An Apple exec's slip reveals that Steve Jobs oversaw the development of the next two iPhones. Will a new iPhone end the Apple product drought soon?
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Apple's government liaison, Michael Foulkes, slipped up. Speaking about smartphone kill-switches with San Francisco district attorney George Gascon, Foulkes revealed that the next two iPhones have already been developed, and in fact, "They preceded Tim Cook."
The comments were made during part of a broader discussion between Apple's Foulkes and San Francisco's Gascon about how to curb smartphone thefts, according to The San Francisco Examiner. Gascon asked Apple to add a kill-switch or other mechanism that could render stolen phones useless. Such a tool could curb demand for stolen devices and, so the thinking goes, reduce crime in San Francisco.
Foulkes responded by saying that the development time for products such as the iPhone extends for years, and that it was not as simple as dropping in some code at the last minute. Foulkes' comments indicated that the late Steve Jobs, Apple's former CEO, played a role in developing the next two iPhones. Jobs died in October 2011 from a rare pancreatic disease. Current CEO Tim Cook took the reigns from Jobs before Jobs' death. If Foulkes' comments are true, that means Apple's product roadmap extends far into the future, perhaps farther than previously thought. It also reveals the lasting impact Jobs had on the design of Apple's products.
The two iPhones referenced by Foulkes may appear as soon as June, suggest some analysts. The company is expected to debut a less expensive variant of the iPhone 5 by summer, followed by the iPhone 5S, an incremental update to the iPhone 5, in the fall. These new devices can't come soon enough for Apple.
As of today, it has been five months to the day since Apple released a brand new product. The iPad Mini went on sale in the U.S. on November 2. (Other products, such as the iMac and MacBook line, have received incremental spec bumps since November 2, but have not been completely redesigned.)
What's perhaps most worrisome is that March has come and gone with no new Apple products, nor any real news of forthcoming Apple products. In both March 2011 and March 2012, Apple released a new iPad. There was no new iPad this year. What's causing concern among analysts and investors is the long gap between product launches.
"It was a surprise. We had expected them to do something in March like they typically do," said Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster. "We weren't expecting a ton of fireworks, but the fact that it wasn't there was incrementally disappointing."
Apple typically holds its WorldWide Developer Conference in June. Though the event focuses on Apple's software and operating systems, the company has used the event to debut products in the past. In fact, the iPhone 3G, 3GS and iPhone 4 all debuted at WWDC events in 2008, 2009 and 2010, respectively. Will Apple use WWDC to launch a low-cost iPhone? Perhaps. If it does, Apple is looking at a minimum of seven or eight months between major product launches. That would be the longest stretch between new Apple gear in some 13 years.
While Apple has been quiet, its competitors are busy launching new products at a breakneck pace. Two major flagship smartphones, the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S 4, are expected to reach store shelves in the coming weeks. Google's I/O developer conference kicks off in mid-May, and is expected to reveal a new version of Android and perhaps new Android smartphones and tablets. The BlackBerry Q10 should hit stores later this month, and BlackBerry's developer conference is scheduled for early May.
Apple is going to have to make some noise eventually if it wants to muffle its detractors and competitors alike.
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