From 2007 to 2010, Apple’s iPhone release schedule was like clockwork. Summertime used to signify the arrival of a new Apple smartphone; in 2011, however, the schedule suddenly shifted, and the iPhone 4S became the first iPhone released outside of the summer months, launching in October. The iPhone 5, released last September, again followed this new "autumn schedule."
In 2013, Apple is expected to release at least one new iPhone model – likely called either “iPhone 5S” or “iPhone 6” – but Apple might have better luck waiting until the very end of the year to announce its newest iPhone, rather than follow Apple's new 11-month release cycle that might see a new iPhone in September, or even August.
Last year, the iPhone 5 took product hype to a new level: Unfortunately, despite people talking about this unknown device for more than a full 12 months, introducing the device only seemed to dampen excitement surrounding Apple -- perhaps the company's stock felt the worst hit. In fact, Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) stock hit an all-time high just before the company released the iPhone 5 in mid-September, and has been falling like a brick ever since. Even the company's record-breaking earnings report last month couldn't turn the tide.
A solid earnings report is expected from Apple at this point; what's needed is the excitement and hype Apple is famous for, and that's only possible by delaying and teasing the inevitable, the one thing everyone wants: a new device -- in this case, a new iPhone.
Earlier this month, KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo – who has a particularly excellent track record when it comes to predicting products in the Apple pipeline, having correctly guessed most of last year’s devices and their release dates – said he believes Apple will release two new iPhones, including the “iPhone 5S” and “new design iPhone 5,” in Q3 2013, which will be some time between September and December.
Considering how Apple released the iPhone 4S in October and the iPhone 5 in September, one might assume Apple will release its next phone – the iPhone “5S” or “6” – in early September, or even late August. However, instead of following this 11-month release date cycle, Apple should switch things up for its next iPhone, and release it at the very end of the year, either at the end of November or December.
Apple Needs Its Hype Machine Back
Even though AAPL stock is not a great indicator of the company’s status or success, it does imply there is a general malaise among Apple fans. For the last 14 months, Apple has been going about its business as usual, releasing new products and services every few months with very few surprises. Each new iOS and Mac device is better than the last, but what else is new?
The iPhone 5, for whatever reason, created an incredible hype machine for more than a year. People originally believed the iPhone 4S would be named “iPhone 5,” but when it wasn’t, the “iPhone 5” rumors persisted throughout the next year, until Apple released the phone in late 2012.
The iPhone 5 has been a very successful product for Apple, but the company needs to reenergize its fan base if it hopes to outdo its iPhone 5 sales with the 2013 iPhone. To feed the hype machine, Apple should wait for a longer-than-normal period to release the iPhone 6.
Until the most recent quarter, the iPhone 4S was largely responsible for Apple’s most successful quarter in history in Q1 2012, despite no other iOS devices sold alongside it; even though the iPhone 5 was a hit product, the timing of its release date may have been slightly off; Apple gave itself more time to roll out the device in more countries, but customers were left more time to choose between Apple’s latest iPhone and all other smartphones released during that time.
Even though the iPhone 5 is a significantly better phone than the iPhone 4S, the 4S made a much greater impact than the iPhone 5 -- its only notable addition at the time being Siri. If Apple wants the iPhone 6 to be its best-selling smartphone ever, the company needs to release the phone closer to the Christmas holiday. Apple would be wise to release the iPhone 6 at the very end of November, which would leave it enough time to roll out in the U.S., as well as a handful of other countries, right before the all-important holiday rush.
iPhone 6: What Else We've Heard
We’ve heard several rumors about Apple’s iPhone 5 successor: For example, iLounge editor-in-chief Jeremy Horwitz released a lengthy report detailing the iPhone 6, noting an updated rear camera – “perhaps featuring Sony’s 13-megapixel sensor” – as well as a processor bump to an Apple-built A7 chip -- both the camera and flash enhancements, as well as the A7 processor, were mentioned in a similar report from Ming-Chi Kuo.
While Horwitz may be accurate, we’ve heard there will be a few central focus points in the iPhone 5S or 6 -- one of the most rumored features has to do with the signature home button, which is said to include an integrated fingerprint sensor to replace the need for usernames and passwords on the phone.
A fingerprint sensor makes great logical sense for an iPhone feature: Unlike other smartphones with multiple buttons at the bottom, the iPhone has only one mechanical button on its face, which makes it exceedingly easy and intuitive for users to find and use this feature. Furthermore, given Apple’s urgency to acquire Florida-based AuthenTec last July (as noted in the company’s own filing to the SEC), there’s an excellent chance that we’ll see this unique feature in a soon-to-be-released iPhone -- hopefully the iPhone 5S or 6.
We’ve also heard that Apple is investing a great deal of time, energy and money on the display for its next-gen iPhone 5S or 6.
A Jan. 3 report released by the China Times said Apple might switch to a "Touch On Display" panel currently in development at Taiwan-based Innolux Corp., which has reportedly been licensed to use Sharp's proprietary IGZO display technology.
Whether or not Apple chooses Innolux to make the next iPhone's screens, however, Apple is most likely going to feature Sharp's ultra-thin IGZO display technology in its next iPhone.
In late December, DigiTimes and Apple analyst Horace Dediu both mentioned Apple’s alleged investment in the ultra-thin IGZO displays produced by Sharp, predicting the inclusion of the technology in Apple’s next batch of iOS devices, including iPhones and iPads. Dediu also pointed to Apple’s recent $2.3 billion investment in “product tooling, manufacturing process equipment and infrastructure,” believing the cash was used to help bail out Sharp, which had been in financial straits in 2012. Sharp is reportedly going “all in” on IGZO technology, so it’s possible Apple saved Sharp to leverage its investment in the next generation of displays.
IGZO display technology is not only thin and tough, but it can even handle higher screen densities than Apple’s Retina display, which is visually stunning on its own. IGZO displays can reportedly handle display densities north of 330 ppi; for a quick comparison, the new iPad 4 can only achieve 264 ppi.
One of the advantages of IGZO display technology is its lower power consumption. Most Apple products, from the iPhone 5 to the iPad 4, require cartoonishly big batteries to achieve just eight hours of power -- this is because current-gen Retina displays are extremely power hungry. If Apple wanted its iPhone 6 to not only last longer during the day but also charge faster when plugged in, IGZO seems to be the way to go for the next generation of iOS devices.
Besides rumors about the display, however, there haven’t been too many other legitimate reports on the iPhone 6, but we have noticed a few interesting patents: A patent filed in March but published last September described tactile keyboards, flexible displays and laser microphones and speakers built into an iPhone, designed to conform to the user's needs. Flexible displays would allow for easier holding and typing, while the highly advanced tactile screens would create buttons when needed so users can feel "keyboard" letters as they type or touch the topography on Apple's Maps.
It's wishful thinking that Apple would include all these technologies in this year’s iPhone 5S or 6, rather implement them over time, but it's certainly fun to think about.
Apple sold 47.8 million iPhones and 22.9 million iPads in the quarter that ended Dec. 29, 2012.