Why this year's iPhone may be kinda lame

By Hayley Tsukayama

Consumers waiting to upgrade until this year's expected major revamp will have to either bite the bullet and get the iPhone 6s or 6s Plus, or wait an extra year. Photo / AP
Consumers waiting to upgrade until this year's expected major revamp will have to either bite the bullet and get the iPhone 6s or 6s Plus, or wait an extra year. Photo / AP

Rumour has it that Apple's going to seriously shake up the way it updates the iPhone - and you probably won't like it that much.

For nearly a decade, Apple has alternated between releasing big overhauls and smaller upgrades to its phones. Citing a top Apple analyst, the Wall Street Journal reported that the firm will follow up last year's incremental upgrades to the iPhone with even more incremental upgrades - breaking its established update schedule.

That means consumers waiting to upgrade until this year's expected major revamp will have to either bite the bullet and get the iPhone 6s or 6s Plus, or wait an extra year and hope that rumors of a really big revamp for 2017 are true.

The reported decision - Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment - comes as the company faces mounting questions about slowing iPhone sales.

The iPhone is at the heart of Apple's revenue, but sales numbers have started falling. That's bad news for the Cupertino company.

The smartphone market as a whole has slowed down a bit, with more consumers saying they're happy to hang on to their phones for a little longer than they have in the past. It's hard to say what, exactly, is causing that shift.

But one theory is that companies aren't able to offer the same scale of advances that they used to because the technology isn't there yet.

"Look at it from the vantage point of innovation," said IDC analyst William Stofega. "Part of the slowdown of the industry is there's just very incremental updates and upgrades. The technology to really push the smartphone forward isn't quite developed yet."

In other words, Apple may have an innovation problem, but it's not alone. Companies are continually making phones thinner and lighter for their power levels, but at a certain point consumers will be looking for breakthrough battery technology, flexible screens or something more drastic to reinvent the smartphone. And those advances, while in the works at various companies, aren't yet ready for prime time.

Furthermore, changes in the way that mobile carriers have designed their contracts could also be changing the mental calculus for consumers considering whether to upgrade their phones.

Today's plans separate the cost of a phone from the cost of wireless service, which gives customers the option to upgrade their device every year. But, Stofega said, the new payment scheme encourages people to hold onto their phones longer, especially once the devices are paid off.

The smartphone market as a whole has slowed down a bit, with more consumers saying they're happy to hang on to their phones for a little longer than they have in the past. Photo / Jason Oxenham
The smartphone market as a whole has slowed down a bit, with more consumers saying they're happy to hang on to their phones for a little longer than they have in the past. Photo / Jason Oxenham

A change in how Apple manages its upgrade cycle would be acknowledging that its next big developments are still in the research and development lab. While the firm still has its eye on creating markets for its phones in places such as China and India, it's also clearly looking to pull back its dependence on hardware.

Focusing on services - Apple Music, iCloud, Siri - and other products such as the Apple Watch has been a big trend out of Apple in the past year. And Apple has been letting rumours about even crazier projects, such as the Apple Car, circulate unchecked.

At the end of the day, Apple may be betting that it is better to release a truly innovative smartphone later and disappoint some fans now, even if such a strategy could open the door for Samsung as well as budget-friendly firms such as Xiaomi and Huawei to grab market share.

Stofega thinks this approach could work in the long run, if properly executed. "People may start looking for a slower cycle," he said. "And, in thinking about it, that could get all the fanboys and fangirls a better boom for their buck."

- Washington Post

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