Apple's Going to take it on the Chin for 3-year iPhone Refresh Cycle

Get ready for the Apple doomsday predictions because a new report suggests the company is moving to a three-year cycle for major iPhone redesigns. Critics will say Apple has lost its ability to innovate, but the slowing pace of advancements and a decision to avoid adding new features just for the sake of artificially appearing innovative may be behind the rumored change.

Apple will face criticism for iPhone refreshes regardless of how far apart they areApple will face criticism for iPhone refreshes regardless of how far apart they are

Word that Apple is planning to push its two-year major refresh cycle out to three years comes via Nikkei. According to their report, the smartphone market is slowing down and big feature advancements aren't coming as quickly for mobile device makers.

That puts Apple in an interesting predicament: Keep up the two-year big refresh cycle and risk falling into Samsung's throw anything at it and see what sticks approach, or stretch out the big iPhone refreshes into a more manageable three-year cycle. The former would likely lead to odd "enhancements" and feature bloat, while the latter could leave consumers feeling like Apple is falling behind its smartphone competitors.

Apple is already facing criticism for the still rumored features of the next iPhone, due for release most likely in September. The new model will sport a better camera, faster processor, audio over the Lightning connector instead of a 3.5mm headphone jack, and a body design that's nearly identical to the iPhone 6s.

Without a fresh look, the argument goes, the new models won't convey a feeling of forward momentum for Apple. It's also a sign that Apple can't innovate any more—a complaint that's been tossed around since before Steve Jobs stepped down as CEO.

But does Apple need to give us a massive redesign every two years? The MacBook Pro has maintained effectively the same look for about four years while adding new features and faster processors, the iMac of today looks like the iMac from a couple years ago, and each iPad has looked nearly identical since 2011. The Apple TV transitioned from a small white box to a small black box after three years, and it took another five before it became a slightly taller black box.

Stretching out the major refreshes would bring the iPhone more in line with its other product cycles, assuming that's Apple's plan. Alternately, the company may have decided to stick with the iPhone 6 and 6s form factor for another year because a major redesign is planned for its tenth anniversary in 2017.

It's important to remember this three-year cycle report is coming from a single source, and that isn't the same thing as actual confirmation. We're living in a time where people blindly accept whatever they see on the internet as truth, and while it's plausible Apple is slowing down the iPhone's major upgrade cycle, it isn't confirmed.

What we do know is that iPhone rumors are focusing more on the 2017 refresh instead of this fall's update. Considering Apple's track record with keeping secrets, that's pretty telling and most likely means we really aren't getting a big iPhone refresh this year.

That doesn't necessarily mean Apple is failing to innovate or has lost its mojo. It does, however, mean Apple is going to face a lot of criticism from the media and analysts whether it's warranted or not.