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Article: The Inevitable Rumor Cycle

by on February 12, 2011

No doubt you’ve heard the rumors of an iPad 2, iPad 3, or even a smaller iPhone over the past few weeks if you’ve paid attention to most of the technology-related media outlets. Although rumors are fun, and give us something to discuss, they really are almost as bad as celebrity gossip.

The Yearly Upgrade Cycle

Apple has become a predictable company with many of its product releases—iPhones in June, iPods & iTunes in September, Mac OS X releases somewhere in the “Summer” area, and new iLife releases in the October—January window. The iPad is the wildcard right now since we’ve only had one. Many were expecting a new iPad in January, since that was a year from when we saw the first one, while others are looking at April, since that was the year mark from when they started shipping.

This regular schedule creates a few problems for Apple. People who pay attention and are on the six-months-in/six-months-out line are faced with a tough situation—just buy the product or wait for the inevitable march forward of technology. This really hasn’t hurt Apple right now since the iPad was a huge seller for Christmas, and the iPhone is often a purchase dictated by AT&T’s upgrade schedule (or other carriers). Therefore, while many analysts seem to worry over this timeline, it hasn’t hurt Apple yet.

Another possibility was a new iPad announced in January and shipping in April, but would you buy a product that was going to be replaced in three months, especially if the replacement was announced? I didn’t think so.

Moving the iPad’s Schedule

Since the iPad is in some ways more related to the iPod family than a standalone device, it does make sense to move the announcement closer to the September timeframe. By doing this, Apple ensures that there is a fresh model ready for the holiday season. Throw in the iPod touch and Apple TV getting refreshes (or at least an Apple TV software update) and you have 3/4 of the iOS family getting updates a few months after the iPhone and actual iOS are updated. This makes some sense since the iPhone is still the flagship product in Apple’s iOS portfolio. The problem with this is the giant unknown as to if the iPad’s current version can carry Apple until September, with the threat of products from HP, BlackBerry, Motorola, and every other Android-device manufacturer.

Some are saying that, to fix this, Apple will release an iPad sooner than later with a few updates, but generally the same technology (maybe more memory, faster chips, and a slightly different enclosure). The best way to think of this as the iPhone 3G is to the iPhone—same processor, same display, slightly different design, and a few upgrades and a few new features (GPS). This could be the iPad 2’s camera. Come September, Apple could release the next iPad (3) that will feature a similar enclosure as the new one, but with a lot more computing power, and make the only-a-few-months-old iPad become the budget model in a 16GB capacity.

Unfortunately, this will leave many people who bought the iPad 2 frustrated that their only-a-few-months-old model is now outdated. Although this is bound to happen no matter what, I think that there could be some backlash if Joe Consumer buys an iPad 2 in April when it is released and then it is replaced about 6 months later. At least people buying iPads now know that an update could happen at any time. Even those who are buying iPhone 3GS discounted to $49 (AT&T is advertising them even) know that they’re getting a product that is not the latest and greatest, but is a pretty good product.

Rumors or Guessing the Inevitable?

The problem is that Apple rumors are more boring than they seem—we know the next iDevice (take your pick) is going to be faster, have a better camera, and inevitably become skinnier. By these expectations, people are disappointed when some things don’t come true. I bet there’s someone waiting for an iPad with a 300+ ppi display and will be mad when the next one runs at 1024×768. Sometimes there are rumors that are interesting, such as last spring’s iPhone 4 mishap, or the various “parts” that seem to appear from China to alert us of upcoming redesigns. It just seems that the predictable rumors are a way to talk about something that is inevitable, yet not necessarily fine-tuned enough to be specific.

That’s not to say that I don’t like Apple rumors. It’s actually the opposite. I love rumors that are creative, yet still have some backing, but aren’t like beating a dead horse. Things like a $200 no-contract iPhone, better notifications, or OS updates excite me because they’re new, unpredictable, and leave something to the imagination. Of course, we also sometimes get blindsided by a product introduction that came out of nowhere, like the middle-of-the-night Mac mini redesign last summer. That still reminds us that we don’t know everything in Cupertino.

Actually, I take back the celebrity gossip comparison. Charlie Sheen, Paris Hilton, and Lindsay Lohan will probably still be making news about possible antics and the public will continue to act surprised, judgmental, and think that the whole story is what they hear on those half-hour gossip shows and the Internet. At least Apple’s rumors are mostly kept in the circle of tech journalists and have slightly more predictable time-frame.

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