Doubtless you’ve heard that iOS 6 beta is all but a lock for the WWDC this year, as reported by a bit of iCloud code recently unearthed by some folks over a 9to5Mac. For as much as the finding is pretty cool, I don’t think that this news should come as a surprise to anyone: Apple has kept the release of new iOS versions pretty consistent. Even last year, when the iPhone release cycle got a bit topsy-turvy, they still at least got the beta version of iOS 5 out for developers to test, all in anticipation for the fall-release iPhone 4S.
In previous years, developers got their hands on beta versions of the new iOS with ample time to test and peruse it so that the alpha version was ready for the WWDC. Thus, the new iPhone was able to ship with the new operating system. There has obviously been no public release of iOS 6 beta prior to the WWDC this year — no one has really seen it, apparently, since it most likely would have leaked — so, this means that the only way the iPhone 5 is coming in June is if ships in late June-early July with iOS 5.1, or maybe a 5.2 build.
The big question is: is that plausible? However you answer it determines whether a June-released iPhone 5 is possible or impossible.
The conventional answer to this question is “no,” because the iPhone has traditionally featured the new iOS. you can say that, in years past, iOS’s flagship device has been the iPhone, and because Apple is perpetually seeking to upgrade its mobile computing experience through software as much as hardware, a new iOS and hardware (aka a new iPhone) always go hand in hand. If this is how you’re thinking, then there is no way that you can believe we’ll see the iPhone 5 announced at the WWDC. Sure, Tim Cook could reveal it at the event — but is he going to make Appledom wait 2 or 3 months before it would become available, along with iOS 6? I doubt it.
This line of thinking — that iOS 6 and the iPhone must launch together — is the conventional answer. But Apple is anything but conventional; they broke with convention last year by announcing the 4S in the fall. In a sense, if they announce the 5 in June, they will be returning to the old pattern. But if they launch the iPhone 5 with iOS 5.1 — or maybe a newer build — that would be a new approach entirely.
It could happen. It is at least possible.
It’s possible because, if the iPhone 5 is going to be a major hardware upgrade, then hardware will be the big promotional focus. Cook will be showing off its big screen, its flashy form factor, its NFC component, something new with the camera, airbag — whatever Cupertino has in store for the next iPhone. Sure, last year’s 4S launch was mainly software-focused — but that was because the 4S is essentially the iPhone 4. They had to focus on the software side of things because that’s where the major changes took place.
An iPhone 5 launch with iOS 5.1 is also possible because it isn’t beyond the pale for Apple to release a new device without a brand-new iOS. They just did it with the iPad 3. What they did to increase the interest on the software side of the iPad 3 was to introduce iOS 5.1 along with it, which actually featured quite a few interesting upgrades that jived with the New iPad’s Retina display rather nicely.
Why couldn’t Apple deliver iOS 5.1.1, or 5.2 along with the iPhone 5 in June, and have it lay some beta groundwork for what’s to come in iOS 6? Siri, after all, is still considered to be in “beta,” and yet Apple made it the centerpiece of their marketing push for the 4S. There’s no reason why beta software features — such as the software side of NFC — cannot debut on iOS 5.1.1 or 5.2 as a precursor to launching iOS 6 a few months after.
Sure — it seems like a rather unconventional way for Apple to go about its business of releasing new products. But isn’t unconventional their mantra?
By Michael Nace