Apple is likely to go slow on upgrades in 2019. Yes, there should be three phones and an Apple Watch as the leaks have suggested, but they will all be incremental upgrades and not huge improvements when it comes to design or hardware. But there could be some strong logic behind the move to not go for drastic changes with what is being called the iPhone 11 series of devices.
Apple is among the few companies to yet open its cards when it comes to 5G. The first 5G rollouts have already started and it’s been a few months since Samsung showcased the 5G version of its S10. But next year could be different and Apple seems to be readying up for a big 5G plunge.
The markets where 5G is being rolled out, like the US and Australia, are all Apple strongholds. If it manages to come up with significant upgrades when the 5G device sales pick up, it could just get a big push in these markets. And for these devices, it would be able to charge a premium and push up the average selling price even more.
Also, 5G is more than just an upgrade on speeds. It’s a technology that will change the very core of the telecom industry, and put in place a new backbone for the future. Hence, first movers might not really be at an advantage.
IDC’s quarterly mobile phone tracker underlines this, saying: “Apple is likely to deliver 5G handsets later in 2020, which will pick up iOS volumes slightly as it will have an edge over other vendors with a better understanding of 5G market conditions for a much more planned launch.”
But this also means that the new iPhones going to be launched today might not help to push up sales by a lot. The IDC report notes that 2019 will remain a challenging year for iPhone shipments with volumes expected to drop to 177.9 million, down 14.8% year over year, “mostly due to market maturity as well as a lack of 5G devices.”
Thomas Husson, VP and Principal Analyst – Marketing & Strategy at Forrester research, explains what he thinks will happen on September 10: “I really don’t think Apple will offer a new design, a pocket-sized form factor or a 5G smartphone. Instead, the focus will be on a differentiated photo and video experiences and significantly more powerful smartphones.” He warns that to be able to continue maintaining the growth momentum for its installed base of devices “Apple must continue to excel at managing the lifecycle of its product portfolio especially on pricing.”
This also means a significant portion of the keynote today would be focused on the services side of things. “We expect Apple to talk more about their services and possibly show more of their new shows created for their Apple TV Plus service launching this fall,” says Tim Bajarin, President at Creative Strategies, Inc. His call for today is “three new phones with the iPhone 11 designations and a new 3 camera system that delivers better wide angle features”.
So while many might think Apple holding its horses on 5G will pull it back in 2019, this could be part of a larger strategy to cash in on the next wave of technology, but only once there is a better understanding of what it encompasses. In fact, don’t be surprised if next year Apple has more than just a regular series of smartphones to offer. Come to think of it robust 5G networks might be a good excuse to launch foldable phones and even an immersive entertainment experience.
(The author is in San Jose on the invite of Apple.)