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  • Apple Filling Product Gaps — Maybe!

    February 17th, 2016

    Today’s iPhone product line has four large-screen models from the iPhone 6-family, plus a 2013 iPhone 5s to fill the demand of those who want something cheaper. Or something with a smaller display. Unfortunately, for those who still want the smaller iPhone who already bought an iPhone 5s in 2013, Apple has no solution.

    So stick with what you have and save your money until Apple decides when and if to meet that demand. Of course, I don’t know what demand there really is. Apple’s marketing knows. But I wouldn’t be surprised if a smaller iPhone could reach tens of millions of potential customers who’d otherwise buy a larger iPhone under protest, stick with what they have, or buy something else from another company that supports another platform.

    There are published reports that Apple has just such a solution in the works, to meet the demand for a smaller iPhone, and that it’ll be out some time in March. It doesn’t matter if it’s called an iPhone 5se, a peculiar branding choice, or an iPhone 6c. Or whatever. Supposedly this new iPhone would contain pretty up-to-date components, so it would support all or most of the features of the larger iPhones. Maybe it’ll have 3D Touch, maybe it won’t; I wouldn’t presume to guess except to suggest that it wouldn’t cost much extra to include more up-to-date components, so might as well.

    If such a product comes to be, of course.

    The other question is about the timing. Surely Apple has the development resources to build more than two versions of a new iPhone at any one time. So if there’s a viable market for a new 4-inch model, why would it arrive in March of 2016 rather than six months earlier, along with the other handsets? Why wait until now?

    If there is a demand for a smaller iPhone that is sufficient to justify building another product to fill it, that demand existed in September 2015. Indeed, it’s highly possible that the slight increase in iPhone sales in the December quarter would have been less slight had there been another new model in the mix. It’s possible this quarter’s expected sales decline would have been less severe, but we can only guess about total sales for now.

    I don’t dismiss the possibility that Apple miscalculated, and was thus caught flatfooted about the slowing iPhone sales and had to rush a solution. Just because a company is huge doesn’t mean all marketing and production decisions must be correct.

    That takes us to the second part of this story, that the introduction of the alleged smaller iPhone will also include the rumored iPad Air 3.

    As you recall, the iPad Air 2, circa 2014, was not updated last fall. Maybe it wouldn’t have changed the poor sales picture any, so why would Apple deliver that solution now? Would it help prop up sales some until a better solution is devised?

    If it happens, the new iPad would allegedly inherit some features from the iPad Pro, such as a more powerful processor, four speakers, and a Smart Connector for an attachable keyboard case. The latter would likely be accompanied by a smaller equivalent of the Smart Keyboard that debuted with the larger iPad. Maybe support for the Apple Pencil would be included.

    Prices, I presume, would be the same as the current mid-sized model.

    I can see the value of all these additional features, but would wonder why it took several months to deliver a solution. Why not last fall, so that Apple would have gotten the maximum possible revenue from the iPad in the December quarter? Did Apple run out of time finishing the iPad Pro, and thus set the smaller model aside?

    In either cases, it strains credibility to consider that there wasn’t sufficient development time and resources to ready such products for last fall. It may have been, as I suggested, a sales/marketing decision that turned out to have been wrong.

    Or perhaps Apple is trying to bolster iPhone and iPad sales through the spring and summer quarters until other all-new models appear. I do not pretend to guess what Apple is considering. We know what they are doing, in part, by the products that are released. The products that are not produced remain non-factors regardless of why.

    So if the new iPhone and the new iPad do appear — and again it’s still all about rumors and speculation — is that it for the spring? Well, perhaps here will be new Mac note-books as well, since Intel has released Skylake chips to power these new devices. If there is to be a major change, perhaps it’ll be the now-aging MacBook Air. It may get a Retina display, perhaps Force Touch and end up a little thinner and lighter. But I don’t think the MacBook will replace it — at least not yet. Apple still does well with an $899 note-book computer, and I don’t see that going away.

    But I still remain curious about the fate of the Mac Pro. It had its last major refresh at the end of 2013, and there are better Intel Xeon chips and better graphic cards to be had now. A simple update shouldn’t expend lots of resources, unless Apple has some other ideas about where to take its showpiece workstation computer.



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