Speculation abounds as to when Apple's new iPhone will hit shelves, but the company has created such a successful dynamic  surrounding its products that timing may be irrelevant.

Looking at Apple's historical upgrade cycles, it was originally expected that the upcoming iPhone 5 would be released in the summer.  But a delay in software upgrades, and possibly fallout from the Japanese earthquakes have analysts pushing that estimate back to the fourth quarter of 2012.

Regardless of when it does come out, it is almost sure to be a success, according to Caris & Co's Robert Cihra. The analyst told clients this week that  to focus solely on the date would be missing the point as Apple is no longer a hit product company, driven by timing.

Products last maybe a year, 'platforms' last decades, Cihra  explained. We believe the single biggest change in Apple over the past few years is that it has moved from being something of a 'hit product' movie studio dependent on each new release back to being a better-than-ever 'platform' company.

The Cupertino-Calif.-based company has moved from being a computer maker to creating an eco-system around its products.

Its operating system -- both for its standard computers and its mobile devices -- are coupled with thriving developer networks churning out apps to fill every consumers desire.

Apple also has a closed-loop relationship with its customers. The iTunes store, services, billing and all the integration are the catalysts that truly matter and drive longevity the analyst said.

It's not the hardware that matters, Cihra wrote, ...actually, it's the software+hardware+services in a fully-integrated vertical platform. As we've said repeatedly, iOS IS the 'what's next?' for Apple.

With cloud-based functionality integrated into the next iOS, promising newer services like digital lockers and access to unbridled computing power, the prospects for the next iPhone look bright, even if the timing is uncertain.