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  • What the White iPhone Tells Us About the iPhone 5

    April 19th, 2011

    There are more and more reports that Apple is going to “miss” the presumed schedule for releasing the next iPhone, which is being conventionally referred to as the iPhone 5, as opposed to iPhone 4 Pro or any other possible designation. But the name doesn’t matter in the scheme of things. The question is when it should be arriving, and is there actually a delay?

    The most obvious question is this: When did Apple announce a shipping date for the iPhone 4’s successor? Exactly! They didn’t. We only assume it must arrive this summer, because that’s the history of this product. But one thing’s sure about Apple, and that is that assumptions do not necessarily apply to their actual product release strategy. The other question is whether an iPhone 5 is truly needed? It’s not as if sales of the current model are lagging.

    Of course, we’ll all learn more about Apple’s sales picture during their quarterly conference call with financial analysts on Wednesday. Before that, it’s all speculation, even those reports about the total sales of Macs during the last quarter, or the sales of any other Apple product. I’ll repeat that: It’s still speculation until the actual numbers are released by Apple.

    So without the real information, Apple watchers in the media and the financial community are looking at tea leaves, rumors, surveys, and other signs of what Apple is up to. Possible sources of information include those who provide information about the manufacturing plans by some of Apple’s component suppliers. If they appear to be gearing up to provide a large shipment of parts to Apple, by way of their contract manufacturers, it might indicate that the production lines are gearing up for a new model.

    Unfortunately, there’s nothing coming from the supply chain to offer a clue about possible production ramp ups right now, even though you’d expect such signs if a new model was arriving in June or July. Instead, the reports point to a possible fall release instead.

    At the same time, there was that Tweet from Apple VP Philip Schiller stating that the long-delayed white iPhone 4 would be arriving this spring. Rumors have it pegged for next week, but that remains to be seen.

    This puts the entire situation of iPhone updates in a curious state. If there’s going to be a new model this summer, does it make sense to release the white version now, since it’ll have a shelf life of only two or three months? Is that worth even the bother of building them? It made more sense for Verizon Wireless to release the CDMA version of the iPhone in February, because that will count for millions of sales whenever the next iPhone is released. I mean, is the world clamoring for a white iPhone 4?

    That Apple is willing to bother with a white iPhone 4 at all clearly indicates, to me at any rate, that they expect that model to remain viable for a longer period, to justify the long-term investment in getting it to market.

    Of course the real question is why Apple would choose to release the iPhone 4’s successor later than you and I might have expected. One possible reason is the possible production slowdowns in Japan that might impact certain components Apple needs, such as batteries. Again, how the situation actually hurt Apple’s supply chain ought to be known Wednesday.

    Another issue is what changes Apple might plan for the new model. At the very least, Apple would want to upgrade the processor to the A5 that now powers the iPad 2. But don’t forget that Apple can’t keep up with demand for the new iPad, and maybe getting enough processors is one reason. But I’m just speculating. Other changes might include using Qualcomm’s baseband chip, supporting both GSM and CDMA, which debuted in the Verizon version of the iPhone 4. Having a single chip for both models simplifies production and cuts costs. Whether it’s going to be a world phone, supporting both protocols, is another question. But there’s also the possibility that Apple is considering adding support for the new and much speedier LTE networks, and that will require further engineering, not to mention getting reliable chips with low power requirements, and maybe that hasn’t happened yet.

    The last factor is iOS 5. Right now, Apple is clearly moving to finish up Mac OS X Lion. Since they share code, they likely share developers, in which case the arrival of iOS 5 might also be moved to the fall. That would make it more sensible to release the iPhone 5 at the same time, rather than deliver a product that’s sort of unfinished, meaning that the OS upgrade that makes it work best will arrive later on.

    That ship now/upgrade later policy is what other tech companies do. Yes, I grant that the original iPad didn’t receive iOS 4 until several months after it arrived for the iPhone 4. But the iPad was hardly impaired with it, except for the lack of enhanced multitasking support. Otherwise, it was a fully functional product.

    Certainly, if Apple demonstrates iOS 5 at the WWDC in early June, and pegs a release date, you can mostlikely bank on the next iPhone arriving around that time.

    I realize my speculation is no better or worse than anybody else’s. I reserve the right to be wrong. But I do feel that the iPhone 5 will, as other suggest, not arrive till fall, along with iOS 5. Let’s see how the chips fall.



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