Is Apple Delaying Key Hardware Releases?

March 29th, 2011

So the news comes, to nobody’s surprise, that Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) will be held from June 6th through 10th. That’s the schedule previously revealed simply by observing the dates blocked out for upcoming corporate trade shows at Moscone West in San Francisco. In passing, any developer who waited more than 10 hours to get a ticket is out of luck. That’s how long it took to sell out, compared to eight days last year.

The real question, however, is whether it’s all about software, or some new Apple gadgets will find their way into the presentation, and therein lies the dilemma.

According to published reports from several sources, both highly credible and otherwise, Apple is putting off release of an iPhone 5 (or whatever it’s to be called) until the fall. This is based on indications that Apple has yet to line up the components to build the new smartphone. On the other hand, it may well be that alternative component makers are being sought simply because of the supply chain disruption that resulted from the massive earthquake in Japan. That tragic situation has already impacted all sorts of products, including autos, which depend on sourcing certain key parts from Japanese factories.

As always with Apple, we just don’t know.

Then there’s iOS 5, which may also be postponed until the fall. Or maybe not. Why this might happen is anyone’s guess. Some suggest that Apple needs more time to bake in a compelling new feature set, including expansion of cloud-based resources for storage and syncing. That is expected to include a new version of Apple’s MobileMe service, which has been a middling success over the years.

One key reason why the tech media is assuming that Apple is putting off the iOS is a phrase from the WWDC announcement, where Apple promises to “unveil the future of iOS and Mac OS.” This seems to imply that the future involves the next versions which, of course, won’t be available yet. On the other hand, with Mac OS X Lion scheduled for this summer, that future would be mighty close at hand. Indeed, the iOS could arrive within the same timeframe, and fulfill the same requirements.

Stay with me here, as I’m just speculating, and I do not pretend to possess inside information about Apple’s hardware and software plans for this year, or any other year.

It may well be that Apple will stage separate events in the next few weeks to announce the arrival of the iOS, and the actual release date for Lion. This would focus more consumer attention on the latest and greatest products, while WWDC would be more closely targeted to the future. It would also afford a second opportunity to get lots of press coverage.

This means, for example, that Apple might summon the media (and they always listen) to an event in, say, May, to discuss both the iOS and Mac OS X Lion. Since the iPhone is now just another product in Apple’s lineup, it’s also possible the next version’s arrival will be heralded with a simple press release, in the same fashion as Mac hardware upgrades nowadays. This would happen if the new iPhone was only slightly different from its predecessor. Other than a revision in the case design, the rest of the changes would be largely predictable, such as more powerful CPU and graphics capabilities, more megapixels for the built-in cameras, and perhaps a further modification in the antenna design to rid Apple of the “Death Grip” stench that continues to lurk in the background, if only at a reduced level.

Even if the next iPhone is a world device, incorporating both GSM and CDMA capabilities in one case, that might not be sufficient to earn a separate briefing. As I said, the iPhone is now a mainstream product, and Apple doesn’t need to invite the media every time there’s an upgrade. Some day, the same might hold true for the iPad, particularly after all the competitors nipping at Apple’s heels begin to focus their attention elsewhere on products they can actually sell in decent quantities.

There’s yet another rumor that continues to rear its ugly head, and that’s the possibility of an iPad 3. Some suggest it will incorporate the higher-resolution display that Apple wasn’t able to add to the iPad 2. Others talk of a 7-inch version, the better to compete with smaller tablet entrants from Samsung and other companies.

But both theories ignore that proclamation from Steve Jobs about 2011 being the year of the iPad 2, or Apple’s objections to a 7-inch tablet. Sure, Apple has been known to spin negatively about a product category that they will soon enter. The real issue is whether a 7-inch form factor provides enough “elbow room” to become a creditable alternative to smartphones with 3.5-inch and 4-inch screens.

Jobs says they don’t, and the size defeats the advantages of a tablet, since its not significantly larger than a smartphone. More to the point, Apple isn’t into releasing extensive model lineups, covering all sorts of fine distinctions, in order to flood the market. They pick and choose what they think will sell. The rest of the industry can fill in the gaps, real or otherwise.

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