iPhone 12 delayed — but what does that really mean?

2019 iPhone event
2019 iPhone event (Image credit: iMore)

"Last year we started selling new iPhones in late September. This year, we project supply to be available a few weeks later."

Wait, what?

The statement

Not to get all Gandalf about it, but is an Apple product ever early or ever really late? Or does it only arrive precisely when Apple ships it?

Opinions honestly vary. Some people feel passionately that unless and until a company announces a product and shipping date, that product can't be delayed.

Which is why Apple almost never pre-announces anything. They vastly prefer to show up and ship. And on the rare occasions when they have, like with AirPods and HomePods, they've been burned by legit delays. And, well, with AirPower, just straight up immolated.

Other people, though, feel that if internal schedules are missed, even if the products have never been so much as mentioned externally, those products still count as delayed.

The iPhone's had its share of both over the years. But let me know which side of that argument you fall on in the comments.

Regardless, this time Apple's chief financial officer, Luca Maestri, came straight out said it. It was on Apple's quarterly financial results call, and it was in order to help set expectations for the next quarter, a quarter for which Apple is not providing any of the usual guidance, because 2020 is ridiculous, but he said what he said.

"Last year we started selling new iPhones in late September. This year, we project supply to be available a few weeks later. "

The reaction

iPhone event

iPhone event (Image credit: Apple)

As soon as Maestri said those words, said the new iPhone would be coming a few weeks later, the socials, the comments, the commentarians, they all exploded. Headlines everywhere.

iPhone 12 delayed! Google News alerts on those keywords broke the internet harder than Kim Kardashians behind.

And this time market movers didn't even get to plant their usual false rumors with their favorite big media enablers to cover their positions. It came straight from Apple. Imagine the chagrin.

And the shock. All the shook.

Even though, the instant Apple went into lock down earlier in the spring and has been on work-from-home ever since, everyone and their astromech new it would cause all shades of product delays, we just had to treat this as shocking news… and I-told-you-sos… contortionisticaly at the same time.

Bonus points, though, to the people who immediately asked what that meant of Apple Watch and iOS 14 — two things Apple didn't feel the need to address at the same time.

Well, more on that in a hot take minute.

The precedents

Now, the iPhone hasn't always been announced in September and, even when it has, it hasn't always shipped in September.

The first iPhone was announced in January, because Steve Jobs would be damned if he'd let something like FCC filings announce it before he could. And it shipped 6-months later in June.

The next few iPhones, from the iPhone 3G to the iPhone 4, were announced during Apple's annual developer conference, WWDC, in June and shipped shortly thereafter. Except for the white iPhone 4, which had issues with the color messing with the sensors, and ended up shipping almost 6 months later. You want talk about your Jobs-era delays, there you go.

Then, issues with Siri pushed back both the announcement and release of the iPhone 4s… all the way to October. Months later than was originally hoped.

Now, prior to that, the iPod had been Apple's big holiday moneymaker and so it'd been the star of Apple's big September show.

The iPod was losing steam, though, and the iPhone.. well, the iPhone was becoming pure fire.

So, from version 5 on, the iPhone got the fall spotlight. And, since then, up until the current iPhone 11, you could count on Apple hosting an event and announcing a new iPhone or couple or few on or around the second Tuesday of every September. It was pretty much the safest bet in tech.

Announce being the key word there, because shipping still varied.

In 2017, the iPhone X was announced on September 12th but only shipped on November 3rd.

In 2018, the iPhone XR was also announced on September 12th but shipped on October 28.

So, all this to say, an iPhone shipping later than September isn't entirely without precedent. It's not even usual.

But all the iPhones… and maybe the Apple Watch, even iOS?

Yeah, we need to talk.

The reality

Phil Schiller iPhone 11 keynote

Phil Schiller iPhone 11 keynote (Image credit: Apple)

I made a joke a few months ago that 2020 was the worst DC Extended Universe movie ever. But it's just gotten worse and worse since then. Like, Snyder-cut us all already. For real.

