By John Gruber
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After my link today to Greg Koenig’s excellent explanation for why the new ceramic Apple Watch Edition does not presage the use of a similar material in next year’s iPhone (in short: Apple needs to produce up to one million iPhones per day, and the ceramic process Apple is using for the watch would take way too long to meet that demand), several readers asked if Apple might go the Apple Watch Edition route: make a special ceramic iPhone Edition that sells at a much higher price.
Apple certainly could do this. But I don’t think they would. I’ve often said that the iPhone reminds me of Andy Warhol’s great quote about Coca-Cola and America:
What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.
A significantly more expensive limited edition ceramic iPhone would break from this, and in my opinion it would take away from the iPhone’s brand. iPhones aren’t cheap, but they are affordable for many, and everyone who gets one knows they’re getting the best phone in the world. An expensive limited edition iPhone would mean most iPhone buyers would know they’re only getting second best.
Apple has done this with the watch — in spades last year, with the $10–20,000 gold models — but watches are different animals. Watches, in general, have never been like Coke. There have always been low-cost watches and luxury watches.
Let me add here a note about something that’s been bothering me for months: the notion that Apple is going to do something “special” next year to commemorate the iPhone’s 10th anniversary. I would wager heavily that they won’t. Apple under Tim Cook is a little bit more prone to retrospection than it was under Steve Jobs, who was almost obsessively forward-thinking, but only slightly. They made a 40-years-in-40-seconds video to commemorate the company’s 40th anniversary this year, for example, but it was only 40 seconds long. Blink and you missed it.
Apple is not going to make a special edition of any product — let alone the iPhone, their most important product — just to mark an anniversary. Don’t tell me about the 20th Anniversary Macintosh — that was a product from the old Apple that was heading toward bankruptcy, and a perfect example of why they shouldn’t do something special to mark something as arbitrary as an anniversary.
A lot of this 10th anniversary of the iPhone speculation is regarding the rumors that next year’s new iPhones might sport a new industrial design, with edge-to-edge displays that eliminate both the top and bottom bezels from the front face. If such a design does appear next year, the timing will be purely coincidental.
What’s the logic otherwise? That Apple could have debuted that design this year, but didn’t, simply because they wanted to hold off until the iPhone’s oh-so-precious 10th anniversary? That is not how a technology company operates. To maintain its position as the leading phone-maker in the world, Apple must push forward as fast as they can. They only know one way to play the game: as hard as they can.
Nothing gets held back from any Apple product just to make the next one more special. If there is going to be a new edge-to-edge iPhone design, it will appear as soon as it is ready — no sooner, and no later. It would make no sense to hold back a more visually impressive and practically superior1 design just to be able to call it the “10th anniversary iPhone” a year from now. That would mean selling fewer iPhones this year while sticking with the familiar 6/6S form factor, and not selling any additional iPhones next year. No one — no one — is going to buy any new iPhone just because it’s the 10th anniversary edition.
Every year, Apple releases the best iPhone it is able to make. That’s it. It makes no more sense for a tech company to hold back a new design for an entire year just to mark an anniversary than it would for a, say, 99-year-old sports team to bench its star player for a year to make their 100-year-anniversary team even more special. I do believe that Apple leads the industry, but they don’t lead by such a margin that they can afford to pull their punches just for an “anniversary” marketing gimmick.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple never even mentions next year that 2017 is the 10th anniversary of the original iPhone. And if they do mention it, I think it will be a brief passing reference on stage, not a part of any advertising or marketing campaign.2 New iPhones — new Apple products, period — are marketed as new. Anniversaries are about getting old.
If Apple goes with an edge-to-edge display, they can either keep the display sizes the same (4.7- and 5.5-inch) and greatly reduce the overall size of the devices, or they can keep the device sizes the same as they are now and greatly increase the size of the displays. Either way is a win. (My guess though is that Apple will shrink the devices — Apple likes smaller devices.) ↩︎
I’ll enjoy a nice serving of homemade claim chowder if Apple goes and names next year’s iPhone the “iPhone 10” and makes the anniversary central to its branding. ↩︎︎