iPhone 2011

The following is pure conjecture, derived from an obsessive knowledge of Apple's past behaviour with iOS, and in no way reflects any kind of insider information (although…). This is my best guess as to what Apple will do this Fall.

Typically, Apple previews the new major version of iOS in late March or early April. They do this so they can get it in developers' hands to have it nice and tested for release. The developers also benefit by having apps ready and supporting the new features of the new iOS version.

The betas continue usually until about WWDC in early June, where Apple unveils a new iPhone model, and announces a ship date for the new major version of iOS, usually by the end of June. Both iPhone and new iOS version typically ship around the end of June, more or less at the same time (with the iPhone always being no earlier than the OS).

At some point in the middle of the Summer, Apple typically begins previewing the first minor update to iOS, version x.1, which tends to have a few incremental features. Developers are given betas throughout the Summer, culminating in the first week of September, when Apple has it's annual “Music Event”, releasing updated iPod touch models and shipping the minor update to iOS.

This has been how it has happened since the inception of iOS. This year, things have changed.

There was no iOS major version preview event in the Spring. The preview happened at WWDC instead, and there was no new iPhone at WWDC, either. Now we're in late-Summer, and we're in the thick of iOS 5 developer previews with no new iPhone announced. All signs are pointing to iOS 5, a new iPod touch, and a new iPhone at this year's Early September Music Event, but why such a shift in plans?

Apple's yearly schedule is a great strength, as developers, the press, and consumers come to become familiar with it, and even plan on it. As the iPhone is Apple's sole smartphone, it must compete with the rest of the market, against many phones. There's only one iPhone per year, and it's got to matter. Since iPhone 4 was released July 2010, Apple's competition has grown substantially.

One part of the equation has most certainly delayed the rest. But which is it, the iOS or the iPhone? In the past, Apple has released new devices without a never version of iOS to go along with it (see iPad 2, which was released this year without even a minor version change of iOS). If this year's iPhone had been ready for sale in June, but iOS 5 still needed work, I believe iPhone would have seen release then, running iOS 4.3, version 5 would have been previewed at WWDC just the same.

If Apple had no reservations about releasing a new device when the software isn't new, then it must be the hardware holding things back. Some earlier rumours of the new iPhone claimed it would be an iPhone 4S, essentially the same iPhone as the current model, identical from the outside, with upgraded components on the inside. This seemed plausible until no iPhone showed up at WWDC. If the new model were just a spec bump, why would there be any delay?

There must, then, be something at least slightly radical about the new iPhone, something which Apple certainly did not expect to cause such an impressive delay. Some people might remember the supposed Antenna “problems” the iPhone 4 experienced at launch time. Though the problems existed almost solely in headlines, many still think Apple has spent the last 12-15 months completely revamping the antenna designs, and this is the cause of the delay.

Quick interjection pertaining to the supposed dearth of “new” iPhones in 2011 thus far

While the yet-unnamed 2011 iPhone is delayed beyond the typical yearly iPhone schedule, Apple hasn't been idle in the months since iPhone 4's release. In fact, there have been two new iPhone 4 models in the interim: the CDMA (Verizon) iPhone 4, and the White iPhone 4 (which was originally to ship shortly after the iPhone 4 launch in Summer 2010).

The curious case of the curious case

The Verizon iPhone 4 is cosmetically identical to the GSM iPhone 4 released months earlier, and it like the original, bore no traces of any serious antenna design flaws. The design of the antenna is thus adequate as is, and is not in need of major redesign. This is unlikely to be the cause of the delay.

The other iPhone 4, the white one, I think is more important. It was originally intended to be released just a month or so after the iPhone 4 in 2010, but in an uncharacteristic screw up, wasn't released until the Spring of this year. It seems to have taken an extra amount of time to perfect the seemingly trivial art of a case in a colour other than black.

iPhones, and particularly iOS, have pretty much every hardware and software feature between them. There's not much left to differentiate iPhone hardware from one year to the next other than fashion (notice how many colours of the iPhone Bumpers are available). It's exactly what they did with iPod nano, and that's precisely what I think they're doing with the new iPhone. Having finally perfected getting a white case, my guess is they wanted to take their time to perfect a spectrum of new iPhone cases, and the whole thing took them much longer than initially planned.

Of course, I also expect their to be specification bumps, but I can't imagine many other groundbreaking hardware features.

How many smartphones (iPhones or otherwise) have you seen toting a pink rubber? Consumer electronics have entered the fashion lexicon, and Apple wants this year's iPhone to be on the tip of your tongue. Expect a very colourful Fall.

Speed of Light