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The Samsung Galaxy S4 and Apple iPhone 5S are coming - just not soon

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by Sascha Segan, 03 Jan 2013Blog
The Samsung Galaxy S4 and Apple iPhone 5S are coming - just not soon

My first facepalm of 2013 comes from the stunningly non-newsworthy story that Apple is testing the iPhone 5S, along with numerous websites running purposefully confusing headlines selling a fan render of Samsung's upcoming Galaxy S4. (That rendering has nothing to do with Samsung. Zip, zilch, zero.)

Let me break it down for you: Apple is right now working on the iPhone 7. Did I blow your mind a little? Mobile devices aren't designed from scratch in nine months. The day the iPhone 5 came out, Apple didn't call its engineering team together and say, "Great work guys! Let's get started on the 6!" The product cycles overlap.

An innovative mobile gadget actually has a 12-18 month development time. It can be shorter for a cheap clone using commodity parts, or longer for devices with new chipsets or radio technologies. With the next iPhone coming out either this spring or this autumn, it would be extremely worrying if Apple wasn't starting to test that model now.

Those long development cycles also tend to make people think things are coming out sooner than they are, because products can look close to finished way before they hit shelves. Once a product is actually "finished" - i.e. the hardware is in a box and works - there's still software to complete, and lots and lots of carrier testing to go through. Sometimes carriers throw phones back because of radio issues, and that round of testing has to start all over again.

One famous example of how long a development cycle can be was Motorola Droid Bionic, which was shown off at CES 2011, obviously already months into development. But it took another nine months - and a full hardware revision - for that phone to hit shelves.

Enthusiastic leaks come out at all stages of the development process, raising false hopes. Take the Samsung Galaxy S4 as a further example. The Galaxy S3 was the blockbuster phone of 2012, so it's no wonder that everyone's eager for the S4. Since Samsung is obviously working on it, rumours have started to bubble up that it will be released at CES - no, at Mobile World Congress!

As far as I know, none of that is true. The Galaxy S4 is on track for a big, independent global launch event in April or May, just like the Galaxy S3 was.

(You may ask, by the way, why am I writing this article? Apparently there are a lot of inbound searches coming to this site looking for "iPhone 6" news, and I want people to have the straight truth.)

iPhone 6? iPhone 5S?

Desperate for hints, some people are also taking the mysterious test device's "iPhone 6,1" development identifier and using it to claim that the next iPhone will be an "iPhone 6" rather than an "iPhone 5S," presumably implying that it will have more dramatic changes than a speed bump.

Sorry, the evidence doesn't support that theory. The original iPhone was the iPhone 1,1. The iPhone 3G was 1,2. The 3GS was 2,1 and the 4 was 3,1. The 4S was 4,1. Woah, wait a minute! Did you see what they did there? There was a full model jump in those developer identifiers between the 4 and the 4S - because developer IDs aren't tightly tied to the marketing names of devices.

Listen everybody, I know you're all excited for these two handsets. Apple and Samsung are by far the biggest players in the mobile market, and their new devices are likely to dominate 2013. But that isn't going to make them appear any more quickly than they were going to do all along.

If you like smartphones, there's going to be a lot to look forward to over the next few months. CES will be a bit of a teaser, with some oddities like a 6.1in 'phablet' from Huawei. Then we'll have the BlackBerry 10 launch at the end of January, and a ton of new releases at Mobile World Congress in February. Yes, none of those will be the Apple iPhone 5S or Samsung Galaxy S4. But try to keep an open mind, because I suspect some of them will be pretty great.

For more on what smartphones to expect this year, check out our "Tech in 2013: the future of mobile" feature.

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