Retrospective: Apple product prediction

Well over a year ago, I wrote an article on the regulated rigidness that is Apple’s product release cycle. I mapped out the next two years of Apple’s product launches down to the month, and it has been the most viewed post on my blog for the entirety of last year, even eclipsing Smashing Mag calling my bookshelf “rough”. nearly 40% of all page views were for that and over 80% of searches led to that page

So, looking back on what I wrote, was I right? Does it even matter?

Was I right?

Yes, most. Of the time. I predicted the iPhone, iPad, new iPods and 10.7 announcements very well. The iPhone 4 sdk announcement was spot on, but the ipad launch date was a bit off, as was the iPad 2 and iPhone 5 as well. I didn’t see OS X 10.7 Lion coming so soon after it’s announcement, given how long 10.6 took to release.

It seems that Apple have switched to an 18 month release cycle with it’s more mature products like the iPhone. The iPad is still new so innovation and new features are simple, the iPhone is more difficult as there’s very few extra sensors that they could add, so software and CPU/GPU components as well as the design of the device itself are the updates to be made. Significant changes like that take longer, so the 18 month cycle seems more reasonable.

What I got wrong or missed completely was more telling: I didn’t get the iMac refresh or te MacBook pro or air updates. I also got iWork 2011 out by 6 months. Not brilliant form, but let me explain why they’re out: Apple don’t control them, Intel do.

Intel’s processors are the main reason to get a new MacBook, they’re certainly the biggest update in every generation. The recent addition of Thunderbolt ports and a bit more RAM isn’t really a good reason to upgrade. Major design changes I.e. the unibody MacBook pro change or the nee design MacBook Air are harder to predict, but Intel makes it’s roadmaps very clear. They go in an annual tick-tock pattern, new architecture on the tick then tweaks and enhancements to that architecture on the tock. Then it continues (like clockwork) with a new micro-architecture every 2 years. This means you get an updated MacBook every year, at almost the same time of year. The only time it misses is if Intel miss a deadline, and they’ve not done that for years.

So, what’s the future? Pretty much the same as when I last wrote. Expect updates, regularly. As products mature, expect their release cycles to extend. New products get 12 months updates, then after a few years get 18 months updates until they are eventually discontinued. MacBook updates will continue to be in line with Intel processor updates.

And that is how Apple’s release cycle works. Any questions, Tweet me or write a comment below.

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Steve Workman

Steve Workman is the Head of Web Engineering at Yell. He is also an organiser for London Web Standards is an occasional public speaker, talking about web performance and web standards

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