In preparing for my debate last week with Matthew Miller, I was expecting a completely different iPhone launch event than what actually transpired.
Like many other members of the technorati, I thought a completely new product was going to be announced.
Indeed, we all heard several weeks ago about the 4S being tested in the field by engineers and carriers, so it was a given that in addition to a completely new iPhone with a thin-profile design, there would also be a iPhone 4 refresh as well.
Two new iPhones.
I'm actually one of the few people that didn't think the thinner iPhone was going to be called "iPhone 5". If in fact iPhone 4S was going to be released at the same time, it didn't make sense to market a smaller, slimmer profile version as "5", implying that the phone was somehow newer or had better technology in it.
Apple doesn't normally do stuff like that. Sure, they've marketed stuff like the 3GS along with the 4, but not when they introduce two new products simultaneously.
No, I was expecting the smaller device to be called "iPhone Air." An entirely new species of iPhone, just like there are different species of MacBooks.
Why? Well, I thought this device was going be less expensive than the 4S. In effect, I thought that there would likely be 2 or 3 SKUs of the iPhone Air and 2 or 3 SKUs of iPhone 4S, thus eliminating the need for the existing iPhone 4 and also phasing out the aging 3GS.
4S for power users, Air for someone who wanted a lighter, thinner phone.
I thought there was a possibility the "Air" would have 4GB or 8GB of storage, with 3G, and would rely heavily on iCloud for user data. Perhaps sell at a $99 price point, where the existing entry-level iPhone 4 is selling at now.
Who knows, maybe the basic iPhone 4 would have ended up being the free, subsidized model instead of the 3GS.
What happened to this mysterious phone? And what evidence is there to suggest this beastie actually might have been launched?
Well, there's actually a heck of a lot of evidence. Like all of the cases made by accessory makers in China that appeared in AT&T stores and also in stores all over Asia. Cases that were produced in the hundreds of thousands, presumably based on an actual "slug" or specifications released by Foxconn or another manufacturing partner in Asia.
One particular European web site actually went through the trouble of using information gleaned from these cases and other information to actually build a prototype mock-up. If you can get past the extremely odd nature of this video with a Chinese guy speaking perfect German, you'll see what they actually came up with.
So... what the heck happened? Was the iPhone 4S really the only product that was originally supposed to launch last week? Did Apple really wait over a year to launch a simply iterative improvement over their existing product with bumped processor and improved rear camera?
Were the case designs leaked by Apple to throw competitors off? Was this Steve Jobs' final act to "punk" the industry?
DID ALIENS VISIT ANCIENT CIVILIZATIONS AND BREED WITH OUR ANCESTORS?
Sorry. I watch too much History Channel.
Look, it doesn't make any sense to me that the anti-climactic 4S launch was "The Plan". There was supposed to be another phone. It just wasn't ready.
Why it wasn't ready is anyone's guess. I've consulted a few folks that work in embedded device engineering and they suspect that because of how thin this phone is, the battery may not have yielded enough life to pass Steve Jobs' final QA.
Maybe it needed a more exotic battery chemistry to get good performance, and the battery technology or the manufacturing process wasn't quite ready for launch yet. The decision to switch gears on the launch event could have happened as little as three or four months ago.
Maybe the phone had other technical issues, like the slightly wider screens might not have been ready in volume from the supplier.
It could be a combination of factors. Anything, really. But I really doubt this is an aborted design. This phone is coming. That I'm sure of. And I don't think this case design represents a non-Apple product.
If it turns out to be a Samsung Android Ice Cream Sandwich phone or a Windows Phone Mango 7.5 device I'll eat my hat.
When this device gets released is anyone's guess. But I would not be surprised to see another iPhone event in the spring or even in the early summer.
Does the next-generation iPhone "Air" exist? Is a launch due sometime mid-2012? Talk Back and Let Me Know.