Apple's tried and true habit of releasing one iPhone a year is not lost on consumers, who typically buy the least number of the devices in the quarter just before the new model goes on sale.
But if Apple were to extend its usual turnaround time this year, it could seriously ding Apple's share in what's become a multi-horse smartphone race, says Bernstein Research analyst Toni Sacconaghi.
In a note to investors on Monday, Sacconaghi said he expects the iPhone's market share among smartphones to go from about 17 percent down to 12 percent in the current quarter, which he notes would be Apple's lowest since the beginning of 2009. And -- surprise -- it could go even lower if a new device doesn't come around to hook new buyers.
"Perhaps most startlingly, if Apple does not introduce a new iPhone or lower-priced phone in [the third calendar quarter], it is quite possible that iPhone's smartphone market share could drop into the single digits," Sacconaghi warned.
Sacconaghi notes that his firm assumes Apple will have a new device in September, which would keep it in that magic time period. But that if it doesn't, Apple's iPhone market share could slip to around 9 percent.
With that said, it's not entirely bad.
"Currently, Apple's iPhone positioning is increasingly mirroring the Mac, which commands just 5 percent PC market share, but is highly profitable, accounting for an estimated 40 percent of total PC industry profits," Sacconaghi said. Unit sales of the iPhone are also expected to keep growing year over year, for the next year and a half, and Apple's selling millions of other iOS devices like the iPad and iPods, he added.
The report comes on the heels of data from Strategy Analytics, which last week found that Samsung had grown nine times faster than Apple during the first quarter of 2013, fueled by sales of lower-priced smartphones. Apple too is rumored to be contemplating such a device, though Apple CEO Tim Cook has argued that the company is already getting customers in emerging markets by continuing to sell its older models.
The longest Apple has ever gone between phone releases was between the iPhone 4 in June 2010 and the iPhone 4S in October 2011. The move gave Apple a chance to debut new iOS system software at its developers conference in June, before releasing it to the public in the fall -- something Apple did last year, and is expected to do this year too.