Why Apple’s product update cycle is genius

A lot of people had this dumb idea in their head that Apple would be announcing a new iPhone at WWDC this year. Not sure why, but that somehow became a popular opinion. It obviously wasn’t going to happen, but nonetheless, people seemed to genuinely to believe that Apple would screw over iPhone 4S buyers by releasing a phone so quickly. Today I got to thinking that maybe Apple pushed the iPhone 4S back to the fall so that they could use the summer for announcing Mountain Lion, and suddenly everything made sense.

This is the update cycle Apple is sticking with this year. At the beginning of the year, the iPad got an update. Next, the Mac notebook lineup was updated in the summer. OS X will also be updated in the summer. Finally, the new iPhone is widely expected to launch around the same time the iPhone 4S did last year, in the fall.

If you think about why they would update those products at that time, you’ll realize there’s a very good reason for it. I’ll explain all on after the break.

The iPad

First, let’s look at the iPad. Why is it updated at the beginning of the year? To be honest, I have no idea about this one. It’s the most confusing part of the schedule to me. I assume it’s because they want to update it shortly after they’ve updated iOS to a new major release, although when the first iPad launched, iOS was still being updated in the summer. So basically that’s the one part that makes no sense to me. To be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple changed the iPad update cycle this year.


The Mac and OS X

Next comes the Mac (specifically the notebooks) and OS X. Why are these being updated in the summer, when the iPhone used to be updated? Well, how many times to students buy a new cell phone before the new school year? I would say not nearly as often as they buy a new laptop. By updating their notebook lineup in the summer, especially with such an impressive machine as the Retina MacBook Pro, Apple gives new students another reason to consider switching to Mac.

Updating OS X at the same time helps even more. People who had previously passed on Macs would have a new reason to head to the Apple Store and check out the amazing new machines Cupertino had cranked out, and current Mac users would have a good reason to want an upgrade. And of course, scheduling this all at the time when most students are considering a new laptop for the upcoming year makes a ton of sense.

Apple’s usual back-to-school gift card promotion really helps sell the new computers as well, giving students one more reason to switch or upgrade before going back to class in the fall.


The iPhone and iOS

The iPhone (and presumably the iPod, if any of those ever get updated again) being updated in the fall also makes sense. Consider when most people do their Christmas shopping (hint: it’s not the summer). If Apple releases an iPhone in the summer, it’s already six months old by the holiday season. Many competing phone manufacturers have had an opportunity to copy the new features of the latest iPhone, and their devices are much newer at Christmas time, leading some people to choose a “new” competing handset over an “old” iPhone. If the iPhone was only updated one or two months prior to the holidays it would seem much “newer” to people doing their holiday shopping (or to teens putting a new phone on their Christmas list). This also gives competing companies much less time to copy the new iPhone and push their devices before the holidays.

A fall release also opens up a slightly wider market to the iPhone: those who previously received a different phone for Christmas, thereby making them eligible for upgrades every two years at Christmas. Some of those people almost certainly would not wait six to seven months after becoming eligible for an upgrade to get the a summer iPhone update, and as I said above, many of them would opt for “newer” handsets rather than the six-month-old iPhone released the previous summer. Now every single one of those Christmas-time upgrade customers can get the one-to-two-month-old iPhone that Android manufacturers haven’t yet had time to copy.

A new major version of iOS at this same time fits perfectly as it will almost certainly lead those with iDevices that are only partially supported (like the fourth-generation iPod touch, which will not be getting some of the big iOS 6 features) to put a newer device on their wish list for the holidays.


All in all, Apple’s update and release cycles are nothing short of brilliant marketing designed to put shiny new products and software in the public eye at the exact moment the largest possible number people are shopping for those exact items.