Apple has just begun selling iPhone 5, which it just announced, and yet speculation mounts or possibly leaps, soars, explodes, skyrockets, mushrooms ... well, you get the idea: Everybody is talking about The Date for iPhone 6.
They're also rumoring about the ovoidization of the home button and Apple's Death of Innovation and the dismal prospects for the Next iPhone. Unless Apple turns it around and does something insanely great. Sir Jonathan Ive: Are you paying attention?
You read it here second.
"Apple needs the WOW factor: In order to re-capture the imagination of Apple fans, it's time for Apple to 'think different' from its past product release trends." -- Ed Valdez, Technorati.com, advising Apple on how to reverse its slide into mediocrity despite the fact it's selling more iPhones than ever before
iPhone 6 will be announced in June 2013
This argument, by Ed Valdez at Technorati, hinges on the fact that Apple in October introduced what it called a fourth-generation full-size iPad just eight months after releasing the third-generation iPad.
"The remarkable feat of reducing their iPad product lifecycle by 38% from an average of 13 months to 8 months is a significant sign of things to come for their flagship product: the iPhone," Valdez proclaims, predicting that Apple will announce the next iPhone in next June, or nine months after the iPhone 5 was released.
He gives six reasons for this prediction. One is the by-now rather tired argument that "Apple needs the WOW factor." "In order to re-capture the imagination of Apple fans, it's time for Apple to 'think different' from its past product release trends," Valdez says. In other words, stop improving the software, the CPU, the resolution, the screen size, the connector dock, Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity, adding more apps, and expanding online services for mobile users and instead do something awesome and magical and insanely great!
Valdez seems to think Apple designs products for fans. It doesn't. It designs products for people, who then become loyal users because the iPhone is the best product for what they want to do. The two most successful iPhones in terms of unit sales are the much maligned iPhone 4S and in all likelihood the almost-as-maligned iPhone 5, maligned by "fans" because these offered only "incremental" improvements. Those increments are directly related to the adoption of iPhone by people who are former iPhone users and those who are new users.
Valdez' other reasons for predicting a June 2013 iwowPhone are:
+ "Apple wants to lead, not follow." To compete with Samsung, "Apple needs a catalyst to jump-start its market share growth against its formidable foe."
+ The bulk of iPhone sales take place in the first three to four months after its release, and sales slow markedly in the fourth quarter as users hold off in anticipation of the next model. But the average product life cycle (PLC) of the iPhone is 14 months, according to Valdez. This is a recipe for bad things. "Thus, Apple needs shorter PLCs to continue to return value to its shareholders and deliver new value to consumers because revenue, profit and earnings shrink within two quarters after an iPhone announcement. No company wants lackluster sales for the vast majority of a product life cycle."
+ Samsung competition, Part 2: "Apple is at war with Samsung. Let's face it," he says. Death to the Koreans ... or something.
+ "Apple leads in operational excellence." We couldn't figure out what he was talking about with this one.
+ The "Been There, Done That" factor. "The iPad 4 announcement tipped Apple's hand by showing us what's possible: a shorter time to market (TTM)," Valdez says. "The quick TTM for the iPad 4 will translate to a fast TTM for the next iPhone." This essentially assumes what he claims to set out to prove.
None of these claims are very convincing. It's true that the bulk of iPhone sales occur in the first three to five months of availability. But the "longer-tail" sales through the remainder of the year (and for even longer as the flagship model becomes a lower-priced offering once the new phone is announced) are still significant. If Valdez is correct, why wait until June? Why not announce a new iPhone every six months?
Given the fact that his entire argument hinges on the "accelerated" iPad introduction, it's odd that Valdez does not analyze that development, nor explain what benefits accrue to Apple, nor whether it actually represents a shift in Apple's time to market strategy, nor why a shift in one product's time to market would necessarily apply to a different product -- to the iPhone.
iPhone 6 will be saved by Jony Ive, who will create an ovoid touch home button
Or Sir Jonathan Ive as Apple's lead designer is more formally called. This rumor is generated from the AppleInsider online forums, in a post from a regular contributor, HyteProsector.
