September, here at Macworld, is New iPhone Month: two weeks of rumour articles, followed by two hours of stress, followed by two weeks of buying guides. It's an exciting time but also, you know, horrific.
But this September, for the first time since 2011, is very likely to go by without a peep from Apple's phone department. Sure, we've got an event lined up for tonight, but the event's tagline, Time Flies, is one of many clues that the company will instead focus on the Apple Watch Series 6 and the cheap Apple Watch SE. We also think Apple will launch a couple of new iPads, and maybe the Apple One subscription bundle, but unless we and the rest of the pundit community are seriously wrong about this, the iPhone 12 will be conspicuous by its absence.
There are lots of reasons for this. The main one is purely practical: like all tech companies Apple has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, with its Asian supply chain disrupted in the early days and many of its staff forced to work from home once the pandemic reached the US. In a rare public admission, Apple has said the iPhone 12 will be a few weeks late. It's just not ready yet.
Now, a few people have suggested that Apple might announce the iPhone 12 tonight but push back the onsale date instead. But this is a shaky policy.
Those in the know are putting off their iPhone purchases right now (as we've recommended) in the knowledge that new models are imminent; but not everyone knows this, and Apple is still making sales. Announce the iPhone 12 tonight, though, and that's over. In the window between a new iPhone being announced and it actually becoming available, sales would go through the floor.
(In previous years Apple has occasionally announced an iPhone but held back availability into October or November. But there was always something new to offer in the meantime: the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus while we waited for the iPhone X, and the XS and XS Max while we waited for the iPhone XR. Apple may yet adopt a staggered launch schedule, but it won't announce the new phones until at least one model is ready to ship.)
So the best policy is to let the hype build up a little longer among the cognoscenti, while officially declining to confirm to the general public that a new iPhone is about to drop. And we mean that about the hype: purely from a web traffic point of view, interest in the iPhone 12 shows no sign of tailing off. Pushing back the event until October means another two weeks of heavy media coverage.
Finally, there are no real downsides to holding multiple events this year. In a normal year, journalists and retail partners might grouse about making the pilgrimage to Cupertino twice (or even three times) in a month, and Apple would face multiple bills for organisation, transport, catering and so on. But in 2020 the events are all virtual, so it's just a question of sending out two sets of press releases, editing the video into two parts, and uploading two streams.
I might be wrong
This entire article is of course a massive hostage to fortune, and I should end by acknowledging the possibility that I'm wrong. Despite the litany of good reasons given above, and the near-universal consensus among leakers and analysts that the iPhone 12 won't arrive until October, there's always a chance.
The one person pushing this theory, really, is an anonymous 'Apple employee' (possibly nothing of the sort) who claims to be the source of multiple major leaks this year. AppleSeeder, as they refer to themselves, says the iPhone 12 will appear tonight, alongside new Apple Watches and iPads and the first Apple Silicon MacBook. And maybe it's worth pointing out that the AR gimmick in the invitations to tonight's event, which we've all assumed refers to the LiDAR scanner in the new iPad Air, could equally refer to the same feature in the iPhone 12.
Main image by Svetapple