For years, like clockwork, new iPhones have been released in the fall and consumers snapped them up quickly, before inventory inevitably ran out, and slow responders were forced to wait for weeks.
Enthusiasts camped out in tents to snag bragging rights to be first with the new iPhone. Then Apple got better at inventory management, and convinced customers they didn't have to wait on line, just order it ahead of time, and it would be awaiting you on release day. So we don't see the masses outside Apple Stores like we used to.
And with a pandemic and many Apple Stores closed to the public, the odds of that happening again this year are remote. But with Apple set to release new editions of the iPhone on Tuesday, what of the enthusiasm for new models that will touted as more powerful and faster than last year's?
Dan Ives, an analyst with Wedbush Securities contends that the release of the devices believed to be called iPhone 12 is a "once in a decade" upgrade opportunity for Apple that will be its biggest seller since 2014's iPhone 6, the first of the modern iPhones to have a larger LCD screen.
He suggests there are 350 million iPhones owners who have waited at least three and half years to upgrade, and that the promise of connecting to the new, faster, wireless 5G networks on the new iPhones will do the trick in getting them to hit the pre-order button.
Apple is expected to debut four editions of the new iPhone, starting at $699 and going up the ladder to a starting price of $1,099. All are expected to connect to 5G networks.
Ives admits that 5G currently is in its early stages, with speeds that aren't much faster than the current 4G but that he expects that to change in the next 12 to 18 months.
"This is the launching pad for 5G," despite Samsung's relentless hyping of the standard for over a year, he says, due to the size of Apple's 1 billion-plus iPhone user base.
He expects between 75 million to 80 million iPhones to sell before the end of the year. Last year, Ives had projected sales of 65 million units sold for the quarter, and Apple ended up selling 72 million. It finished the year with just over 180 million iPhones sold.
Apple iPhone sales peaked in 2014 with sales of 231 million units, the year iPhone 6 was introduced, says Ives. The company stunned Wall Street in its most recent earnings report, when it announced that after several quarters of declining iPhone sales, that sales were up, even during a pandemic, as consumers turned to tools for working from home, like the iPhone, iPad and Macintosh computers.
Photographer Pete Halvorsen is one of those who has to get the new iPhone 12, sight unseen. He plans on putting in a pre-order this week, like he does every year, handing down his current phone to his wife, who in turns gifts their teenage daughter with her old model.
Halvorsen once put in 8.5 hours waiting on a long line for an iPhone but has since switched to online pre-orders, since it's more efficient.
He knows he wants the next iPhone, because as a photographer, the camera is always improved enough to make a difference, and he says the iOS 14 operating system upgrade always runs smoother on the new phones.
"Even if the updates are incremental, it's still enough to warrant a new model," he says.
But when we asked on social media about how eager consumers were to buy the new model, many were skeptical.
"The iPhone was revolutionary and unquestionably changed the world," notes Bruce Braun, a retired TV exec. "People wanted to be part of that revolution and have a phone that matched the hype. Apple is now just making incremental improvements to make a good product better every year, as technology innovates. Where's the thrill of something truly revolutionary again, especially if it costs over $1000?"
Kat Eller Murray, a San Francisco based marketing exec, also votes a firm no.
"I'm going to try to hold on to my phone for a while longer (and I used to change phones all the time!). I just don't see the point in it especially at the price points."
But Michael Markman, a former Apple executive, says the excitement for new iPhones hasn't faded.
"It's that satisfaction lasts longer," he said. "In the early years, the delta from one iteration to the next was huge. Since the 7, however, the phones have really good. Since the X, they’ve been great. Makes it a lot easier for people to hold on for another year. Or three."
And if Markman and Ives are right, shoppers could be buying a lot of new phones putting in orders for many upgrades this year.