This week has really seen the 5G talk move from theoretical hyperbole to something more tangible and drool-inducing. That shift in discussion around this next-gen networking technology was due almost entirely to the excitement drummed up by a series of announcements from major players in the space like Verizon and AT&T (both of which announced plans to launch 5G-enabled smartphone with Samsung next year) and Qualcomm (which hosted its Snapdragon Technology Summit where it unveiled its 5G-ready 855 chipset). But perhaps one of the most important names in the smartphone space has been noticeably absent from eh 5G discussion to this point—that being Apple.
Actually, the headlines involving Apple and 5G-ready iPhones have referenced the company’s preference to delay the launch of any next-gen network device until at least 2020. But with all of the upcoming smartphone launches that will reportedly ship with support for the new 5G network, is the Cupertino-based manufacturer missing out on a huge opportunity by not having a 5G-ready iPhone next year?
It’s a fair question to ask, and the tech enthusiast in mean is screaming “Absolutely.” But as The Verge recently pointed out—and any understanding of Apple’s product strategy would show—the company has no issues holding out on must-have features until they’re fully matured and perfected. And that ought to be the number-one priority when you’re talking about implementing the next generation of wireless connectivity technology into your flagship device.
There’s no doubt that 5G is going to be an absolute game changer the moment the network launches. With download speeds pushing 500Mbps in “real-world modeling,” we’re talking about a network that’s ten times faster than our current 4G LTE network—and that’s just the upload/download benefit. There’s the promise that this type of network will open the door to new products, services, and more, both at the consumer and commercial level.
Not to throw cold water on the excitement, but it’s just as important with this new technology to remember that it’s just that—new technology. Think back to the launch of 4G LTE in 2011. There was a great deal of promise around our current networking technology as well nearly a decade ago, and it certainly ended up delivering over what 3G was. But it took time. There’s bound to be hiccups in the launch of 5G. There certainly won’t be blanket coverage of the United States when 5G officially goes online. And the products that support 5G out of the gate are going to experience their own growing pains as well—from poor battery life to some rather inefficient designs. The network and everything that it supports will need a bit of a breaking-in period, like a pair of new shoes. There’s all of that shine right out of the box, but the first couple of times wearing them they certainly aren’t the most comfortable pair of kicks in the closet. Expect much the same with 5G.
And then consider the news that we’ve around 5G. As The Verge’s article points out, nearly all of the talk about speed tests have come from controlled lab situations. There have been limited active field tests done, and thats for a number of reasons, including availability of the network itself.
It’s for these reasons—among others—that Apple is well within its right to consider holding off on a 5G iPhone for at least another cycle or two. To some companies, especially in the consumer tech space, there’s a certain amount of pride and weight given to being “the first” to do something. Being among the first commercially available 5G smartphones is a cool statement to be able to make. But, in the long run, it may not necessarily mean they’ll have launched the best or most efficient product. That’s what Apple will look to do by holding off on this first wave of 5G devices. They’ll happily let the excitement around the new technology come and go, and then when the time is right for them, they’ll present their take on a 5G-ready device that makes it seem like they invented the technology. But it’s not that they invented it. Rather, they’ll have just displayed the patience and purposefulness of their product strategy, which is a big reason why they’re one of the most dominant and successful tech companies today.