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Opinion: The Six Month Product Life Cycle At Apple Is Nothing To Be Worried About

Opinion: The Six Month Product Life Cycle At Apple Is Nothing To Be Worried About

December 11, 2012
The October iPad mini event will perhaps forever be known as the day Tim Cook really took charge at Apple. Prior to this, the CEO had used “special events” to reveal products already in Steve Jobs’ pipeline. That day at the historic California Theatre in San Jose, Calif., may also be remembered for something else – the end of Apple’s one-year product life cycle. As disgruntled “new” iPad owners already know, the event is where Cook introduced the world to the iPad with Retina display. This product, which was really just a moderate update, could have kept the iPad 3 branding. Instead, Apple called it the iPad 4, hence the backlash the followed.

This isn't Jobs' company anymore

However, I, and others, don’t feel that this launch was an anomaly. Rather, it is the new normal of Apple under Cook. Going forward, expect shorter product life cycles, but also less significant updates. This brings us to the iPhone 5S, which is set to debut in 2013. Depending on whom you believe, Apple’s seventh generation handset is arriving early next year or in June at the latest. Either way, the handset will arrive less than a year after the iPhone 5. No one has suggested, however, that the iPhone 5S will be anything more than a modest update. Instead of a new form factor, for example, think better internals and a kaleidoscope of colors. With the iPad, however, a much more significant update could be coming. The iPad 4 looks exactly the same as Apple’s two previous generation tablets. Therefore, whenever the iPad 5 debuts, I’d fully expect it to look more like the iPad mini and iPhone 5. Finally, the second-generation iPad mini will almost certainly look the same as its predecessor except in one important way. Just like the iPad 2 to iPad 3 jump, expect the next iPad mini to include a Retina display. Also, don’t be surprised to see a full line of colored iPad minis too, which I first suggested earlier this year.

So where does this leave us?

Cook wants to release the latest and greatest products in the world. Because of this, expect more frequent product updates for the company’s iPhone and iPad lines. Whether these updates will actually occur every six months will largely be determined by what the competition is doing and what new processes are available to Apple at the time. In the short-term, expect a modest iPhone update in 2013, followed by a more significant one later in the year or in early 2014. With the iPad, watch for a new form factor to debut next year, followed by a lighter refresh later. For the iPad mini, a new Retina display is a given, plus some bumped up internals.

One final point

Buying each new iPhone has always been important to me. Going back to the original iPhone in 2007, I purchased each new model except for the iPhone 3GS. However, I'll be taking a break next year. Like I have done with my iPad purchases, I have decided that a new iPhone isn't necessary each and ever year. Therefore, my next iPhone purchase with be the eight generation model, whenever that arrives. Upgrades are great, and for many, having the latest and greatest gadgets will always be important. For most customers, however, the modest jumps between versions no longer justify new purchases each year. I believe that Apple gets this too. As iOS 6 support for the three-year-old iPhone 3GS confirms, Apple doesn't see their previous products as throwaway items like other companies do. So while they are committed to remaining cutting edge, Apple also is prepared to keeping existing customers happy too. And this is a good thing.

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