iPhone 12 — Will it Really be Delayed?

“last year we started selling new iPhones in late September. This year, we project supply to be available a few weeks later. “

Wait, what?

The statement

Ok, so, not to get all Gandalf about it, but — is an Apple product ever early or ever really late? Or does it only arrive precisely when Apple ships it?

Opinions honestly vary. Some people feel real passionate that unless and until a company announces a product and shipping date, loudly and in public, said product simply cannot be delayed.

Which… is why Apple almost never pre-announces anything. They vastly prefer to show up and ship. New iPhone, pre-orders start this Friday, in-store the next. Boom.

And on the rare occasions when they have pre-announced, like with AirPods and HomePods, they’ve been burned by very legit, very public delays. And, well, with AirPower, just straight up immolated.

Other people, though, feel just as strongly that if even internal schedules are missed, even if the products have never been so much as mentioned externally, those misses still make those products count as delayed.

The iPhone’s had its share of both over the years, and I’ll get to all of them in a second, but let me know which side of the argument you fall on in the comments.

So, this time Apple’s chief financial officer, Luca Maestri, came straight out said it. It was on Apple’s quarterly financial results call, and it was in order to help set expectations for the next quarter, a quarter for which Apple is not providing any of the usual guidance, because 2020 is ridiculous, but he said what he said.

“last year we started selling new iPhones in late September. This year, we project supply to be available a few weeks later. “

The reaction

As soon as Maestri said those words, said the new iPhone would be coming a few weeks later, the socials, the comments, the commentarians, they all just… exploded. Scorching, incandescent hottest of hot takes… everywhere.

iPhone 12 delayed! Seriously, Google News broke the internet harder than Kim Kardashians behind.

And this time market movers didn’t even get to plant their usual rumors with their usual big media enablers to cover their positions. It came straight from Apple. Imagine the chagrin. Short. No. Stop. Cover. Cover. Cover. Ridiculous.

Even though, the instant Apple went into lock down earlier in the spring and has since been on work-from-home, everyone and their astromech knew, just knew it would cause all shades of product delays, we just had to treat this as shocking news… and I-told-you-sos… contortionisticaly at the same time.

Bonus points, though, to the people who immediately asked what it meant for Apple Watch and iOS 14 — two things Apple didn’t feel the need to address at the same time.

Well, more on that in a minute.

The precedents

Now, the iPhone hasn’t always been announced in September and, even when it has, it hasn’t always shipped in September.

Famously, the first iPhone was announced in January, because Steve Jobs would be damned if he’d let something like FCC filings reveal it before he could. And it shipped 6-months later in June.

The next few iPhones, from the iPhone 3G to the iPhone 4, were announced during Apple’s annual developer conference, WWDC, in June and shipped shortly thereafter. Except for the white iPhone 4, which had issues with the color process messing with the sensors, and ended up shipping almost 6 months later. You want talk about your Jobs-era delays, well, there you go.

Then, issues with Siri pushed back both the announcement and release of the iPhone 4s… all the way to October. Months later than was originally hoped.

Now, prior to that, the iPod had been Apple’s big holiday moneymaker and so it’d been the star of Apple’s big September show.

The iPod was losing steam, though, and the iPhone.. well, the iPhone was becoming pure fire.

So, from version 5 on, the iPhone got the fall spotlight. And, since then, up until the current iPhone 11, you could count on Apple hosting an event and announcing a new iPhone or couple or few on or around the second Tuesday of every September. Like clock work. It was pretty much the safest bet in tech.

Announce being the key word there, because shipping still varied.

In 2017, the iPhone X was announced on September 12th but only shipped on November 3rd.

In 2018, the iPhone XR was also announced on September 12th but only shipped on October 28.

So, all this to say, an iPhone shipping later than September isn’t entirely without precedent. It’s not even usual.

But Apple telling us up front, even by way of investors… And all the iPhones… and maybe the Apple Watch and iOS?

Yeah, we need to talk.

The reality

I made a joke a few months ago that 2020 was the worst DC Extended Universe movie ever. And it just keeps getting worse and worse and, well, I don’t even want to think about what kind of Snyder-cut the next few months might be.

