Apple Watch

Understanding Apple’s Hardware Refresh Cycles

Over the last few weeks, there have been a lot of rumors about new features that could be in the next version of the Apple Watch. Some have even suggested a new watch could hit the market later this year. Nope, not going to happen. Is Apple working on version 2.0 of the Apple Watch? Yes, but as far as bringing it to market any time soon, that is a pipe dream.

Why am I so sure of this? As one who has studied Apple since 1981, I have looked closely at the way Apple refreshes products and know the rules they use. But there is other reasons I am certain a new Apple Watch is not coming out this year.

When the original iPod came out, Steve Jobs drove the team hard to add features and upgrade this product quickly. At first, Apple was bringing out a new version every six to nine months. You would think the overall market would love the idea Apple was rapidly making the iPod better. But there was one problem — people who had just bought an iPod were upset when, not long after they bought theirs, Apple upgraded it.

Well, Apple got a lot of complaints and Steve Jobs personally got an earful from some customers. That is when Jobs and Apple moved towards a more consistent and fair device upgrade policy that, in most cases, run at least on a 12-month cycle.

The second reason I am so sure is that I once asked Steve Jobs about device refresh cycles. He reiterated to me he had major complaints from customers when he brought out new models too fast and invoked buyers remorse in many of them. That is why, today, you will only see the iPod, iPhone and iPad refreshed, on average, on a yearly basis.

But when it comes to the refresh of new iMacs and MacBooks, the strategy is a bit different.

One of the key factors in updating this type of hardware is Intel. With the iPods, iPhones and iPads, Apple controls the CPU designs and can time upgrades accordingly. But with Intel, they do not release a significant upgrade to their desktop and laptop chips until they are ready and make them available to all customers. There is no policy inside Intel that says they will do a major upgrade to a CPU every 12 months. Instead, they work feverishly and get them to market when they are tested, set for mass production, and ready for the market. If there was a rule of thumb about this it would be around 18-month cycles but it is contingent on being ready. They don’t rush a new CPU to market.

Apple may make tweaks to a laptop and desktop from time to time but in most cases its upgrade cycle is determined by Intel, especially when Intel releases their new chips on their own time tables.

Although Apple is unpredictable in some areas, the rollout of hardware refreshes, especially iPods, iPhones and iPads, is mostly like clockwork. Each year you can expect to see new versions in the fall and, since the Apple Watch came out in April, it is most likely the next version of an Apple Watch will debut in late April or early May, 2016. You can count on it.

Published by

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

8 thoughts on “Understanding Apple’s Hardware Refresh Cycles”

    1. And that deviation was part of their plan to move all their product launches to the end of the year.

      1. Which of course raises the question: Will Apple keep the Watch as an April release or move to Sep/Oct. And if they decide to move, does Apple do it with Watch 2 next year, or with a Watch x in a subsequent year. There are benefits and drawbacks to each path.

  1. And even then, I’m not sure the Watch gets a camera, as much talked about. It’s really not clear to me that a camera is very practical because of the position of a watch except for very brief connection.

    1. May be I am too old fashioned, but I think Apple watch should be what it is called – a time piece. And much thinner than it is now.

  2. I’m wondering why consumer tech as a whole is not moving more decidedly to a car-like schedule: yearly releases, towards the end of the year, with model-years dialed a bit ahead so you can get 2016’s gadget for xmas 2015. Actually, many are still mired in completely opaque product naming.

  3. Good point on Apple being behind in Intel releases. I think they are not tied to the latest technology in their products as much as PC manufacturers. Newer hardware does not necessarily mean better product. I think what they do is to come up with MVP (minimum viable product) every year and some extras. You can expect a clockwork delivery if the innovation is built in the manufacturing process. They just iterate very fast.

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