Apple’s first 5G iPhone won’t arrive until at least 2020

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iPhone 5G
Apple's in no rush to be the first 5G smartphone maker to market.
Photo illustration: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

Anyone hoping for a 5G iPhone in 2019 is going to be sorely disappointed, a new report claims. That’s because Apple is supposedly holding off plans to launch a handset on the ultra-fast 5G network until 2020 at the earliest.

That likely means that rivals like Samsung will be able to win more customers, short term, by rushing to beat Apple to the punch. However, for anyone who has followed Apple for a while, this move is no surprise.

Let others make the mistakes

With both the 3G and 4G generations of mobile technology, Apple waited a while before hopping on the bandwagon with the iPhone. 3G phones were already in existence when Apple launched its first iPhone in 2007. However, it made customers wait until the second iPhone in 2008 before it introduced the iPhone 3G.

Similarly, the first 4G phone — Sprint’s HTC Evo — landed in early 2010. Apple, on the other hand, waited until 2012 to unveil the first 4G iPhone, the iPhone 5.

Doing this may look like Apple dragging its feet, but it serves an important purpose. Just as Apple wasn’t the first company to make an MP3 player, a smartphone, a tablet or a smartwatch, allowing others to make the first moves lets Apple avoid the stumbling early days of new technologies.

In the case of technologies like 3G and 4G, that means avoiding the early inconsistent coverage. By the time it’s ready to enter the market, Apple has therefore been able to observe what works and doesn’t work, and can then decide how to solve the problem.

In the case of 5G, the reason may also have something to do with Apple’s battle with Qualcomm. Qualcomm is a leader in 5G technology. If Apple instead relies on chips made by Intel, it could be waiting a while for the chips to become available.

Can Apple afford to wait?

Waiting could prove problematic for Apple, however. Being able to offer 5G early is going to be a clear selling point. With the smartphone market slowing down — and Apple’s recent slump in share price — waiting an extra year could cost it.

Whether having technology that “just works” is enough to get around that particular problem remains to be seen. If Apple does wait, however, expect plenty of “Apple is no longer innovating” articles next September, when rival companies such as Samsung debut the first 5G phones.

Source: Bloomberg