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Apple stops tocking: It wants to escape an unsustainable pace

Glenn Fleishman | May 4, 2016
In "tick" cycles, Apple releases a new look for a product; in alternating "tocks," dramatic improvements in internals. It's time for it to stop watching the clock.

The second version of the 12-inch MacBook was met with many cries of disappointment, as Apple simply revved the computer's processor and a few system specs instead of thoroughly redesigning the USB-C-equipped laptop. Similarly, the iPhone SE appeared outside Apple’s phone release cycle, and lacks a number in its name. And a year after its introduction, pundits bury the Apple Watch, and wonder why a new version is likely six months away—nearly two years since Apple first revealed the Watch to the world.

Apple is slowing down, and I think it’s a dandy change. Despite analysts’ insistence that Apple needs to come out with a revolutionary new product every year or so—and then decrying the Watch as one of them (ignoring an estimated first-year revenue of $6 billion)—the company has nearly always focused on iteration, punctuated with major moves forward, only several years apart.

Apple is slowing down, and I think it’s a dandy change.

Like many tech companies, Apple has been guided by a so-called “tick/tock” cycle. In the tick phase, a major change in form and nature appears, but the insides of the device may still rely on components that existed in previous hardware. In the tock phase, the hardware design is settled, but the internals bloom. Depending on the device, the tock refresh will get a newer generation of processor, and upgrades to the memory, storage, cameras, and other elements.

For the iPhone, Apple has been ticking on full-number years and tocking on the “S” years. But smartphones, tablets, and even laptops have matured. The need to tock so quickly after a tick doesn’t have the urgency of years past. Apple appears to be delaying and moving away from tocks altogether, to judge by recent products and the ostensible coming release plans.

iPhone SE: ‘S’lowly ‘E’xecuted

The iPhone SE is the first time that Apple has extended its tick/tock cycle by years—one could argue it ticked once and tocked twice! The SE is the successor to the 5s, mimicking its appearance so precisely, one assumes it’s being stamped out on the same production lines as the 5s.

The 5s was a tock, adding Touch ID, a faster processor, and a two-LED flash. The SE picked up many of the tock features introduced with the 6s and 6s Plus, such as processor type and camera, but lacks some flagship elements and is priced as a minor refresh to the 5s, at $250 less than the 6s and $350 less than the 6s Plus.

iphone se review mrv 010 37
Adam Patrick Murray

The lack of a number attached to the iPhone SE and its out-of-sync introduction with other iPhones has led many to suspect Apple will refresh the SE on a less-frequent basis, making it the good-but-not-great model that lags up to 2-and-a-half years behind features found on the flagship phones.


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