There have been some stories in recent weeks suggesting that Apple is readying an all-new iPhone 5 for introduction at the WWDC this June. This is the “real” iPhone upgrade that so many industry pundits suggested Apple would deliver last October, only Apple doesn’t operate by the same timetable they do. To them, the iPhone 4s, which looked the same as the iPhone 4, must therefore have been an unsatisfactory upgrade.
Well, the public clearly doesn’t pay attention to industry pundits. They certainly don’t pay attention to me, and I don’t expect them to. Instead, they looked at the value proposition of the iPhone 4s, compared the specs and the look and feel to those dozens of other smartphones, and decided to go (or stick with) Apple.
Now if you look at the past history of the iPhone, nothing Apple did should have come as a surprise. Certainly the iPhone 3G and 3GS looked the sam. Apple didn’t swap out cases then, so why should they change their tune with the immediate successor to the iPhone 4? Would the skeptics have been more pleased had Apple replaced the externals and didn’t change the internal workings? Otherwise, what’s so bad about the iPhone 4 shape that makes them so determined to see Apple “fix” it?
Certainly, Apple is reporting record iPhone sales, and has only just managed to catch up with the unceasing demand as the product appears in more and more countries. So where’s the rush?
At the same time, if there is anything at all consistent with Apple’s release plans for a new iPhone, it’s that it would coincide with the release of a major new version of the iOS. Since iOS 5 came out last October, does it make sense to expect Apple to deliver a major upgrade within a mere nine months? Right now, according to published reports, iOS developers are currently beta testing iOS 5.1, a modest upgrade that some expect to be ready for the release of the iPad 3 perhaps next month.
So where’s the logic in making the entire OS obsolete just two or three months later? Would Apple even have the time to put it all together and find another 100 or 200 must-have features to deliver? It’s not as if the latest and greatest version of the Android OS is raising the bar. If you buy an Android smartphone or tablet, you’re not even assured that you will ever get the current “Ice Cream Sandwich” version. Indeed, the most popular tablet incorporating Android was the Amazon Kindle Fire, which buried all of it with a proprietary storefront. The Android version used was, in fact, an older edition never certified for use in a tablet.
That doesn’t mean that Apple should slow development of the iOS. Certainly Microsoft won’t be stopping development of Windows Phone and struggling RIM is hoping to deliver a new version of the BlackBerry OS later this year. The pressure remains, but why expect Apple to deliver iOS 6 before October? And, when it comes, wouldn’t a new iPhone be just the ticket on which to exploit the new features?
One reason why some expect a new iPhone by summer is that they don’t want to be proven wrong, that the incredible sell-through rate of the iPhone 4s must be some strange anomaly. Besides, shouldn’t Apple be delivering larger screens, the better to compete with Android? After all, Consumer Reports rated some Android gear higher than the iPhone 4s solely because they had bigger displays, or perhaps 3D, as if there is a compelling need for the latter.
Now it may well be that the iPhone 5, or whatever it’s called, will have a somewhat larger screen, but it would probably have the same number of pixels as the current model, so as not to cause complexities for current iOS apps. That way you may have somewhat fewer pixels per inch, but it would still be sharp enough to be considered a Retina Display, although I admit I’m just shooting in the dark here. I don’t know whether Apple believes your next iPhone must have a larger screen, or that the smartphones out there with displays of up to five inches are really catching fire.
Consider the usability issue, something that other companies ignore in the attempt to have better specs. Would a larger smartphone still fit comfortably in your pants or shirt pocket? What about holding it in one hand if you aren’t blessed with big hands and moonlight as a basketball player? In the drive to close the gap between a smartphone and a tablet, are these companies actually paying attention to the user experience? Or is a case of, since the iPhone doesn’t have it, they need it?
In the end, I do think there will probably be a heavily redesigned iPhone, that it will be called the iPhone 5, and that it will ship this fall. The release will be accompanied by iOS 6, and I expect to be proven correct on all counts.
Meantime, there’s no reason for Apple to rush anything to market before then. In fact, it appears that some of the competition will be slowing their release schedules somewhat so as not to confuse customers with an avalanche of new products that are hardly different from the ones they replace.