You ought to ask Apple to put your name on the list of “a few selected journalists”, Gene. Sounds like a nice one to be on.


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