The extra months might have been needed to get 4G connectivity right, to test a brand new screen technology, to incorporate 3D video. That made the actual launch, of a speeded-up iPhone 4, more of a letdown than it would have been before the summer.
And it sees Apple effectively stretching its upgrade cycle to two years, in an industry where it is under genuine pressure for the first time, from rivals who throw major new features at their smartphones at least twice a year. Worse, by reducing the price of the existing iPhone 4, but creating little clear water between the two models, Apple is incentivizing new users to opt for the older hand-set, and existing ones to cling onto their current phones in the hope of a real “iPhone 5” in the spring.
Of course, the 4S will sell like hot cakes notwithstanding. It has the broadest distribution yet for an iPhone, partly because it is a “worldphone” with CDMA and GSM/HSPA all included in a single model. That has brought CDMA operators Sprint in the US and KDDI on board without the need to create a special version as Apple did for Verizon, and other CDMA cellcos are sure to follow.
But with aggressive new pricing structures, and the lack of a real top end model to compare with the Android superphones, Apple is positioning itself firmly for the mass market. It will still have healthy margins because carriers bear much of the burden of price cuts on subsidized phones, but it has deprived the iPhone of the last vestiges of exclusivity, and an important question – for a company which thrives so much on the “magic” of its brand – is whether Apple can regain the image of a premium product for subsequent, more radical iPhones.
For now, the iPad is fulfilling the role of desirable, upmarket iDevice, while the adjusted iPhone line-up is looking distinctly mass market. That may cause problems for Apple among the users it always claimed by right – those wanting cutting edge performance as well as the cachet of the latest aspirational gadget. There will be plenty of contenders to clamor for that role now (as there were not until a year ago), and most of them will sport just the features which people hoped for in the new iPhone, only to be disappointed.