Apple’s launch on Wednesday in San Francisco will kick off what analysts have repeatedly predicted was the biggest smartphone upgrade cycle in history. With those proclamations leading to what could be ridiculously high expectations, it’s worth pondering the downside.
Now I’m not going to be dumb enough to doubt that Apple’s iPhone 5 will outsell iPhone 4S by a wide margin. In fact, Apple’s latest iPhone will launch with multiple carriers around the world. It’s a global phone and distribution alone will ensure its success.
The wild card here will be the duration of this iPhone upgrade cycle. Meanwhile, there are other worries for the latest iPhone. Will these concerns materialize? Who knows, but it’s certainly worth highlighting them amid the sea of gushing coverage on deck.
Let’s play the contrarian game. Here’s a look at the key wild cards surrounding the iPhone launch:
Carrier upgrade cycles. Apple got a healthy bump from the iPhone 4S launch. Those iPhone buyers in the U.S. are locked into two year contracts and few will pay heavy penalties to upgrade to the latest greatest Apple smartphone. Meanwhile, carriers won’t allow customers to upgrade until they are 20 months into their contracts. That means that customers are locked into their old iPhones just a bit longer. As a result, Apple could see more steady demand over time as long as consumers don’t decide after six months to wait around the iPhone 6.
Likely scenario: Apple will offset carrier upgrade cycles with new partners in global markets.
Consumer behavior. Apple is likely to get a massive bump from pent-up demand for the iPhone 5. The big question is what happens after all those new buyers go through the pipeline. Last quarter, it became clear that the iPhone upgrade cycle was getting shorter. After four months, it’s quite possible that consumers will start waiting for the iPhone 6.
Likely scenario:Apple will see increasingly shorter iPhone demand cycles. That’s why it needs a new hit—iPad Mini, iTV—to offset iPhone demand. Conversely, Apple could go for a faster release cycle, but that’s difficult and may only make the upgrade progressions shorter