Why Apple's Upgrade Cycle Change Should Benefit Customers, Sellers

NEWS ANALYSIS: The previous plan by Apple to only upgrade its products once per year seems to be changing, and that's a good thing for everybody.


Ever since the original iPhone came out in 2007, Apple has had a predictable upgrade process. Every year in early autumn, Apple would announce a new phone and a few weeks later would make it available—in plenty of time for holiday shopping. Then the company would announce and release a new iPad. In the late spring each year, Apple would announce its major upgrades to its operating systems.

Every other year—at least lately—Apple would have an interim upgrade. This year it was the iPhone 6s and the 6s Plus. Before that it was the 5 and the 5s. iPads were only announced once per year, and this time it was the iPad Pro. Before that it was a series of iPads, culminating in 2014 with the iPad Air 2.

Now it seems that things are changing. This spring, perhaps in March, we'll see the new 4-inch iPhone, which might be the iPhone 6se or maybe the 5se. There will be a new iPad around the same time—in this case, the iPad Air 3. There may also be a new Apple Watch.

At this point we don't know whether Apple will make a big software announcement at this year's World Wide Developers Conference. Considering that iOS upgrades have been coming along every month or so, such an announcement may not be necessary.

So what's going on here? It's hard to know for sure, since Apple hasn't divulged its deepest corporate secrets to me, despite my continued efforts. But what seems to be happening is that Apple CEO Tim Cook is trying to change the company's ebb and flow of results over the course of a year.

This will, of course, drive the financial analysts on Wall Street nuts—not only because they didn't predict that this would happen but also because they won't be able to point to a single quarter of sales data as evidence that the iPhone is tanking. Instead, Apple will see steadier sales over the course of the year, as new features will emerge seamlessly, with each building on the release that came out a few months before.

Wow. Talk about radical ideas. Does this mean that Apple is starting to act more like IBM or HP? Perhaps it does.

You'll notice that the computer makers with long histories of serving the business world don't act like consumer products companies. While they may still have hype-filled meetings to announce new ideas, they don't rigidly schedule their announcements to an artificial date on the calendar. They announce and ship their major products when they're ready, and when their customers need them.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...