On Wednesday, Apple will announce its new iPhone models, the availability date of new hardware, and the date on which iOS 10 will be available to download. The content of the iPhone and Apple Watch announcements themselves have been the subject of continuous rumors for months, with even more specific rumors emerging over this past weekend. But it’s also worth speculating on the likely release dates of the hardware and software based on past patterns.
It’s worth noting these patterns only hold until they’re broken and last year, Apple broke a couple of them. So take all that follows with a pinch of salt – these are still just educated guesses, not guarantees of what will happen.
iPhone 7 Release Date
The challenge with predicting the release of the iPhone 7 is Apple broke its release pattern last year. For three straight years before, new iPhones were released on the second to last Friday in September. But last year, Apple moved the launch to the last Friday in the month. So it would be at least somewhat reasonable to imagine the iPhone would be released on the last Friday of the month again, except that would be the 30th, the last day of the month, pushing the opening weekend into October. Moreover, whereas Apple’s 2015 fiscal year ended on September 26th, this year it’ll end on the 24th, which would put all sales from the release into the following quarter. Apple has never done that with a September release (the lone iPhone release in the first fiscal quarter being the iPhone 4S, which debuted in October), so that seems very unlikely.
The other thing to consider here is time from announcement to launch, which again was very consistent from 2010 through 2015, at 9-10 days:
Apple broke this pattern last year, with a release 16 days after the announcement. And again, we’re left wondering whether it will now stick to that longer gap or go back to the more conventional 9-10 days. September 23rd would be 16 days after the event this week. I’ll bet that’s going to be the gap again this year. The only reason to suspect it would move forward to just 9 days after the announcement would be to try to get a full three-day weekend of sales in the current fiscal quarter. That introduces a little bit of uncertainty.
The other question around the hardware release date is when preorders will open. Here, Apple’s pattern has been very consistent, even last year, with preorders opening 2-3 days after the announcement and I would guess that will be the case again this year. That would put the start of the preorder process at 12:01am PT on September 10th.
iOS 10 Release Date
The best guess for the iOS 10 release date is September 21st. Why? Well, Apple has now fairly well established a pattern for iOS releases, with two key characteristics:
- For four out of the last five years, the new iOS release has been made available two days before the new devices are available (the one exception in that period was last year, when iOS 9 was released nine days earlier)
- For three out of the last four years, iOS releases have been made available to the public exactly 100 days after they were announced at WWDC, with the lone exception being iOS 8, which was made available 107 days after announcement
The charts below show these two patterns:
Again, that first chart shows last year’s exception, when iOS 9 was released over a week before the iPhone 6s was released to customers. The September 21st date would get us back to a two-day gap and would be consistent with the 100-day pattern Apple has largely stuck to for the last several years.
I’ve already mentioned these uncertainties briefly, but it’s worth recapping:
- With regard to the hardware release date, while I believe September 23rd is the most likely date, it could be September 16th. That would be the first time Apple has released an iPhone on the third to last Friday of the month, but it would also be the third Friday of the month (this is a five Friday month) and, in that sense, it would be consistent with the 2012-2015 pattern
- If the hardware release date is the 23rd, it’s possible we get another 9-day rather than a 2-day gap from iOS release to hardware release. I tend to think the software and hardware release dates will remain two days apart. In which case, a September 16th iPhone release date would suggest a September 14th software release date. But, on balance, I’ll go with the 21st and 23rd for software and hardware respectively.
Why does all this matter?
While this can be an interesting exercise and we’ll obviously know soon enough, why bother? Well, the timing of the hardware release in particular is critical for understanding in which quarter that first weekend of sales will land. As I mentioned earlier, with a financial quarter (and year) ending earlier than usual, there’s a possibility the bulk of sales fall into Apple’s fiscal first quarter instead. Its guidance from last quarter makes it hard to tell which way Apple is thinking about this – revenue guidance is down on last year’s actual revenue number, but up on the number from two years ago. The downward trend would certainly be consistent with recent ones from Apple. But the drop isn’t as significant as it has been, suggesting fairly decent sales overall and perhaps implying a good number of iPhone sales. But analysts’ estimates for Apple’s current quarter all have to be based on guesses like we’ve been making above about when exactly new iPhone hardware will land and, therefore, which quarter’s sales they’ll contribute to. Given that Apple could sell several billion dollars’ worth of iPhones in the first day alone, that’s a fairly significant bet to have to make.