iPhone 5 release date countdown begins: 4S now past, matter of months
October 16, 2011 by Bill Palmer
by Bill Palmer
The iPhone 4S went out the door this weekend. Now the countdown to the release date of the iPhone 5, or whatever Apple ends up calling the sixth generation iPhone, begins. It’s only a matter of months now until the next iPhone is unveiled, but the hot topic is just how many of those months are about to transpire. The standard gap between iPhone generations has typically been twelve months. The last gap was a whopping sixteen months, but bank on that not happening again unless Apple runs into the kind of unexpected troubles which caused the iPhone 5 to be repeatedly delayed behind the scenes and the iPhone 4S to be pushed out as an interstitial gasp so Apple wouldn’t have to go into the holidays without a new-ish iPhone on the market. This time around count on Apple taking twelve months at most, and perhaps quite a bit fewer months than that, when it comes to getting the iPhone 5 out the door. Here are the key factors in determining just when in 2012 the iPhone 5 release date will land…
iPhone 4S sales: Now that Apple is committed to the 4S through at least the holiday season, its staying power will go a long way toward determining how far beyond that Apple keeps it around as the flagship model. Initial sales have been record-setting. If that keeps up in early 2012, Apple might not be in a rush to get the iPhone 5 out the door. But if Siri-led 4S sales taper off in the new year as iPhone 5 anticipation heats up, Apple could conceivably deliver the iPhone 5 as soon as the spring. But that’s only if it’s ready. There’s also the issue of how well the now sub-$100 iPhone 4 sells. Once the iPhone 5 arrives, the 4s will replace the 4 in th bargain bin.
4G LTE: The biggest factor in the iPhone 5 being “ready” could center around 4G LTE networking. AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon are each going to build out their own LTE networks at their own pace, and while Apple would prefer to wait to involve itself in LTE until at least a majority of U.S. customers have local access to it, that’s not the primary determining factor. The biggest LTE stumbling block, and the likely reason the iPhone 5 didn’t debut this year, is that LTE antennas are very large and use an unacceptable amount of battery power (ask anyone who owns one of the ill-fated current 4G LTE phones on competing platforms). Apple, with its fondness for thin and light devices, won’t go LTE until next generation LTE antennas are ready and can fit into the iPhone 5 without making it the size of a whale. If chipset makers don’t come up with small low-power LTE antennas quickly enough, Apple could opt to design its own. But how soon such chips are ready in quantity will go a long way toward determining when the iPhone 5 is pragmatically ready for release date…
iPad 3: Really? Yep. Apple releases new iPads in March, so barring an unforeseen delay, the iPad 3 release date can be expected in March 2012. Consider that month occupied on the bingo card. So unless iPhone 4S sales take a nosedive in January and force Apple to rush the iPhone 5 out the door in February (if it’s even ready by then), don’t expect an iPhone 5 until April at the earliest. Summer still seems like the most likely timeframe, however.
Carriers: Those buying an iPhone 4S now will have almost no chance of being upgrade-eligible for the iPhone 5 when it launches. One of the most common misconceptions regarding upgrade pricing is that it correlates with contract length, which is almost never the case. iPhone contracts last two years in the United States; those customers are eligible for upgrade pricing after twelve, eighteen, or twenty months depending on carrier, plan, and other details. That still means iPhone 4S buyers won’t be able to get the iPhone 5 at launch unless it takes a full twelve months to gestate and they happen to be on a twelve month upgrade cycle. So iPhone 4 users (along with the usual horde of switchers) will be the primary initial driver of iPhone 5 sales. A spring or summer iPhone 5 launch would come right in the midst of those twelve, eighteen, and twenty month cycles. Will the carriers be willing to up those cycles so early iPhone 4 adopters can nab the iPhone 5 on its release date? We’ll have to wait for answers from Sprint, Verizon, and AT&T (and perhaps by that time T-Mobile as well) on that one. Here’s more on the iPhone 5 release date.
Updated with additional information on iPhone carriers