Is Apple Trying to Become Less Predictable?

The iPhone launched in the summer of 2007. The next three phones in the lineup, the 3G, 3GS and 4, stuck to that general time frame for their releases. It wasn’t until the iPhone 4S that Apple moved the iPhone into its current fall launch window.

Most believed that move had to do with the iPad, which saw its first, second and third versions launch in spring. But with the launch of the fourth-generation iPad with Retina, the iPad also moved into the fall release window. And now we sit just a week away from spring without any real clue what Apple has in store for us, or when these products will launch.

And you have to believe this is the way Apple wants it.

The company fell into a pattern, and as a result, so did consumers. As summer approached, smartphone buyers knew not to plunk down the cash on an iPhone because a new model would likely be coming out. Tablet buyers were in the same boat; as the snow melted and the world became green again, they knew a fresh new iPad was just around the corner, waiting to bloom.

Apple spent years releasing products on these timelines, and the predictability hurt the products already on the shelves. Nearly year-old iPhones and iPads were losing mind share and dollars to products that hadn’t even been announced yet. It was astonishing to see Apple — which prides itself on secrecy — telegraph its product launches so blatantly. And that’s why things had to change.

I believe the iPad’s move into the fall launch window is the first step in Apple’s new strategy of misdirection. And the introduction of the iPad mini, a new product that has proved more popular than perhaps Apple even anticipated, gives the company a third major product to hang its hat on. We could see an iPhone refresh in the spring, an iPad mini refresh in the summer, and an iPad refresh in fall. Or Apple could move any of those products into any of those available windows and shuffle them around as it sees fit.

Put more simply: I don’t foresee Apple sticking with predictable launch windows or once-a-year releases for its products any longer.

The leaks certainly seem to back that up. Numerous reports are coming from different media outlets and analysts about when certain products are going to launch. Not many of them match up. For instance, some say the new iPad mini will launch in the spring. Some say early summer. Others say late summer. Apple is quite skilled at intentionally leaking information, and it seems that it’s finally decided to use that power for more than product hype.

By creating confusion about the specs and release windows of its new, unannounced products, Apple is making it tough for consumers to predict when those products will launch. Instead of waiting, some might just spend the cash on the products that already exist. Not only is that good for the company’s bottom line, it also helps clear out inventory for when Apple does launch a new product.

At the end of the day, Apple is still a publicly traded company and it still has to make its quarterly numbers look good, so it’s tough for me to believe that spring will pass us by without a new product launch. But I don’t have the slightest clue which product that will be.

So far, Apple’s new plan seems to be working.

About the author

— Shawn Farner

Shawn Farner is a Harrisburg-based tech blogger who has been involved in online media for over eight years. He covers consumer electronics, Web companies, and gaming.

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