The starting point is the recently announced executive shakeup at Apple, with Scott Forstall, the longtime senior VP of iOS software, ousted and his duties split up among a trio of former colleagues. One of them is Ive, who has been in charge of the iPhone's physical design and now also takes on responsibility for the phone's overall "user interface."
HyteProsector writes that "Jony made the prototype that I'm about to explain (Roughly 18-22 months ago) but it was shut down. The prototype was for an iPhone with an ovular home button had capacitive touch functions as well." HyteProsector thinks Ive now will, and should, resurrect the idea, which essentially seems to be creating a larger-surfaced home button that is itself a tiny touch-screen.
The pressing need for an elongated iPhone home button has been debated for years, but not usually with a capacitive touch feature.
Current, HyteProsector says, "the top of the [iPhone's] screen is used for navigation, a 'Back' button of sorts. Why not remove the 'Back' button and put its functionality on the home button. No more 'Back' buttons and a cleaner UI. Also ... wanna skip a track on your iPod and leave the device in your pocket? Swipe the home button. Again, forward and back in Safari? Swipe."
He says he's been thinking about this for "over a year now." And he invites other forum members to comment. At this writing, only one has taken him up on it. Tallest Skil makes two pointed points: First, "Can you say 'accidental touches'?" And second, "What happens when the person breaks the button? Because people break their Home Buttons all the dang time. Then not only can they not get to the Springboard, they can't even get back within their applications."
iPhone 6 will be pretty lousy
"iPhone 6 Might Suffer From Apple's 'Lack of Recent Innovation'" is the headline for Craig Galbraith's post at ChannelPartnersOnline.com.
"Have sales of the iconic iPhone finally reached a tipping point?" he asks. "A new survey indicates that fewer Apple enthusiasts might not be as committed to buying the iPhone 6, or whatever the 2013 version of the device will be called."
The survey is by the Strategy Analytics Wireless Device Lab, which released only a bare-bones summary in a press release, which said that current iPhone owners in Europe and America were somewhat less likely to buy their "next phone" from Apple, compared to owners surveyed in 2011.
"The iPhone 5, which debuted in late September, launched with a larger screen (four inches), LTE-compatibility and various other improvements -- but apparently those updates aren't enough for some customers who see Apple's competition continue to rise up and offer comparable -- or even better -- smartphones," is how Galbraith interprets the data.
But that's not quite how Strategy Analytics interprets the data. First of all, the survey found that 75% of current iPhone owners are "likely" to buy a new iPhone in the future, down from 88% last year; in the U.S., 88% are likely to buy another iPhone, compared to 93% last year. Second, the survey doesn't mention iPhone 6: It seems more likely to be current iPhone 3G, and 4, and 4S users who are contemplating buying the iPhone 5. And without knowing the margin of error in the survey, it's hard to evaluate just how big this shift is, or what it means.
"There is no doubt that Apple is continuing its success in retaining existing user base while attracting new customers," commented Paul Brown, director at Strategy Analytics' User Experience Practice, as quoted in the release. "However, negative press prompted by a perceived lack of recent innovation by Apple has meant we are starting to see some growth in the number of previously highly loyal consumers who are now reconsidering whether or not they will purchase a new iPhone for their next device."
We think that's why companies have marketing budgets: to convince people to buy their product, or buy it again.
The press release doesn't even explain if "negative press" and "perceived lack of recent innovation" are the prime motivators for current owners willing to consider buying a different phone, and were part of the survey, or just represent Brown's considered opinion. And not knowing what the repeat purchase rates are for, say, the Samsung Galaxy S smartphone users, makes it difficult to evaluate whether Apple is in trouble or whether this fall-off is general among other smartphone owners also.
Somehow, a claim of "perceived lack of recent innovation by Apple" becomes "Apple's lack of innovation will turn iPhone 6 into a lousy product."
John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World. Twitter: http://twitter.com/johnwcoxnwwEmail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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