Will We Really See a Hardware-Free WWDC?


Multiple sources are claiming Apple (s aapl) won’t introduce new hardware at this year’s Worldwide Developer’s Conference (WWDC). Typically, Apple at least unveils a new iPhone at the annual software development-focused event, and has done so since 2007. Might this year mark the first deviation from that schedule?

Three notable sources are saying it will. John Biggs at CrunchGear argues that since the iPhone 4 is still a big seller, Apple will skip this year’s revision (at least for WWDC). Biggs also points to the software focus of the WWDC press release, but readers should note that isn’t an indication of whether or not we’ll see Apple hardware at the event. Apple’s WWDC PR materials typically don’t allude to new iPhones, yet new iPhones arrive just the same.

The other two sources of the no-new-iPhone buzz are much more interesting. First, there’s The Loop’s Jim Dalrymple, who has a long history of guessing correctly when it comes to Apple’s product releases. He argues, with the support of Gartner (s it) analyst Michael Gartenberg (another respected authority in the Apple-watching community) that Apple has no reason to necessarily continue to follow a yearly update cycle, and that in this case, Apple won’t, in fact, do that.

Finally, John Paczkowski of AllThingsD chimes in with possibly the most noteworthy evidence of all. He says he’s “hearing explicitly” (though his sources remain unnamed) that this year, WWDC will be a software-only event. It’s a coincidence of opinion among top tech news outlets that suggests Apple may have a vested interest in letting it be known we won’t see new iPhone hardware at WWDC to lower customer expectations in advance.

But, as mentioned, Apple has never indicated its previous WWDC announcements that new Apple hardware was on the horizon. And there’s another major reason why Apple putting off a release this time around would be dangerous: It stands to leave a lot of potential consumers on the table who might jump to LTE Android devices, many of which are coming to market quite soon. It’s possible Apple could be waiting until later in the year to offer up an iPhone that has LTE support, but deviating from its standard release schedule without comment (and Apple has never been one to give customers ample advance notice of product releases) might still lead to an overall erosion of its user base.

That would be the case with an unusually long wait between, say, MacBook upgrades too, but it’s especially relevant when it comes to smartphones, since many users are just waiting until their contract comes up for renewal before upgrading handsets. Customers who bought AT&T (s t) 3GS devices at launch are due for renewal this year, and many won’t wait an additional six months for Apple to come up with new and improved hardware. LTE-equipped 4G Android devices might appeal to a good chunk of those buyers, especially as the coverage map for Verizon’s (s vz) next-gen network continues to grow.

In the end, I’m going to go ahead and suggest we can indeed continue to expect a new iPhone iteration come June. Gartenberg may be correct in pointing out Apple isn’t technically obliged to stick to a yearly schedule, but that doesn’t mean not doing so won’t have an effect on its business. Apple has gone out of its way over the course of the past four years to establish customer expectations of a yearly hardware refresh. To frustrate those expectations now (specifically with a delay, since an early release would be a different story altogether) would be a serious mistake, and not the kind Apple’s marketing machine is likely to make.



Yawn. Nobody cares. There is no downside to this at all. iOS preview in April, new phone in late June, or preview in June, new phone in early September? It makes no difference. We’re talking about 10 weeks. It takes 5 weeks just to get a new iPhone when it is introduced. Maybe with a September launch they will have some inventory built up. What’s more, the delay likely portends an even bigger than usual launch that will make everybody forget their was a delay.

And iPhone contracts don’t even expire every 2 years on a clock. Most users are out after 12-18 months. Then they buy a new iPhone. They rarely consider another phone. iPhone users are totally spoiled for other phones.

LTE is not happening yet. For some phones, it is the only feature they have to sell. But overall, it is just not happening yet. In 2 years, the first iPhone with LTE will likely be remembered as the start of LTE, because Apple will ship when LTE is actually working, and Apple will provide a reason to want it. And if your only focus is LTE, you might be wise to wait until September, because that could be an all-LTE lineup of iPhones and iPads with iOS 5.

The truth is, Apple is so far ahead, they could skip an entire year and do just fine. A friend of mine just replaced her original iPhone with an iPhone 3GS she got for $19 at an AT&T store and she is VERY happy with it. She has had the best HTML5 app platform and best native C app platform plus the best audio video platform (iPod) in her pocket for 4 years. LTE? Yawn. Android? Puh-leeze. Those phones just do not do as much as even an original iPhone.


