iPhone 5 release date delayed: iPhone 4S suffers from Steve Jobs death

by Bill Palmer

The iPhone 5 release date is delayed to sometime in 2012, most likely the summer but it’s anyone’s guess and Apple itself may not yet be sure. Enter instead the iPhone 4S, a brilliant backup plan engineered by Tim Cook, who’s been in the CEO chair for far too short a time to take credit or blame for much that’s transpired since. But he has been Apple’s chief operations officer for fourteen years; it was on him as COO, not Jobs as innovations guy, to figure out this escape hatch. However there’s one bit of Steve Jobs-style magic (here’s more on the death of Steve Jobs today) missing from the iPhone 4S, one which has left mainstream customers confused and showing rare anger toward Apple, a company which most among the mainstream have spent the past decade thanking for having rescued them from a tech landscape which had previously skewed geeks-only. yet the anger and disappointment today is palpable, and it’s based purely on external expectations; Apple never said there would be an iPhone 5 in 2011, and even our use of the word “delay” here is subjective relative to when Apple most likely thought it was going to launch the iPhone 5. That bit of missing magic has to do mostly with nomenclature, and it’s a shame that Cook appears to have outsmarted himself in that regard, because the iPhone 4S is a brilliant play otherwise…

The full scoop may never publicly surface, but the pieces of the story are easy enough to fill in based on logic and circumstance: Apple wanted to launch the iPhone 5 this past summer. by late spring it knew it had a problem, which is why it launched the white iPhone 5 to buy more time and set its iOS 5 software system on an extended development cycle which didn’t see it surface even in developer beta testing form until June. one theory says the iPhone 5 was too thin and was overheating thanks to the A5 dual core processor; that’s not verifiable but it fits within the pattern of events. Whatever it was that held the iPhone 5 up, Apple kept trying to buy itself time. Giving up on a summer release, they announced that iOS 5 would be available in the fall, a clear sign that the company thought it could have the iPhone 5 ready by that time. Except when it came down to it, the iPhone 5 just wasn’t ready. and the holiday shopping season, for all intents and purposes, is upon us. so Apple swallowed hard and did what it had to: it took all of the iPhone 5 components and features, or as many as could fit, and crammed them into the existing iPhone 4 shell. maybe the A5 processor works better in the iPhone 4 body because it’s thicker. perhaps the iPhone 5 was doomed by component issues. That’s less important than the fact that this was the move that had to be made, as the only alternative would have been to stick with the iPhone 4 through the holidays. The problem? they called it iPhone 4S…

Apple solved its true holiday sales problem by replacing the iPhone 4 (or rather, regaling it to the sub-$100 bargain bin) and launching a “new iPhone” which now buries the “But isn’t the next iPhone just around the corner?” talk and allows customers to buy an iPhone 4S feeling safe that it’ll still be the current model by the time they gift it on Christmas morning. In doing so, they’ve created another problem: today’s headlines read “iPhone 4S released instead of iPhone 5.” That means that while most consumers will go ahead and take the plunge on the iPhone 4S if they were already intent on buying an iPhone upon its next revamp, they won’t be as happy about it. They’ll be inclined to overlook the fact that the 4S beats the pants off the 4 in most measurable categories: speed, battery life, camera quality, on board memory, you name it.

Without Steve Jobs in the room during the final iPhone 4S deliberations (as now appears clear upon Apple’s announcement of his passing today) Tim Cook went and outsmarted himself. You have to wonder why others in the room like Phil Schiller who are marketing guys didn’t veto it. Apple’s longtime nuts and bolts guy Cook had the sense to get a new iPhone to market ahead of the holidays, be damned what it looked like or what it did or didn’t do. unfortunately for Apple, he didn’t have the guts to make the ridiculously arrogant move which Jobs probably would have: Steve would have called this new iPhone the “iPhone 5″ even though it physically looks exactly like the iPhone 4.

Why? because a whole lot more people would have bought it. a whole lot more people would be gearing up to use the new “Siri” voice assistant feature, which Apple is clearly proud of. also, Jobs would never have allowed an Apple product to go out the door with a name as asinine as Siri, even if that was the given name of the product at the time Apple acquired it. he would have called it “iAssist” or something more clever. and despite the tremendous amount of critical flack from inside the tech beltway he would have taken for doing so, Jobs would have referred to this new iPhone 4S instead as “the new iPhone 5″ because that’s what would have worked best. Instead Cook played it safe. He’s underselling this new iPhone because he knows it’s not really the iPhone 5. he knows it looks just like the last one. But then that’s what the new guy tends to do when he’s taking over for a legend. That strategy can work, except not when you play it so safe in the name of protecting what the last guy built that you’re not willing to take the kinds of chances he would have. Cook will get burned for this, in the form of lower sales than Apple is hoping. The iPhone 4S will sell far better over the next several months than the aging iPhone 4 would have, if no action had been taken today. But if the 4S numbers aren’t what Apple is hoping, nowhere near what they would have been if the real iPhone 5 had been ready, Cook and company might ultimately learn from studying Jobs’ body of work what you’d think they had already learned from all those years under him: the guy got away with all that arrogance of his because that arrogance – and a willingness to dust it off as professionally needed – was a big part of what made him brilliant. All Apple would have had to do was to slap the “iPhone 5″ name on the new-ish iPhone it introduced today, and the headlines and sentiment all read differently in tomorrow’s papers. But Cook is still new in the CEO role, and there’s plenty of time for him to remember what it was he learned from his mentor in the first place. one would hope. Here’s more on the iPhone 5 release date. Here’s more on the death of Steve Jobs.

Updated 10:00pm PST with information on the death of Steve Jobs

Tell your friends: