Apple CEO Tim Cook
Source: Apple Inc.
It may have a new number in the name, but Apple’s new iPhone 13 looks more like one of the company’s “S” models than anything else.
Apple has released iPhone models on a ticking cycle for most of the product’s existence. The “tick” years typically offer new designs and features, and the “tock” years keep things essentially the same, but with improvements on things like speed and battery life. (These are the “S” models.)
But the iPhone 13 was revealed on Tuesday, instead of an iPhone 12S, with just incremental upgrades from last year’s model. This explains why Apple spent much of the presentation talking about features like battery life and camera improvements. There wasn’t much new from last year’s model to brag about.
You’ll see a lot of comments this week about how boring, dull, or just a minor upgrade the iPhone 13 is from last year’s model. There is a lot of truth in this. But it also ignores the reality of where we are in smartphone technology.
Everyone from Apple to Samsung to Motorola has gotten to the point where it takes over a year to develop a key and revolutionary feature. And that’s OK for the vast majority of their customers. Smartphones have become so successful that people can keep them for three years or more without feeling late. So even if a new model looks like a minor upgrade from the previous year, that upgrade is much more important for someone using a three or four year old model.
Many data seem to confirm this. Wedbush analysts predicted on Tuesday that Apple was still in the middle of its iPhone sales “super cycle” that began last year with the iPhone 12, which introduced new features like a new design and 5G cellular data connections.
“Apple remains in the middle of its strongest global product cycle in about a decade,” Wedbush analyst Dan Ives wrote in a note to investors on Tuesday. He added that there are around 250 million iPhone owners with models over three years old.
That’s a huge pool of potential customers ready for an upgrade.
The lesson: If you’re planning to evaluate a new iPhone and what that means for sales, it’s important to zoom in and look at the past few years instead of comparing it to the previous year’s model. That’s what the customers who are actually going to buy these things will do.