Is This When You Stop Buying the iPhone 4s?

July 18th, 2012

Last year, Apple confounded expectations for a new iPhone by summer. It didn’t arrive until fall, and, to some, seemed somewhat of a disappointment. The iPhone 4s looked no different than the iPhone 4, and some tech pundits believed that Apple must make a major change every year. Of course, the look of the iPhone really didn’t change from the 3S to the 3GS, so where did they conclude otherwise?

Or maybe it was a perceived failure of newly-minted Tim Cook for not being bold enough for his first product intro, even though simple common sense would make it clear that Steve Jobs knew exactly what was going on in his final days. No doubt he approved the design and marketing plans, and very likely product development and marketing for several years hence. It was all part of the plan.

While customers held back on iPhone purchases during the previous quarter, the arrival of the iPhone 4s fueled unprecedented demand. But now there are published reports that the next model is even now in production, no doubt for a September or October introduction. Since iOS 6 is promised for the fall, this would make perfect sense. So very likely iPhone sales this quarter may appear to underperform when compared to previous levels, but they’ll probably be much higher than last year.

Regardless, just what form will the next iPhone, whether it’s an iPhone 5 or something different (the “new” iPhone?) take? Rumors suggest that Apple will use displays that employ in-cell technology. Shorn of the technical mumbo-jumbo that I probably wouldn’t understand any more than my readers, that means that the touch sensors are integrated into the LCD itself. With the touchscreen layer removed, that means a thinner display, and likely a thinner iPhone. Or perhaps Apple will use the saved space to install a larger battery, to cope with the higher power needs of LTE wireless technology.

Yes, LTE is a given on the next iPhone, particularly since this important feature already debuted on the third generation iPad. That all or most new smartphones on other platforms are already using LTE makes it critical that Apple go with the program. LTE may be an important selling point, as more and more wireless carriers roll out higher-speed networks. But I won’t get into the niceties of the differences in LTE standards outside the U.S. that have caused problems for the iPad.

Another potential change is a larger screen, and the rumors have begun to settle on four inches. In order not to keep the iPhone from becoming too wide for comfort, Apple may move to a widescreen format more in keeping with other smartphones. It will be taller, but the same width. This will no doubt require app developers to change their software to look good on a larger display with a different aspect ratio. How that will be done, and whether clicking an option in the latest developer tools will be sufficient to create a “universal” app that will take the various sizes into consideration, is beyond the scope of this article. Apple will do what must be done, and will no doubt attempt to reduce the time it will take to revise hundreds of thousands of apps. Or maybe they can compensate in a way that doesn’t seriously detract from an app’s look and feel.

Certainly the next iPhone, and let’s call it the iPhone 5 for simplicity, will arrive in a more crowded marketplace. Smartphones featuring Google’s Android “Jelly Fish” OS, or version 4.1, will be available, as will smartphones featuring Windows Phone 8. I’ll ignore the BlackBerry for the time being, since I’ve yet to see any reason to take Research In Motion seriously after the colossal failures of the last few years.

At the same time, most of you know what iOS 6 will be all about. A smarter looking iPhone 5, boasting superior performance and maybe some hardware improvements not so far obvious in the iOS 6 betas, has the potential of being another smash hit. Consider that tens of millions of potential customers who are pleased as punch with their iPhone 4 and older iPhones will be ready to renew their wireless contracts. Surveys have shown that a hefty majority will simply buy another iPhone. Add to that people happy to jump from their Android smartphone contracts and sales will likely take off at record levels and stay high for most of the iPhone 5’s life.

Yes, I suppose there are always potential downsides. The iPhone has so far mostly resisted the questionable state of the world’s economy. If conditions grow worse, it’s always possible more customers will stick with what they have and not bother to invest even a modest sum for a subsidized phone. Maybe they will even scale back their wireless service and play the great game of survival.

Or they may just be less casual about which products they will buy, and will pick and choose more carefully among the available models. But that’s an area where the iPhone is usually first among supposed equals.

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