Maybe Apple's iPhone 5 No-Show Was a Master Stroke

Last Updated Oct 11, 2011 4:04 PM EDT

When Apple (AAPL) failed to introduce an iPhone 5 last week, it looked like the company blew it. (I said so myself.) Of course the iPhone 4S would sell well, but given the competitive pressure of phones powered by Google's (GOOG) Android, too much delay could be a disaster.

However, given the combination of continued rumors of a slowdown in parts ordering by Apple and some time to rethink the issue, maybe Apple simply chose not to bring an iPhone 5 to market now. Here's why it could make sense.

Parts slowdown
What kicked off the speculation about Apple's parts ordering started last month when a JPMorgan Chase analyst estimated a 25 percent order cut in iPad parts. There were various theories of why this might be, along with other analysts who remained dubious of the claim.

Now comes another report of ordering slowdown by Apple. According to DigiTimes -- which, you'll need to recall, has made significant estimating mistakes in the past -- smartphone printed circuit board orders are down 15 percent, with Apple, in particular, noting economic weakness in the U.S. and U.K.

Let the competitors shoot first
That doesn't sound like an unreasonable possibility, although there's no way to tell what the previous order levels were and, so, how big a slowdown this actually could be.

But put all that aside for a moment. If these various reports are true and things are slowing -- and certainly both the EU and U.S. economies are burning fumes at this point -- then it could well explain a lot.

Reports that a new iPhone might look like the iPhone 4S started to appear in early August. So maybe Apple was trying to put the brakes on earlier speculation. But why?

Because if economies were slowing down, then going only with an iPhone 4S would keep the potentially bigger surprise under wraps while competitors, reacting to expectations of an iPhone 5 mega-hit, would push to get their most competitive offerings out sooner rather than later.

Made ya go first
Suddenly, Apple's competitors would come out swinging when things were slowing down. Apple would pick up a lot of orders but, unlike many of the they-sold-a-million-in-one-day fanboy reports, not necessarily any better than the iPhone 4 would have done, had AT&T's (T) ordering systems not broken down. Again.

Instead, Apple would have a major upgrade when the economy had some more time to stabilize and suddenly would look very good compared to its competitors when more people were ready to put money down.

This is speculation, of course, but it makes a lot of sense and would fit the smart competitive tactics Apple has taken in the past.

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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.