Is the age of Apple over? iPhone speculation and delays

Apple’s 2020 iPhone launch plans seem to have been undermined by coronavirus, with both its anticipated smartphone launches delayed, possibly for months.

Hey Siri, what on earth is happening?

If everything had gone according to plan (it didn’t), Apple was expected to introduce an iPhone 9 in March and the first 5G-enabled iPhone 12 in September.

However, as the human, economic and societal damage wrought by COV-19 reverberates across a planet on which the leading nations can’t even agree on what to call the disease, Apple may delay both launches. Nativism is clearly making the world more fragile to global challenge.

Apple hasn’t fully committed to delay. A report on Nikkei says it is “considering” the option.

What’s driving the question is executive concern at multiple challenges: logistics, component supply, market weakness, consumer confidence.

In the background, we’ve heard the company is intensifying its work to manufacture components in multiple countries, breaking its reliance on China. Yet India, where some manufacturing was expected to begin in earnest this year, has also gone into lockdown as central government attempts to mitigate the human and economic cost of the virus on its people. This has halted production there, creating yet more challenges for the company’s Operations team.

Social isolation means consumer electronics sales are in free fall as the world’s stressed out shoppers stay home.

Not only aren’t most shops open (including all Apple’s own retail stores outside China) but given hundreds of millions of people have had to make income sacrifices, new smartphones aren’t particularly high on the ‘must buy’ list when people are more concerned about mortgage/rent payments, health and food.

Coronavirus has fractured the social and political landscape, probably forever. We’re seeing a shift in consciousness, and it hurts.

So, is the age of Apple over?

To answer that question, we have to see what emerges from the disaster.

We may end up with a planet on which people have a deeper understanding of the global interrelationships between everyone who lives here, or we may find ourselves stranded on isolated islands defined by arbitrary national borders.

The truth is we’ll probably have a bit of both, with some nations resolutely locking the gates and hiding behind nationalist doors. Though doors offer no protection against flood, famine or disease.

In this patchwork of philosophies, Apple will need to dance delicately. It is, after all, a global company based on a multi-national supply chain.

It is, however, also an American-first company: Its headquarters are in the U.S.; it supports tens of thousands of U.S. jobs – and the company nearly always introduces new products and services to the U.S. first.

This means that however global the company’s supply chain, the majority of the benefits of that chain go to the company’s home country.

At the same time, Apple is also a global company that works to provide some support in all the nations it does business in.

That’s a perfectly reasonable position for any enterprise to take – indeed, enterprises that lack such values tend to have a tougher time attracting and keeping talented staff. In what feels an increasingly nihilistic age, people seek out employers who evidence values they agree with.

However, within this context the human and economic scars of the pandemic will take time to heal, and we don’t yet know what consensus reality will be shaped like yet.

Why would we?

Most of us are still in shock.

Apple’s challenge will be in defining its business around the primary values of the post-pandemic society, and we have not arrived there yet.

What I think will happen

I think Apple may delay introduction of iPhone 9, but I’d urge it not to delay that launch too long.

People will still need mobile devices, and introduction of a lower cost iPhone may not achieve the sales volume the company originally anticipated but will send a message that the company understands the needs of consumers in a contracted economy.

It’s more complex with iPhone 12.

The big pull of that device (other than the huge changes in its design) will be 5G networks and services.

However, 5G infrastructure deployment will inevitably slow as carriers instead invest in beefing-up existing services to accommodate growing work from home demand.

That’s point one, point two is how interested mass market users will or won’t be in high bandwidth services that demand they invest in additional monthly fees.

I believe demand and deployment of the technology will be muted in comparison to where we expected it to be by the end of the year.

Humans have got bigger things on their mind at present than fast mobile broadband. Everyone is at home, for a start. In other words, 5G is going to be a hard sell.

Meaning and relevance

In the end it’s all about relevance.

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs understood relevance.

The iMac – a uniquely designed computer with internet access inside – was the epitome of relevance in consumer electronics. The iBook introduced the world to real mobility. The iPod and iTunes captured the zeitgeist and iPhone changed the world.

The problem when it comes to future iPhone launches is that at this point in history what the world is becoming is harder to see than before.

All we do know is that the future has become more uncertain and no one really knows what values and philosophies will define tomorrow.

These challenges make it incredibly difficult to design relevance into the heart of any product, let alone the world’s most sophisticated device.

But we do know that humans have a tendency after disaster to attempt to create meaning. In the UK, that’s why we ended up with the National Health Service following the dark terror of the Second World War.

Apple as a follower strives to do the right thing. That’s commendable. Doing the right thing (if there is a right thing) is the right thing to do, by definition. But, as a leader, Apple must dig deeply into its corporate DNA to figure out not what the world needs today, nor what it needs for its business, but what we’ll all need tomorrow.

Delivering this is where its success always lies.

Leadership has consequences. 

Good luck.

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Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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