Momentum

In January 2007 Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone. Summer 2007 he announced its release date and "sweet" web apps to go with it. In Fall 2007 he introduced the iPod touch and iTunes Store app. Spring 2008 brought iOS 2 (then iPhone OS 2.0) and the App Store. Summer 2008 saw iPhone 3G and MobileMe. Fall 2008 was iPod touch 2. Spring 2009 was iOS 3. Summer 2009 was iPhone 3GS. Fall 2009 was iPod touch 3. January 2010, iPad. Spring 2010, iOS 4. Summer 2010, iPhone 4. Fall 2010, iPod touch 4 and Apple TV 2. Spring 2011, iPad and...

Nothing. Maybe.

Momentum is a fickle thing. You can gain and lose it in the blink of an eye. For four years iOS software and hardware have been setting the pace for mobile. From a single app-less iPhone in 2007, iOS has grown to encompass iPhone, iPod touch, iPad and Apple TV and a host of supporting software and services. The original iPhone was a true revolution, obsoleting then market-leaders Palm, Microsoft, RIM, and Symbian. They never saw it coming, denied it was happening, and then failed for years to frame anything close to a coherent response. And while they were spinning, Apple hit them again with the App Store. And again with the iPad.

Windows Phone has rebooted but is still in early days and has struggled to provide timely updates. Even with HP's deep pockets and huge reach Palm has been slow to get new devices out the door. BlackBerry is counting on a tablet to bridge the gap between their phones of the past and superphones of the future. And Nokia is in the middle of a shotgun wedding with Microsoft. With the Verizon iPhone in the US and white iPhone 4 slated for spring, Apple could easily skate another 3 months in that competitive landscape.

But not in a competitive landscape that includes Android.

Originally shown off as a BlackBerry or Windows Mobile Standard competitor, Android rapidly changed focus post-iPhone and came straight at Apple. While the G1 was clearly unfinished they began to hit their stride with Droid. Half way through iPhone 3GS' product cycle, Nexus One actually took the lead in some areas. An inspirational device, it was way ahead of previous Android phones and showed where the platform was going for the next year. iPhone 4 was Apple's answer.

According to rumors, however, Apple may not preview iOS 5 this spring and may not introduce an iPhone 5 this summer. If these rumors turn out to be true, Apple will be facing 15+ months without a new phone or major OS update, and 3+ months of relative stillness in the incredibly fast moving market.

Meanwhile, Google's "openy" Android will just keep coming. While Nexus S turned out to be more summation of the past year than indicator of the next, spring has sprung seemingly a dozen more with dual core, LTE, and 3D. Whether any of these new Android features are particularly compelling or not, they're still new features, new phones. They're still news.

Come June AT&T and other carrier contracts will be up and for the first time in 4 years there won't be a new iPhone to drive renewal. For the first time people who just want a new iPhone, the way they've been accustomed to getting each year's new fashion, won't have one waiting for them. Existing owners accustomed to a software refresh, a breath of fresh air into their older devices, won't be getting a major new version of iOS. Developers won't have had several months with new APIs and won't have a slew of new apps ready to take advantage of them.

Whether or not finishing Mac OS X Lion has caused a delay in iOS 5 the way iOS has caused delays for Mac OS X in the past, whether or not a delay in IOS 5 has caused a delay in iPhone 5, whether or not there are issues with components or engineering, or absolutely nothing but Apple's will to schedule it so, for the first time since 2007 we're facing... a break in Apple's pace.

Momentum is a fickle thing. Come June there may be no lineups, no race to iTunes' update button.

What then?

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Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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