Why iPhone 5S launch rumours will hurt Apple more than anything

Reports claim Apple will test iPhone 5S in December, unveil it in Q1 2013

Even as hype around the iPhone 5 – the biggest thing to happen to iPhone since iPhone – continues to swell, rumours about the next version of the smartphone – iPhone 5S – have begun clouding the blogosphere, with new reports in the Chinese-language daily Commercial Times suggesting a December trial and first-quarter 2013 launch of the iPhone 5S.

According to the report, the Cupertino-based Apple Inc. is expected to start trial production of the iPhone 5S in December, with initial production volumes likely to top 50,000-100,000 units. The unsubstantiated report maintains that Apple’s Asian product assemblers will begin the first trial-production batch of the iPhone 5S in preparation for large-scale shipments to begin in the first quarter of next year.

Now don’t get me wrong, but Apple must have invested a fortune in iPhone 5’s design, manufacture and marketing, with the latter perhaps taking up the largest share of money spent. In August, while testifying during the Apple Vs. Samsung trial, Phil Schiller, senior vice-president of worldwide marketing at Apple Inc., revealed that the firm has spent over $1 billion marketing the iPad and iPhone since their respective launches.

That’s a lot of money, arguably well spent.

But why on earth, then, would the marketing savvy company (Apple is nothing if not marketing savvy) ditch all that hype and head-start within less than two months of the launch of the iPhone 5? Why would Apple begin seeding the market with rumours about a new product launch when it knows for sure that such rumours tend to put a brake on sale of its existing devices?

This has been more than amply demonstrated in the past. The most recent proof lies in the sales numbers of the iPhone 4S which, for the first time last quarter, dipped below that of rival Samsung Electronics’ spearhead Galaxy S3 smartphone as Apple fans preferred to wait for the imminent launch of the iPhone 5, giving Apple’s rivals a more or less free hand in garnering additional market share.

The sceptic in me says there’s more to these rumours than just company ‘leaks’ even as the mean me wants to believe that Apple must be scurrying to launch the next version of its hottest selling smartphone because of all the defects and disadvantages that it comes loaded with.

The reports do talk about Apple “accelerating” the certification process for parts and materials in the new phone because of production problems with the iPhone 5.

Historically, though, Apple has launched new iPhone models a year or so apart, traditionally in June, with only the latest two years seeing launches shifting to September. If indeed these rumours turn out to be true, they will mark a first for the iPhone in that the next version of the iPhone will be available less than a few months apart.

Taiwanese online portal DigiTimes, which quotes the same Commercial Times report, also says that Apple is planning to release a new iPad Mini in the quarter following the new iPhone, with the newer version sporting a ‘retina’ display.

The same (il)logic – of launching new devices just a few months apart – holds true for the iPad Mini as well, since Apple introduced the iPad Mini just three weeks ago.

Rumours about Apple’s ‘imminent’ product launches have indeed gained traction over the years because of the immense fan following that Apple and its devices enjoy, and the obviously secretive nature of the firm, which prefers to keep things under a tight wrap until it finally unveils them.

Not that Apple minds the publicity. It has never, in the past, acknowledged or denied the rumours, and allowed the discussions about specs, design etc. of its rumoured products to rage on, banking on (correctly, it seems) the free publicity that such rumours provide for its products, even before their actual launch.

But the fact that rumours about Apple’s new products tend to decelerate the sale of its existing devices suggests that, this time round, such rumours might work in the favour of its rivals - worth mentioning are Samsung (of course), Research in Motion, HTC, or even ZTE - than Apple itself.

Will Apple, for the first time, respond to rumours about the imminent launch of the iPhone 5S and break with tradition? Or will it stick to its policy of not paying heed to such rumours, even if it means that it might lose further market share to its smartphone rivals?

Watch this space.

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