Why Apple Might Delay the iPhone 5

Life is geting complicated for Apple. Android is making advances leaps and bounds. The iPhone market share is stagnant. Apple doesn’t want to annoy its new Verizon customers. iOS multi-tasking is awkward. HP’s TouchPad looms. Maybe it’s time for a breather.

The lure of Apple’s iPhone is strong. The ecosystem surrounding the iPhone, AirPlay, Home Sharing, iTunes, the App Store, and Apple’s sales an support, are robust. Apple could probably introduce an iPhone 5 with one or two major added features, and everyone would be happy. For example, a sturdier aluminum back, a better antenna system and an NFC system for instant purchases. Maybe better voice input.

The reality, however, is that Apple has to plan far in advance for the next release, and during that lead time, events come along at a rapid fire pace. As Apple gets closer to committing to production, it becomes worrisome whether the company has done enough to fight off the Android hordes. One of those timing issues relates to iOS, specifically iOS 5, and whether developers will be ready.

Right now it looks like iOS will be presented to developers at WWDC in June. Apple might be hard pressed to ship an iPhone 5 a few weeks later and have as many iOS 5 showcase apps shipping as it would like. The fact that no SDK for iOS 5 has shipped to developers is something to take into consideration.

There are some other tidbits I’ve seen. The Wall Street Journal has suggested that the disaster in Japan might contribute to parts shortages, and so that plays into all this as well.

Another wrinkle is all those new Verizon customers. Does Apple have a contract with Verizon to delay a new iPhone 5 until, say, October? So they don’t get upset about their new iPhone 4 becoming obsolete? Are there timing issues with the roll out of LTE and the availability of an LTE chipset? More importantly, can Apple obtain them in the guaranteed quantity required? What about Apple’s eternally imminent cloud service? Bringing a huge data center on line and integrating it with a new set of products, iPhone 5 and iPad 2 is always tough. These issues percolate through the aether.

One of the things we editors agree on at TMO is that Apple’s current multi-tasking system is awkward, especially after seeing the HP TouchPad demos. Having to press the home button twice, scroll through a large number of apps in the Dock, and select the right one — and the technique to delete it is a kludge. It really needs to be rethought, and no doubt Scott Forestal and his team have. That might have entailed some design changes in the iPhone 5 hardware this spring.

Apple could probably coast and cobble together what they needed for an iPhone 5 roll out in June. But it’s beginning to look like putting all the pieces together in a way that’s competitive and will delight its customers means that Apple may need a little more time. Of course, when I use the word “delay” in the title, that simply refers to the pattern established by Apple over the last four years. As Harry McCracken said, Apple has established a pattern — until it isn’t.

April is almost upon us, and getting a competitive iPhone 5 into boxes and ready for mid-June delivery is looking a tad iffy. I know that a lot of people who just bought their Verizon iPhone 4 won’t mind. And Apple engineers could stop sleeping in cots under their desks and get a few hours of shut-eye at home in their own beds.

Of course, this is all just speculation. But some interesting tea leaves are swirling around.