So, back in the spring, Apple’s product teams and manufacturing teams just couldn’t get together to test and finalize everything the way they usually do.

And now Apple’s comms and events teams just can’t hold a big September shindig the way they usually do.

Sure, in years passed, Apple had to reserve a venue like Yerba Buena or Bill Graham, and basically commit to a date way in advance, come hell or high water or, you know all this.

Since the Steve Jobs Theater opened in 2017, though, they haven’t had to worry as much about external scheduling. But they do still have to manage internal timelines.

Even if the iPhone X or iPhone XR were going to ship later, they still got announced in September. And not just because the iPhone 8 or iPhone XS would ship on time, though yes and they would, but because it’s just so much more efficient for everyone to do it that way.

All the media, all the analysts, from around the world, all at the same time, in the same place, along with all of Apple’s comms teams, executives — everyone. So, for everything from the hands-on, to setting up for reviews, to broadcast and cable TV, to doing interviews, to handling questions, it’s all just way easier and more convenient to do it all at once… For everyone.

This year, though, un-possible.

The Event

I’ll give you my guesstimated schedule in a sec, but just to set the stage… literally…

For the last few years, Apple’s held an in-person event at Steve Jobs Theater on or around the second Tuesday in September. Hands-on happened right after the event. All the first-impressions articles, podcasts, and videos went live as fast as possible.

Pre-orders happened that Friday and the first round of reviews hit the following Tuesday or thereabouts. The new version of iOS went live on Wednesday or Thursday. Then pre-orders and in-store all arrived that Friday. It’s been a 10 day cycle from new iPhone announcement to new iPhones in the hand for… pretty much everyone, pretty much every year.

And the Apple Watch has been right there, right along side it for the ride.

For the last few years. 2020 though, is not like those years. It’s like dog sipping coffee while everything is burning dot IF. And yes, the G in GIF JIF is silent. You’re welcome.

So, if there won’t be an in-person event, and the new iPhone — four new iPhones according to rumors — won’t be coming until a few weeks later, what does that mean?

Well, Apple could still do a virtual event in September. They showed with WWDC that they’re not just way ahead of every other tech company when it comes to producing those, they’re through the warp gate and in another system ahead.

But I’m not sure there’d be a point to announcing in September if they’re not shipping until a few weeks later, which if you haven’t done the calendar math yet, would be October.

See, Apple doesn’t do pre-briefings like Android vendors, where they have everyone in before the event to shoot hands-on so every blog and YouTube channel can release content just at exactly the same time the event starts so absolutely no one… no one knows whether they should be watching the event or the MKBHD or Supersaf or iJustine videos, which you just know will be 20 Ultra times more coherent than the event. And please stop doing that. Just schedule them for right after the event, so we can just keep on watching. Cool?

Anyway, my guess is that there’ll be another virtual event, like WWDC, in late September or early October, with the iPhone 12, Apple Watch 6, maybe AirTags and AirPod Studio, and a few others things, plus whatever new, hardware-specific features go with those things.

Releasing a new Apple Watch before the new iPhone that pairs with it is tough to see, even if you want to think for a hot minute that the new Apple Watch isn’t seeing the same kind of production friction the iPhone is.

iOS is a bit more of an open question. I can see Apple holding it for the event so they can show off those hardware-specific features, then dropping the gold master and release right before the new iPhone ships. You know, same playbook, just a later date.

But… but.. Apple could also put it into general release in September as they normally would, then include the new, hardware specific features in an iOS 14.1 update in October, you know, alongside the new emoji that’s the only thing 95% of the mainstream universe is really waiting on anyway.

That might even be the best strategy. Just distract everyone stewing over the lack of an iPhone event with the big new operating system launches. Keep us busy with that instead of missing on this.

And with recent rumors suggesting the regular iPhones may even come later than the Pro models, that’d certainly be a terrific way to spread everything out across the fall.

And I’m totally not just saying that as someone who vastly prefers covering a few products at a time rather than everything just hitting us all at once.

Totally not, I swear.

So, in my personal, perfect spherical world in a box, there’d be iOS 14 the third week in September or thereabouts, event the last week or first week of October, iPhones the second week, maybe some more iPhones towards the end or, like iPhone X, first week of November.