Is Apple’s three-year iPhone design cycle too long?

Some people, especially on social media channels, are saying that Apple’s three-year iPhone design cycle too long. They long for the days of a new iPhone design every year. If you take an iPhone X, released in late 2017 and compare it to a current generation iPhone 11, it’s tough to tell the difference.

iPhone design cycle - iPhone X (left) and iPhone 11
iPhone X (left) and iPhone 11
Zach Epstein for BGR:

Beginning with the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, Apple moved from a two-year iPhone design cycle to a three-year cycle. That means instead of releasing new iPhone models with a fresh design every other year, Apple began to use the same smartphone designs for three consecutive years. And if there’s one broad complaint Apple fans have about the iPhone, that’s it: The iPhone has become a bit more “boring” because Apple releases phones that look almost identical three years in a row.

This is a complaint we get all the time from readers, and we see similar things on social media pretty often… Apple’s new iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro, and iPhone 12 Pro Max are already starting to dominate the conversation right now because leaks are starting to pick up. One of the big draws for these next-generation iPhones will be a refreshed design, which top Apple insider Ming-Chi Kuo says will be a modernization of the iPhone 5 design everyone loved with flat metal edges. But before you say that the iPhone 12’s design refresh is “long overdue,” take a look at Apple’s first-quarter earnings.

MacDailyNews Take: iPhones are meant to be a sheet of glass; to disappear for the users. We’re so close now that besides shrinking and eliminating the notch, the only things left to do are arrange/rearrange cameras, switch up edges, remove one more port, and decide on finishes.

BMW operates on a 7-year design cycle and it seems to work just fine for them. Good design holds up over time.

When foldable displays are really ready for prime time, that will be when we see something truly new in iPhone design.

11 Comments

  1. Apple should never ever make a foldable phone. its just a disaster waiting to happen. I could really careless if the notch ever disappeared.. Doesn’t impact my use of the iPhone in the slightest.. If it does go away, nice, but its never been a show stopper, not even remotely close

    1. I would not arbitrarily rule out Apple exploring any particular type of concept. Perhaps Apple will be the one to make it work… But I have never been convinced that a foldable concept is the best approach. Instead, I like the idea of a deployable display.

      Apple is studying all kinds of concepts. As long as Apple management and product leads maintain the Steve Jobs philosophy of saying “no” to a lot of good ideas in order to focus on the very best, then everything will be…insanely great!

    2. I agree. A foldable phone does not quite do it for me. It will be difficult to convince me that the fold will not be negatively impacted by use since it will be folded and unfolded dozens of times per day for 2-3 years. I’d much prefer an upgraded, modernized version of the wide screen variant of the EFC Global. (EFC Globals had two formats: a narrow format that was virtually a 1:1 aspect ratio and a widescreen format that was more like a 3:2 format.)

      The upgraded/mondernized EFC Global: Think of a phone that when in your pocket is the size of a large fountain pen. Cameras would be integral to this vertical core. When a call or text or email comes in a single line of information is shown along the core’s spine giving you the information you need to decide to answer or not. Upon opening a screen rolls out that gives you a minimum of a 4″ x 6″ multi touch enabled screen. If it had the ability to do a minimum of 16 hours of group videochat between charges it would be even better.

    3. Yeah, but if Apple doesn’t make a foldable iPhone soon, we’ll never hear the end of how Apple’s lack of innovation is going to ruin the company. Some people are really stupid. No one needs a device that’s going to fail in some way in a couple of months.

      I say no to any current fold-able smartphone with a plastic screen. That’s just ridiculous and a disaster waiting to happen. The concept is OK, but the reality sucks. Keep it as a phone and stop trying to make it into a tablet-sized device. The more it’s used, the faster the battery is going to drain. Tech-heads need to look at the whole picture instead of just playing around with some novel-looking device.

      A fold-able phone is similar to a Netbook. It doesn’t do anything particularly well but unlike the Netbook it’s as costly as hell. People Ooh-ing and Aah-ing for ten minutes doesn’t mean spit when I need a reliable device.

  2. Aesthetics are more important for some things than others. For instance, aesthetics is the main point of most artwork. For some applications, people like a balance – furniture, for instance. You want comfortable and durable furniture that also looks at least decent.

    But utility almost always comes first with me. Changing something just to make it look different is risky because you may degrade its utility. In addition, sometimes the new look is worse, not better. Consider some of the ugly cars and trucks that have been marketed in recent years – most people would have preferred that they had just kept the old designs.

    There is also an economic reason to stretch the refresh cycle – to avoid retooling and reworking processes and supply chains for materials, etc.

    My opinion is that if a product works very well, be very cautious about changing it.

  3. No. Three years is perfect. That’s how long I think consumers should keep their smartphones as long as they don’t damage them. They should take good care of such fine devices. I never understand the way tech-heads are always complaining about cosmetic improvements not coming fast enough. If it’s good when you buy the device, it should stay good for a few years. As a commenter said, constant retooling is a waste if the device is well-liked and is comfortable, especially when talking about squared or rounded edges. Changing for the sake of change is stupid and wasteful. You think I want Apple to build a folding smartphone because a few companies have them? No freaking way. I think Microsoft’s Duo is nice and better than a Galaxy Fold, but I don’t desire either of them. They’re just more complicated than I need them to be.

    I always look back at the older 1980 through 1990 Porsches and how they basically kept the same shape for a decade or so. They looked terrific, so why should they have changed them. I think consumers liked the design and weren’t constantly asking Porsche to change the shape. Just because other companies make changes, why tinker with cosmetic changes every year if the product is already satisfactory. Just updating the innards is good enough.

    To me, there’s nothing wrong the thick bezels of the iMac. Just give it more power, better cooling, and user replaceable NVMe and RAM slots. The bezels mean nothing to me, skinny or fat. If Apple wants to increase the screen size to 32″, I’m fine with that. Cosmetics just don’t mean all that much when I need to get work done.

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