Is Apple moving to a semi-annual product cycle? It's a question many have been asking since the introduction of the iPhone 5 in September, and even more so since the surprise launch of the fourth-generation iPad in the same year as the iPad 3.
Asymco's analyst Horace Dediu believes that Apple's future will indeed consist of a new generation of device every six months. Referring to former Apple CEO John Sculley's comment that the company is "going through a very significant change now in terms of product cycles," and that "now it's really introducing products twice a year," Dediu has noted six points that add evidence to the theory.
Apple updated all of its major products during autumn this year, so Dediu says it's risky for the company not to introduce another update to its iPhone, iPod, iPad, MacBook and iMac until autumn next year, "because it leaves a vast gap for competitors to fill six months hence."
He says that the current predictability of the iPhone's annual launch means that most competitors are probably already preparing to update their models in spring.
Dediu also notes that the launch ramp for the iPhone 5 this year was steeper than ever before, with more than 100 countries expected to have the new smartphone before January arrives, and almost all of the mobile operators launching the device on their network within the first quarter of its availability.
"Not only does it imply a very steep ramp, it indicates no channel fill will be happening past Q1," writes Dediu. "There will not be incremental sales to unserved customers as the fiscal year wears on."
Consumer anticipation is another factor Dediu highlights as a reason for Apple to introduce new products every six months. "This year saw two quarters where sales were soft due to "product transitions" as awareness among the mass market of new product rumours caused growth to dry up," he said. "Too many potential buyers are now conditioned to wait for fall to buy iPhones this sapping demand for half the year."
"Apple ends up with an inability to meet demand for half the year and a sales lull for the other half," Dediu continued. "Clearly this is suboptimal."
Not long after the launch of the iPhone 5, rumours of an iPhone 5S or iPhone 6 began to emerge, including alleged leaked backplates. The latest speculation suggests that the seventh-generation iPhone will arrive in June or July next year, with NFC, a Retina+ display, 128GB of storage and could be available in six to eight colours.
Apple's primary manufacturer Foxconn is also making changes that could mean an improved assembly line and stronger supply chain for the company.
"Moving production so that the labor is local means a steadier workforce with better economies from learning curves. However it also requires a more stable order book. Production for Apple has tended to be "bursty" with breakneck round-the-clock rush followed by periods of idle time and re-tooling. This is not only inefficient but it also creates strain and stress and lowers morale."
Dediu also notes that capital expenditures seem to be outpacing production. "The recent bursts in CapEx may be transient or may have to do with tooling-up Samsung's replacements but it may also imply a move to a more rapid product cycle," he wrote. "A transition to a new operating model would require significant over-spending in advance of the shift."
Finally, Dediu points to rumours about the so-called iPhone 5S, in particular the 'S', which could signal a spring launch. He admits that this is the least valuable piece of evidence in his report, but adds that the iPhone 4 was unveiled in June.
Of course, possibly one of the biggest signs that Apple isn't against the idea of a product update twice a year is the introduction of the iPad 4, which was launched seven months after its predecessor.
Do you think Apple should launch new generations of its devices more often? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter.
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