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Did Apple Just Make the White iPhone an Upgrade Incentive?

Apple (s aapl) spoke directly about its white iPhone 4 again yesterday, announcing that people wouldn’t be able to get their hands on one until at least spring of 2011. Late spring is usually right around when Apple releases updated iPhone hardware. So will white be an iPhone 5 exclusive?

The white iPhone has missed two alternate deadlines already. When it didn’t come out alongside the black version at launch, Apple said July would see the white model’s arrival. After that revised date came and went, before the end of 2010 became the official line.

Apple apologized yesterday as it changed the arrival date once more, saying “We’re sorry to disappoint customers waiting for the white iPhone yet again, but we’ve decided to delay its release until spring.” Speculation about why the white model wasn’t released ranges from issues matching the color of the home button to the phone’s faceplate, to problems with the screen’s backlight leaking through the lighter color.

[inline-pro-content]Customers don’t seem to have been too put off by the lack of choice, as the iPhone sold in record numbers yet again, with 14.1 million sold last quarter. This is why I think Apple’s decision to shelve the white version isn’t about manufacturing problems, at least not anymore.

I find it very hard to believe that Apple would continue to be unable to create something as simple as a white version of its device. At some point, it must have made a decision to sit back and evaluate the cost/benefit of releasing another version, which would increase production costs. Since sales didn’t appear to be flagging, it decided to wait till the next product cycle to worry about the white iPhone.

Making white an iPhone 5 exclusive, especially if Apple isn’t planning on changing anything else about the case design of the next model, is good business, because it’ll provide an extra upgrade incentive. The next iPhone will probably have only incremental upgrades (more storage, better cameras, etc.) without a major overhaul. A white case would offer users a way to immediately show that they’ve got the latest and greatest, without necessitating changes to the body itself.

It may seem incredibly superficial, but this is the company where Jony Ive works, so I hardly think it’s out of line to say Apple customers put a premium on design. The availability of a white model could be the tipping point for those uncertain about whether or not to upgrade.

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2 Responses to “Did Apple Just Make the White iPhone an Upgrade Incentive?”

  1. nycstone

    This appears to be an extended antenna issue. The white iPhone was supposed to include the solution to the black iPhone’s atenna issue. I can’t imagine that adding a white cover vs. a black cover would make much of a difference. For me, the real question is whether this will effect the Verizon new year’s debut for both the black and white phones.