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In case there was any doubt that last year’s October iPhone 12 launch was an aberration, multiple analysts are reporting that Apple fully plans to get things back on track to launch this year’s iPhone lineup in September.
To be fair, we first heard this last year from a source no less reliable than the venerable Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who shared that Apple was shooting for a September 2021 release for the next iPhone. However, at that point, Kuo appeared to be talking more about Apple’s planned timeline, since it was too early back then to know for sure if the company would be able to pull it off.
More recently, however, another supply chain analyst, Daniel Ives of Wedbush, has offered up his own analysis indicating that Apple continues to move forward, full-steam ahead, in getting the new iPhones ready to launch.
Keep in mind that there’s a lot of work that goes into releasing a new iPhone model each year, with prototyping, development, and testing ramping up at least six months ahead of the final release. This means that we’ve now reached the point where it’s possible for supply chain analysts to predict a release timeframe based on how far along Apple is in the process.
Except for 2020, which was indisputably a very unusual year for everyone, every new iPhone since 2011 has been launched in September. In fact, the only other time an iPhone came out in October was back in 2010, with the iPhone 4s. However, that was also Apple’s first-ever fall iPhone event; all new iPhone models before had arrived each year in June.
There’s more to Apple’s September target date than merely tradition, however, as it also represents the last month in Apple’s fiscal quarter, making it an opportune time to goose its revenue after the typically slow summer sales cycle. In fact, this is why Apple had to tell investors about the iPhone 12 delay last year; pushing the release into October meant lower revenue numbers for Q4 2020.
This is also likely the reason it still held a September event to launch new Apple Watch and iPad models. Since most of those products were ready to go in September, it made sense to try to salvage some of the Q4 revenue in any way it could. Granted, Apple didn’t ultimately lose any revenue — all the iPhone 12 sales that would have happened in September just shifted into the next quarter. Since financial analysts and investors compare revenue between corresponding quarters each yet (e.g., Q4 2020 gets compared to Q4 2019), it still didn’t look nearly as good on the balance sheets.
So, Apple has every reason to want to get the “iPhone 13” out in September. What’s less clear is whether the whole lineup will be ready to go.
Kuo insists that this is what Apple is shooting for, and there’s no reason to disbelieve, him, although Ives is being somewhat more circumspect about it.
In an investor note shared by 9to5Mac, Ives says that based on the current status of Apple’s supply chain, at least some new iPhone models will arrive in the third week of September, however “product model tweaks,” could push some models into October.
At this point, it’s hard to say for sure exactly what that could entail, as Apple’s two-tier iPhone strategy is a much more recent development. When Apple first split the lineup back in 2017, the revolutionary iPhone X came out significantly later than the more traditional iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus. By 2018 that had flipped around, with Apple releasing the flagship iPhone XS models in September and delaying the entry-level iPhone XR into early October. In 2019, however, the entire iPhone 11 lineup arrived at the same time.
While it’s not fair to count 2020 as being a typical year in any way, the iPhone 12 came out with the most unusual split of all, with both the 6.1-inch models arriving in October, and the 5.4-inch iPhone 12 mini and 6.7-inch iPhone 12 Pro Max being delayed until November.
There’s every indication that this year’s iPhone lineup will follow the same four-model strategy, meaning that we’re expecting a 5.4-inch iPhone mini, 6.1-inch iPhone and iPhone Pro, and a 6.7-inch iPhone Pro Max, we don’t yet know enough about the differences between the various models to predict which ones could be delayed, if any.
What we do know is that the next iPhone models — which could be dubbed either the “iPhone 13” or “iPhone 12S” — will pack in the faster display technology that was allegedly earmarked for the iPhone 12 Pro last year, plus a smaller notch, some modest but significant camera improvements, faster Wi-Fi, a bigger battery, and more.
Most significantly, several reports are pointing to the fact that this could be the year that in-display Touch ID arrives, quite possibly as the marquee feature of the 2021 iPhone lineup. This would be implemented as an alternative to Face ID, rather than a replacement for it, providing more options for users who wear facial coverings, or find themselves in situations where Face ID simply isn’t as convenient.