A few more points:
1. The white iPhone 4 will launch soon. For those who are into status, this might be enough to keep them aboard.
2. Apple could be thinking that the promise of iOS 5 will keep iPhone owners from defecting before fall. On the AT&T side, most of the pre-iPhone 4 3GS owners have already been allowed to upgrade to iPhone 4. (Apple will have seen that data.) And on the Verizon side, the Moto Droid owners (from fall 2009) are just coming off their 2-year contracts this fall.
3. Apple could drop a few more hints into the blogosphere that new iPhones are coming in Sept, with a larger edge-to-edge screen, LTE, and NFC, while maintaining iPhone-levels of battery life.
4. Apple could release a $250 3G iPhone in June (and discontinue the iPhone 3GS). This lower-cost iPhone would be aimed at countries where carriers don’t subsidize phones with contracts, and for prepaid carriers (such as MetroPCS or Virgin Mobile in the US).

Shock Me

I’m waiting to pull the trigger until Apple ships an LTE phone. But I’m hoping they at least announce it at WWDC. Better to take the battery hit than cede most of 2011 to HTC’s Thunderbolt.


Although it does seem odd that Apple would not release a new iPhone… bumping release to the fall would certainly be beneficial to them in more ways than one. First of all it will give Verizon iPhone users some more time with the current generation phone and not feel like they got ripped off by only having a relevant phone model for 6 months. Second a fall release would align perfectly with Verizon and AT&T’s “4g” roll outs. Verizon is planning a massive LTE roll-out by the end of the year, even reaching smaller cities like Saginaw, Michigan. Third it would allow them to announce the white iPhone and explain why it took so damned long to release it. Fourth many people on AT&T or Verizon aren’t eligible for an upgrade this summer anyway. Fifth and finally, by pushing any new release until the fall, it will allow developers to start programming resolution independent apps that can run on an upgraded iPad screen, previous iPhone models, and a new iPhone model, that may or may not have a different screen size.

Darrell Etherington

The Verizon phone argument is a very good one in favor of a delayed release, as is the planned LTE rollout. But if Apple does plan on delaying a hardware release, it has to acknowledge the delay and at least offer a glimpse into what’s to come. Otherwise, there’s too much risk of losing subscribers to new two year contracts on competing hardware. Even if most customers decided to stick it out and wait for better Apple hardware, there’s still be a few that would leave for Android pastures, and I don’t think Apple’s willing to let those customers go as the platform wars heat up.


@Darrell: “[Apple must] acknowledge the delay”? A delay exists only after something is announced, e.g. a white iPhone 4G. Apple has no obligation to say anything (and indeed, a storied reputation against it).

Darrell Etherington

That is a good point. I meant it was imperative from the perspective of safeguarding against erosion of their business, but you’re correct in saying that Apple hasn’t traditional seemed to feel obliged to do anything.

M. Leprae

If you look closely at the APPLE WWDC announcement photograph there is an optically stowed away “9” and “6” in the top half of the apple near the stem. This makes me think a September 6th hardware refresh for iPhone 5 and iPad 2.5/3 is possible. If I had sources within Apple I would ask them if this is an accident or significant…


Android pastures? Like cow pastures? Like watch your step, you are about to step on something an Android shat out?

People with Rolls Royce do not care what Kia is shipping. I just cannot imagine a single person moving to Android because they are stuck on iPhone 4 for an extra 10 weeks, during which time, iOS v5 features will be public knowledge.

Android buyers are people who buy whatever is free at their carrier store. They are not former iPhone users. And certainly not iPhone users who became frustrated that iPhone 5 is shipping 10 weeks later than might have been predicted.

What shows your Android worrying is totally ridiculous is how long Android users wait for system updates, if they even ship at all. Android is not a platform for impatient people. I would bet you that iOS v5 will be on 50% of iOS devices before Android v3 makes it onto 50% of Android devices.


> safeguarding against erosion of their business

Apple’s only problem is they can’t make enough devices to fulfill demand. That is all. That is their one problem. Their growth is so fast that a little erosion would be welcome. Right now, they are preparing to sell double the number of iPhone 5’s as they sold of iPhone 4’s, just like happened with every previous model, and preparing to sell an 8GB iPhone 4 for $99, and possibly a feature phone competitor as well, such as an iPod with 3G.

Just not buying that there is any downside in Apple’s iOS business right now. They have it, everybody wants it. They are moving forward faster than any competitor. They have the best phone in the world for 4 years straight and a 5th will be here soon. Nobody else even has a native C API yet. If you want worry, visit with Motorola and Samsung executives and talk a little shop.


“I just cannot imagine a single person moving to Android because they are stuck on iPhone 4 for an extra 10 weeks, during which time, iOS v5 features will be public knowledge.”

You’re correct on this point. I bought an iPhone 4 at launch, and I definitely won’t be jumping ship. In fact, unless the iPhone 5 has something incredibly ground breaking, I probably won’t upgrade until next year.

But iPhone 4 users aren’t the people Apple has to worry about. As the article mentioned, it’s the people who bought the 3GS when it was brand new and are now eligible for upgrade. In case you haven’t noticed, there are some pretty nice Android phones out there, and to the average consumer, 10 weeks is an eternity to wait for a new phone, especially if they’ve had their old one for 2 years already.

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