We know the iPhone 5 (or 4S or whatever) will be announced on Tuesday Oct 4, but when will it be released? To find out, let's look at Apple's history of releasing iPhones and iPads, normalized to the announcement date. Before we go into a deeper look you can immediately notice the reduction in time from "invitation" to "release" that Apple has achieved.
Note: I'll hand draw my charts sometimes, since we see enough Excel already.
Let's start at the end. The green lines show the time from the product announcement until its release. Notice the two green lines that go off the chart - they are the release of "original" products (iPhone 1 and iPad 1). When releasing a first generation product, Apple announces it far in advance to ensure they fully control the announcement. In other words, they avoid leaks. Additionally, when there is no previous generation of a product, they don't have to worry about sales slowing due to customers waiting for the new device. In fact, when it's a first generation product, customers quit purchasing other companies devices and wait for the iDevice. That's even better.
Next, let's look at the red lines. These show the time lapse from the event invitation being sent out to attendees, to the actual announcement event. (Essentially, a signal to the market that a new device is coming.) You'll notice immediately that the three longest red lines belong to the iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS, and iPhone 41. Why were they announced so early? Because they occured as the keynote to the Apple Developers conference each summer called WWDC. This conference, announced months in advance to fill registration seats, is open to any developer. While there, developers attend sessions wth Apple engineers regarding Mac and iPhone development. So just by opening registration - the world knew when the next iPhone was coming. In fact, they still have to open registation months in advance. But then how do you avoid alerting everyone of the new phone? Stop releasing it at WWDC. Which is exactly what they did this year with the iPhone 5.
Now, lets look at the blue lines. These denote the times when (or if at all) the devices went on preorder. Notice that three of the last four products have had pre-orders. The one that didn't was the iPad 2. Recall that it had supply issues deep into the lifecycle of the product. This tells you that they couldn't make them fast enough to sell in store, much less pre-orders. On the contrary, the last two iPhones both had pre-orders. Why? They simply sell so many of them that they must have massive supply on hand for launch day. They literally could not sell them fast enough by just having customers come into the stores. Plus, iPhones take longer at the point of sale than iPads.
So, will we be able to preorder the iPhone 5? The trend says yes. In recent history, the iPhone 3GS went on preorder the day of the announcement and the iPhone 4 preorder started that Friday. I believe, doing it the "day-of" and during commuting hours will limit the strain on the online pre-order system. In the past there has been preorder disasters, such as last year with the iPhone 4.
My pre-order prediction: Tuesday, Oct 4th at 5pm. (Only via Apple.com, AT&T blew it last year.)
When will it come out? The trend says at the end of the following week. In recent history the iPhone 3GS was released on Thursday at 5pm, while the iPhone 4 & iPad 2 were released on Friday at 7am. The two most recent releases were on Fridays, which allows for a full day of Apple Store news coverage. What is better than that?
My release prediction: Friday, Oct 14th at 7am.
1 I've excluded the invitation for the original iPhone because it was not known as "the invitation for the iPhone release", it was just "Macworld 2007 invitation". If I had included it, it too would be off the chart.