You will hear a lot about how boring the iPhone 13 is, but Apple is still ready to continue its sales super cycle

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It may have a new number in the name, but Apple’s new iPhone 13 looks more like one of the company’s “S” models than anything else.

Apple has released iPhone models on a tick-tock cycle for most of the product’s existence. The “tick” years typically offer new designs and new features, and the “tock” years keep things largely the same, but with improvements to things like speed and battery life. (Those are the “S” models.)

But the iPhone 13 was unveiled on Tuesday, in lieu of an iPhone 12S, with only incremental upgrades over last year’s model. That explains why Apple spent so much of the presentation talking about features like battery life and improvements to the camera. There wasn’t much news other than last year’s model to brag about.

You’ll see a lot of commentary flying around this week about how the iPhone 13 is dull, dull, or just a minor upgrade over last year’s model. There’s a lot of truth in that. But it also ignores the reality of where we are in smartphone technology.

Everyone from Apple to Samsung to Motorola has reached the point where it takes more than a year to develop an important, groundbreaking feature. And that’s okay with the vast majority of their customers. Smartphones have gotten so good that people can keep them for three years or more without falling behind. So even if a new model feels like a minor upgrade from the year before, that upgrade is much more important to someone using a model that is 3 or 4 years old.

Much of the data seems to support that. Analysts at Wedbush predicted on Tuesday that Apple is still in the midst of its “super cycle” of iPhone sales that began last year with the iPhone 12, which introduced new features such as a fresh design and 5G cellular data connections.

“Apple is still in the midst of its strongest overall product cycle in about a decade,” Wedbush analyst Dan Ives wrote in a note to investors on Tuesday. He added that there are an estimated 250 million iPhone owners with models over 3 years old.

That’s a huge pool of potential customers ready for an upgrade.

The lesson: When evaluating a new iPhone and what it means for sales, it’s important to zoom in and look at past years rather than comparing it to the previous year’s model. That’s what the customers who are going to buy these things will do.

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