Antenna Woes Won't Speed Up Release of New iPhone Versions

iphone 4
iphone 4

Apple (AAPL) CEO Steve Jobs has a reputation as a perfectionist. But that character trait isn't expected to translate into a faster iPhone product cycle, despite a firestorm of complaints regarding dropped calls by its newly minted iPhone 4 and questions whether the computer maker would launch a recall of the device or institute a massive antenna redesign in the next version of its smartphone.

Historically, Apple unveils a software update for the iPhone in March or April, followed by a hardware announcement in the summer and its launch within a month after that, says Ross Rubin, executive director of industry analysis for research firm NPD Group.

For investors, a company's product cycle can be a tricky thing. After a company announces a new product or a new version of a product, sales on the current offering out on the market can slow -- sometimes significantly -- while buyers wait for the new shiny version to be released, analysts say.

Improvements in iPhone 4's Next Production Run?

Rubin and Wall Street analysts expect Apple to stay on track with its traditional iPhone release schedule, rather than retooling its problematic antenna and packing other hardware changes into a new iPhone version that's rushed out under a new product cycle.

"While there appears to be a vulnerability in the [antenna] design, there are also reports of improved reception over earlier versions of the iPhone and a number of customers who don't have this issue or can't replicate it with consistency," says Rubin. "So to say Apple would push up the timing of the next release of the iPhone is unlikely."

Brian Marshall, an analyst with investment bank Gleacher, also doesn't expect massive hardware changes to the next iPhone version. Instead, he says it would be more likely for Apple to make moderate changes in the next production run of the iPhone 4, which could probably be implemented quickly.

Which Approach for Apple?

Potential workarounds could include using a protective bumper case that Consumer Reports notes was successful in its testing Wednesday. The highly regarded publication, which withheld its buy recommendation for the iPhone 4, says it wants Apple to offer the cases for free, noting consumers should not have to pay for fixing design flaws.

Whether Apple will take up this suggestion or try a double-barreled approach of offering bumpers while simultaneously improving the antenna for an upgraded iPhone 4 release next summer has yet to be seen. Apple has scheduled a press and analyst briefing Friday to discuss the iPhone 4 but has declined to discuss details of the meeting any further.