Tick-Tock with a Twist

After thinking about the iPhone 5c/5s release a bit, I have to admit, it’s a smart move by Apple.

In previous years Apple released a new high-end model and moved all others down the line and discarded the oldest one. They evole in a tick-tock pattern by releasing a brand new design one year, and perfecting it the next year with an extra feature.

Regular releases

  • The iPhone 3G with a plastic casing
  • The iPhone 4 with the sandwich design
  • The iPhone 5 with a unibody design


  • The iPhone 5s with Touch ID
  • The iPhone 4s with Siri
  • The iPhone 3Gs with video recording and a compass.

But each year Apple has the same two problems: Last year’s phone, although pretty decent spec-wise, becomes old and boring. The new model is constrained in availability the first few months.

Since basically everyone buys the new model, they also have to watch their margins and price-point and can’t massively chance things up since it’s their primary iPhone.

So basically they created a system where the phone nobody really wants is readily available, with good margins and a production process that has great yields and few issues. And the phone that everybody wants isn’t readily available, has lower margins and possible comes with production issues like yellow screens..

When looking at this years release, you’ll find that they solved this issue with the iPhone 5c. They released a hot new product at a lower price point than you could traditionally buy a new model. And they released another model, with better specs at a higher priced. Do you hear anyone complaining this years iPhone is just like last years model but faster? No. Are people interested in the iPhone 5c? Yes.

By releasing the iPhone 5c, they made their primary iPhone an iPhone that has great margins, is readily available with a production process that is fine-tuned. Their other release, the iPhone 5s, follows the same concept as before, pushing the boundaries of technology. But since Apple hopes the majority of people will buy an iPhone 5c, they give their top-end model some space and lower the pressure that comes with releasing a new iPhone.

Next year, they’ll fall back to their regular schedule. They’ll improve the iPhone 5c with a better camera, faster processor and fingerprint sensor, and they’ll redesign the iPhone 5s with a new design and comparable features. The same tick-tock schedule, but without the pressure. Because the iPhone most people are going to buy, was designed one year earlier.

When looking at the Mac, you see the exact same idea. Unibody was tested on the (then) expensive MacBook Air before being used in their regular MacBook line. Retina Displays are tested in the high end MacBook Pro and will become available in the regular MacBook Air line when price/availability is better. It’s exactly the same idea. Test new tech in a model relatively few people will buy.

Apple gave themselves some much needed breathing space.