Since 2008, Apple kept the design of its iPhones for two years before making a huge change. The iPhone 3GS looks like the iPhone 3G while the iPhone 4s looks like the iPhone 4. The iPhone 5s is a little different from iPhone 5 due to the introduction of Touch ID and new colours, but the overall design is being kept the same. This year’s iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus also inherit the same design from last year’s models. In fact, only the design of the first iPhone and iPhone 5c are not used twice. Have you ever wondered why Apple is doing this?

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Refining the Design, Correcting the Wrongs

It is hard to get perfect results with your first try. This is common knowledge and it applies to the industrial design of a phone too. While iPhones’ design has been praised over the years, almost every iPhone will have some issues when a new design is  introduced. However, a lot of the problems were fixed on the following year with a new model of similar design.

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The iPhone 4 is plagued by Antenna-gate where the cellular signal is easily blocked by a user’s hand when answering the phone call. Apple changed the position of the antenna in the iPhone 4s and resolved the issue. The black iPhone 5 scratched too easily and a change in the finishing for the space black iPhone 5s solved the problem. The iPhone 6 was alleged to be bent easily and Apple responded by using a stronger type of aluminium alloy in the following iPhone 6s.

These are the examples where Apple learned its lesson from previous models. Having the same design for two successive models allows Apple to perfect the design in its second try. For me, the choice between a fresh look and a refined design is an easy one as I would simply choose the latter any day.

Reducing Cost

Assembling a phone is not a simple task as it involves a lot of processes, including placing components, soldering the circuit boards, crafting the chassis, assembling all parts, packaging and more. It took an incredible amount of time and effort to program and automate the process when the production first starts. To improve yield rate, a lot of adjustments are needed. The yield rate is the amount of “good” units being manufactured per total amount of units planned. For example, if you produce 100 units but 5 of them cannot pass the quality test, the yield is 95%. Low yield results in huge waste of resources and time, thus increasing the cost.

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When you have similar designs for two models, some of the processes can be tweaked and reused easily. Less effort simply means lower cost. Furthermore, the longer the same process is being used, more improvements can be made and subsequently increases the yield. This will save cost, energy and material. On the other hand, reusing the design allows Apple to reuse some of the parts. Apple can order the same parts in larger bulk and this will put them in a better position for price negotiation. While saving cost will increase the profit of Apple and it is pretty unrelated to common people like us, the reduced usage of material and energy matters to our Mother Earth as we know that the processes of obtaining these resources are typically unfriendly to the environment.

More Resources on New Technology

If you can save time by recycling the design, you will have more time for something else. The something else could be developing new hardware, enhancing software or anything relevant. The advancement in mobile technology has slowed down noticeably after the boom in mobile space a few years ago. The new features introduced are very often half-baked. For iPhones, most of the notable features were introduced on the ‘s’ model. Siri was introduced in iPhone 4s, Touch ID was first found on iPhone 5s and the 3D Touch debuted on the iPhone 6s/iPhone 6s Plus. I guess if all the companies can have more time on function over the form, perhaps we shall see new technologies that will “wow” us more often.

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Accessories Live Longer

For most people, we will have accessories for our devices. Most of the time, a lot of these accessories are device-specific where you can use it for one device only. Cases, screen protectors, protective skins are some of the examples. Having the same design for two successive models allows you to reuse these accessories if you decide to upgrade. It will help you to save a little money.

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In case you are not aware, the accessories for iPhones can be found anywhere and the variety is far beyond your imagination even though the iPhone is not the most popular phone in the market. Part of the reason is that since the design will be maintained, accessories makers are more willing to invest money in developing accessories for iPhones as the product life cycle will be twice longer as compared to phones like Samsung Galaxy S series. This means that they can sell the same product for a longer period and the return of investment is more promising.

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On the other hand, the resellers would not mind to take in more accessories for iPhones as they will not be obsolete as quickly as for other phones. This will allow us to have more choices of accessories in the market.

It makes sense …

So it makes a lot of sense for Apple to reuse the iPhone’s design for the ‘s’ model since they can refine their design, saving cost and time while providing some sense of security for accessories makers. While this does not benefit the consumers, at least it poses no harm to the consumers. In fact, you might decide against upgrading every year since it looks the same and thus saving you a great deal of money.

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Therefore, I am okay with Apple’s decision to keep the design for two years as design is not my first priority when choosing a phone. After all, Apple already make it obvious through the naming convention, isn’t it? Judging by the name, how different can the iPhone 6s be as compared to the iPhone 6? I wouldn’t mind if other companies decide to follow suit provided that the original design is well received and they do not overdo it like what Sony did with the Xperia Z lineup (similar design from Xperia Z until Xperia Z5). So what do you think about this? Let us know your opinion!

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