The Fall Event

Mark Sigal asks a good question, regarding the lack of a September Apple “music event” this year:

Yet, this year they did not have it, nor even alluded to it. Now, first week of October is rumored launch of iPhone 5.

The question that it prompts is does the foregoing of Music Event signify something larger about iPod strategy going forward? Or is it just a case of the dog of growth (iPhone) outflanking the tail (iPod).

If Apple could have made its iPhone announcement this month — September — I think they would have. I think they went into October because it took longer to get everything in order: hardware production, iOS 5, iCloud. (Although I think iOS 5 could have been launched already, if they wanted to, based on the stability of the latest betas. It’s in good shape.)

Apple’s music events were about selling music-playing iPods. The iPhone is cannibalizing that business; their whole iPod division is propped up by the Touch, which is really just a phone-less iPhone. I don’t think they’re going to stop selling audio iPods, but everyone knows, including Apple, that neither the news media nor the masses can get it up for “new iPods” any more. New iOS devices are what we can get it up for.

That’s why I took a guess back in February that Apple might announce two rounds of iPad hardware this year: an iPad 2 in February, and then a new one in September — say, an iPad 2 with a retina display. That was based on two assumptions:

  1. Apple would release a next-generation iPhone at WWDC in June, as per its previous annual schedule.
  2. Apple would need something more exciting than an iPod Touch based on the same specs as this year’s new iPhone to announce in the fall, if they wanted to maintain a high level of anticipation for the fall event annually.

My first assumption obviously was wrong. The second one I still think was right. Apple needs a big iOS device announcement for the fall, is what I was thinking, and another iPad was my best guess. There is no new iPad coming this year, but there is a big iOS device announcement.

No one outside Apple’s top ranks knows whether the iPhone 5 (or whatever they’re going to call it — or them, if there are two new models, not just one) was planned for a fall release all along, or whether it slipped and was originally intended for a June/July release. But whatever the reason, it hasn’t hurt iPhone sales in the interim, and it has created a situation where the company’s upcoming event is more anticipated than it would have been if we were only expecting a new iPod Touch based on specs from a three-month-old iPhone 5.

The fall event is important for Apple because it’s the one where they set their product lineup for the holiday quarter. The company prefers to announce new products simply when they’re ready, not when some arbitrary date on the calendar arrives. That’s why they stopped doing Macworld Expo keynotes. They showed this year that they’re not afraid to do a software-only WWDC keynote. But they can’t move Christmas. Apple is breaking profit and revenue records quarter after quarter. But Apple’s best-selling products sell best during the holiday quarter. iOS devices have “Christmas gift” written all over them.

Nine months into the year and Apple has announced but a single new iOS device: the iPad 2. Time’s up, pencils down.