Is it fair to say that iPhone owners are a spoiled lot? Every June or July, Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) seems to crank out a new smartphone. The spec sheet improves; the prices stay the same, or drop slightly. But this year, those iLoyalists might be in for disappointment.
A few months' time may not deliver a shiny new iPhone 5. Avian Securities, in talks with unnamed Apple component suppliers, hears that production on the next generation of the iconic smartphone won't begin until September.
If the Asian assembly lines aren't piecing together the iPhone 5 until early autumn, we may not see it until just before the holidays. And if Apple doesn't want to damage the iPad 2's chances as a hot Christmas gift -- or if the desired 4G LTE networks aren't up to snuff -- the Apple faithful may not get a new iPhone until early next year.
The winners circle
Let's go over some of the obvious and not-so-obvious companies that may cash in on a hardware delay.
Smartphones running Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG ) Android platform are already outselling Apple's iOS gadgetry in this country. Though Android and iOS software both enjoy regular refreshes, Android hardware's multiple manufacturers enable a steady stream of upgrades in that department, compared to Apple's once-a-year (or now, perhaps even longer) introduction of a new model. The wider the gap between iPhone versions, the easier it may be for Google to win over indecisive shoppers. Google will have its pedal to the metal while Apple spends months in a pit stop.
Verizon (NYSE: VZ ) Wireless, the leading wireless carrier, didn't get off to a blazing start when it embraced the iPhone 4 on Feb. 10. Existing Verizon customers and current iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4 owners on rival AT&T Wireless may still be serving time on their two-year contracts. However, Verizon customers may also have suspected that a shiny new iPhone 5 awaited them in just a few months. If that's not the case, potential Verizon iPhone owners may stop holding out and take the plunge.
Furthermore, Research In Motion's (Nasdaq: RIMM ) BlackBerry, Hewlett-Packard's (NYSE: HPQ ) webOS, and Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT ) Windows Phone 7 could all thrive in the absence of a new iPhone.
And now, the losers
If Verizon is a winner, that would seem to make AT&T (NYSE: T ) a loser. Rumors have swirled that a cheaper entry-level iPhone might hit the market, possibly opening the door for value-priced wireless carriers beyond Verizon and AT&T to hop aboard. Bulls can argue that any delay may aid AT&T by buying the company time to beef up the reliability of its much-maligned network, but I think that breathing room will simply make Verizon Wireless a more formidable iPhone foe.
Last but not least, Apple will have a problem selling iPhone 4 smartphones for as long as it takes for the new model to arrive -- but any delay could damage its fans' faith in the steadiness of the company's upgrade cycle. Apple aficionados and shareholders have to come to expect annual upgrades on Macs, iPods, iPhones, and iPads. When the iPad 2 hit the market less than a year after its predecessor -- with a possible iPad 3 rumored for later in the year -- the market began to believe that Apple might have accelerated its development cycles. Any iPhone 5 delay, even if it's a one-time fluke, will eat into those expectations.
If the iPhone 5 is late, let's hope that it's worth the wait.
What would you like to see in the iPhone 5? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.