Why We Didn’t See the iPhone 5 (Yet)

October 8th, 2011 by

Photo (c) 2011 by Apple, Inc.

Disappointment raged high after Tim Cook unveiled the iPhone 4S earlier this week. I think Tim did a good job running the show, and we should not be disappointed about the new phone. According to my analysis, there are two reasons why the 4S was announced and not the 5 model:
the first is technology & release cycle, and the second is Samsung’s alleged legal action.

Technology & Release Cycle

Technology: Despite we all sure believe that the guys at Apple are creating miracles, I would be hesitant to think that they are creating by miracles. It’s still all hard work and it’s not easy for them (or anyone) to come up with a miracle device every year. Integrating new technology in such tiny, yet robust devices is not easy. And we sure all will want the new miracle device to be polished and robust and functional and nicely done? I’m sure we’ll all appreciate that iOS 5 will be rock solid before rolling out the new hardware. Plus I’m quite sure (done it, been there) that it was a tough enough job to introduce the new OS, and the dual core CPU, and the new Qualcomm RF, all at the same time.

Release cycle: Let’s look at the history of iPhone models.

iPhone Q2 / 2007
iPhone 3G Q3 / 2008
iPhone 3GS Q2 / 2009
iPhone 4 Q2 / 2010
iPhone 4S Q4 / 2011

From the first to the second model it was only a year. But then, the first model didn’t feature 3G whilst that was already a standard feature at the time. Due to Apple’s conservative approach at the 1st model, there was pressure to add more features. Which the iPhone 3G did. It added 3G, battery life and Mobile Me. And judging by the sales figures, that was the right move. A year later, Apple introduced the speed-bump model 3GS. Were people disappointed then? No, because the upgrade model seemed to be what the previous one always wanted to be. Same features, but making your job easier by being more swift and a longer battery life. Again, the sales figures proved Apple’s strategists right. Another year later, the 4 model brought us retina display and a reduction from three to two models to cover the worlds mobile systems, and a similar step-up in sales volume as the introduction of the 3 model. Again a year later, we now see the 4S model, bringing us dual-core CPU and a global Qualcomm RF chipset. And I’m quite sure it will manage to sustain the sales level for another year.

Continuing this series (new major “+1” model every other year and upgrade “S” model the year in between), I would thus expect to see the iPhone 5 being released in Q4 / 2012. Features? LTE, thinner, lighter, teardrop shape, edge-to-edge screen, NFC (payment & authentication). I believe – and Apple seems to as well – that a major new versions also should introduce new features & technology, not “just” improved implementations of existing ones (although that is quite a challenge already).

Samsung’s Alleged Legal Action

In the context of the currently ongoing legal battle between Samsung and Apple, Samsung has hinted that they might seek injunctions against sales of a potential iPhone 5 model the day it was announced. Let’s assume that Apple had an iPhone 5 now. If they would release it, chances are that Samsung would get injunctions preventing Apple from selling it in a number of countries. In that case we all would bang on Apple’s Web site to read announcements along the lines of: “Due to recent court decisions, the new iPhone 5 will be available from next Monday in <list of countries>, and will remain unavailable for the time being in <list of other countries>.” Not the kind of announcement I would want to be making. So even if they would have the 5 model ready (which I doubt; see above), I am convinced they would be withholding it until all legal issues around it will have been settled with Samsung. Launch it worldwide, or don’t launch it. Full stop.