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Apple’s three-year iPhone upgrade cycle: what it means for you

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Rumbles of changes at Apple could mean major upgrades could be even further apart. But that's just the start...
iphone generations

Apple looks set to ditch its long established approach to updating the iPhone range.

Right now Apple comes to market with wholly redesigned phones every other year. For the year in between, improvements with the iPhone are restricted to internal upgrades.

That's all about to change though, with reports from Japan suggesting the tech giant is moving to a new, three–yearly upgrade cycle.

The so–called ‘tick tock’ cycle has been used since 2009. But with iPhone sales flatlining, Apple is apparently set to revolutionise its approach.

So what does that mean for those looking to buy a new iPhone? And how could it change the mobile industry? Read on and we’ll give you the inside line.

Same design for longer

iphone 3gs

Apple offering new features in a tried and trusted design is nothing new. It’s been doing it ever since the iPhone 3GS in 2009.

In practical terms, this new approach means that the phone-maker will likely offer the same design across three iterations rather than two.

So this year’s iPhone 7 will look very similar to last year’s iPhone 6s, which is essentially the same as 2014’s iPhone 6.

Hardware taking a backseat

iOS 10 concept

The simple fact is that smartphone updates have been incremental in recent years.

A slightly tweaked camera here. A brighter screen there. Devices like Samsung’s Galaxy S7 Edge and LG's G5 modular phone are the exception that proves the rule.

Apple’s move means that it sees the future of its smartphone range as being software-based. That’s no surprise.

Apps remain one of its biggest revenue sources, while its device business is finally reaching saturation point.

By making iPhones that are future proof (well, for three years at least), Apple can give customers the same experience via its own native apps, while arming developers with the tools to create software which makes old phones feel like new.

More headline-grabbing features

Apple has struggled in recent years to wow consumers with its iPhone updates.

The larger screens of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus helped it to record sales, but 3D Touch and other such features don’t scream innovation and excitement to the average person on the street.

By going for a longer update cycle, it can make it clear that it’s spending longer working on cooler kit.

If rumours are right, this is what it’s already doing with with 2017’s iPhone, which is set to come with an OLED display, much better camera and all–new glass design.

Longer contracts

Guides - Contracts

Could Apple’s decision presage a shift in the entire mobile industry?

Consumers don’t like being locked down, but if they know their new iPhone isn’t going to be superseded for three years, why don’t networks spread the cost over that period of time instead of two years?

It goes against the booming SIM–only and rolling contract market. But for regular consumers, it could be a boon, keeping costs down and allaying fears that their kit is about to become obsolete.

Changing how rivals update their phones

Samsung Galaxy S7 vs iPhone 6S head to head hero

This could go one of two ways. Either Samsung et al follow Apple’s lead and start producing fewer major updates on a longer cycle.

Or they go all out and start offering massive overhauls every 12 months.

With the smartphone industry saturated, the former seems like a much more likely scenario.

Either way, this decision will have big implications for how we buy smartphones and how manufacturers make them.

Category: Features
Tagged: iphone, apple

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