And it meant, initially, Apple's product teams and manufacturing teams just couldn't get together to test and finalize everything the way they usually do.

And now it means Apple's comms and events teams can't hold a big September announcement the way they usually do.

Sure, in years passed, Apple had to reserve a venue like Yerba Buena or Bill Graham, . Since the Steve Jobs Theater opened, they haven't had to worry about external scheduling, but they do still have to manage internal timelines.

Even if the iPhone X or iPhone XR were going to ship later, they still got announced in September. And not just because the iPhone 8 or iPhone XS would ship on time, though yes that and yes they would, but because it's just so much more efficient for everyone to do it that way.

You just get all the media and analysts from around the world, all at the same time, in the same place, along with all of Apple's comms teams, executives — just everyone. So, for everything from the hands-on area to setting up for the reviews to doing interviews to handling questions, it's all just way easier and more convenient. For everyone.

This year, though, not so much…

The Event

I'll give you my guesstimated schedule in a sec, but just to set the stage… literally…

In a normal year, Apple holds an in-person event at Steve Jobs Theater on or around the second Tuesday in September. Hands-on happens the same day. All the first-impressions articles, podcasts, and videos go live as fast as possible.

Pre-orders happen that Friday and the first round of reviews hit the following Tuesday or thereabouts. The new version of iOS goes live on Wednesday or Thursday. Then pre-orders and in-store all arrive that Friday. It's like a 10 day cycle from new iPhone announcement to new iPhones in the hand for… pretty much everyone.

And the Apple Watch is right along side it for the ride.

In a normal year. Which 2020 is decidedly… not. Like, 'dog sipping coffee while everything is burning dot IF' not. And yes, the G in GIF/JIF is silent.

So, if there won't be an in-person event, and the new iPhone — almost certainly new iPhones plural — won't be coming until a few weeks later, what does that mean?

Well, Apple could still do a virtual event in September. They showed with WWDC that they're not just way ahead of every other tech company when it comes to producing those, they're through the warp gate and in another system ahead.

But I'm not sure there'd be a point to announcing in September if they're not shipping until a few weeks later, which would be October.

And Apple doesn't do pre-briefings like Android vendors, where they have everyone in before the event to shoot hands-on so they can release them the exact same time as the event so absolutely no one knows whether they should be watching the event or the MKBHD or Supersaf or iJustine videos, which you just know will be 20 Ultra times more coherent. And please stop doing that. Just schedule them for right after the event. Right after. Cool?

Anyway, my guess is there'll be another virtual event in late September or early October, with the iPhone 12, Apple Watch 6, maybe AirTags and AirPod Studio, and a few others things, plus whatever new, hardware-specific features go with those things.

Release a new Apple Watch before the new iPhone that goes with it is tough to see, even if you want to think for a hot minute that the new Apple Watch isn't seeing the same kind of production friction the iPhone is.

iOS is a bit of a more open questions. I can see Apple holding it for the event so they can show off those last few features, then drop the gold master and release right before the new iPhone ships. Same playbook, just a later date.

But… but.. Apple could also put it into general release in September as they normally would, then include the new, hardware specific features in the 14.1 in October, you know, alongside the new emoji that's the only thing 95% of the universe is really waiting on.

That might even be the best strategy. Just distract everyone stewing over the lack of an iPhone event with the big new operating system launch.

With recent randomly accurate rumors suggesting the regular iPhones may even come later than the Pro models, that'd certainly be a terrific way to spread everything out across the fall.

And I'm totally not just saying that as someone who vastly prefers covering a few products at a time rather than everything all at once.

Totally not, I swear.

So, in my perfect spherical world in a box, that'd be iOS the third week in September, event the last week or first week of October, iPhones the second week, maybe some more towards the end or, like iPhone X, first week of November.

What's your guess?

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.