Should You Buy An iPhone Now, Or Wait For The Next One?

The most common thing I get asked whenever I tell anyone I'm a tech writer is some version of the question: "Should I get a new iPhone now, or should I wait until the next one comes out?" It is as though my business card should read not "Technology Writer," and instead "iPhone Psychic"

Not that I am not happy to prognosticate! And in that spirit, here's a look at the questions on everyone's mind: Should I buy an iPhone now? And if not now, when?

First, let me say that I am fascinated by the peculiar kind of panic that I encounter in people I meet who are deciding on a purchase date for their next Apple phone. I call it the iSenberg Uncertainty Principle: Potential iPhone buyers exist in a constant state of anxiety, perpetually worrying that purchasing an iPhone on any given day will mean that they will miss out on the inevitably cooler version with the mind-blowing new features soon down the road. The Cupertino Sword of Damocles constantly dangles over their heads, threatening to pierce them with unhipness and iShame.

Here is one solid piece of advice I can offer to help you avoid the Sword: Do not buy any new iPhone until September. Apple has an annual media conference each September, and every blog with the word 'Mac' in the title is reporting that Steve Jobs is going to do his black turtleneck thing and introduce some kind of new iPhone there. The September Media conference is generally used to present the new iPods, but as All Things Digital reports, Apple plans to "commandeer" the conference for its official iPhone announcement.

Apple is long overdue to release its new iPhone anyway, if history is any indication. Look at this handy little timeline:

June 2007: original iPhone released
June 2008: iPhone 3G released
June 2009: iPhone 3Gs released
June 2010: iPhone 4 released
June 2011: Nothing!

In other words, the 5th generation iPhone is already a month late, so it makes sense that the rumors are swirling. Apple's tardiness can be explained by the fact they've actually already released two iPhones in 2011 -- the Verizon iPhone in February and the unlocked iPhone 4 in June. Their schedule is all screwy, like a traveler trying to get over jet lag. But all signs point to them getting right with a September Apple iPhone release.

So what jaw-dropping new feature will this iPhone boast? We're hearing that the "iPhone 4S," as it is rumored to be called, won't be the dramatic re-imagining that many of us have come to expect with each new iPhone release. Tech blogThis Is My Next thinks that it will be thinner and lighter, and that it will run on a new chip; the New York Times thinks that it will be the same dimensions as the iPhone 4 but that it will be cheaper. Bloomberg agrees with This Is My Next on the chip and adds that the rear-facing camera will upgrade to 8 megapixels from 5 megapixels.

Now, even if you're just a normal, non-geek iPhone user, who doesn't care if the rear-facing camera doubles its megapixel count, or if Apple has changed the manufacturer of its data processors, or whatever, you still need to at least wait for the alleged iPhone announcement, and here's why: if history is any indicator, the introduction of a newer iPhone model is accompanied by a drop in price of older iPhone models. When the iPhone 3GS was announced, the price of the iPhone 3G dropped by $100; when the iPhone 4 was announced, the price of an iPhone 3GS also dropped by $100. Even if you know that you're not going to drop $400 on whatever iPhone Apple begins peddling in September, there is no sense in paying more money for an iPhone 4 or 3Gs now when the base price of both seem like locks to drop in two months.

But before we start fantasizing, how can we be so certain that Jobs is even going to announce an iPhone in September if Apple hasn't so much as indicated such a thing? How do we know that all of these rumors weren't just started by lonely nerds like me and my co-workers emailing each other from our mother's basements, inciting iPhone rumors all on our own?

Well, first of all, I don't live with my mother; and second of all, the new iPhone rumors have sprung forth from two reliable sources held in high journalistic regard.

The first is esteemed, award-winning tech journalist John Paczkowski of All Things Digital, who blazed iPhone prognostication trails by predicting back in April that an updated iPhone 4 would be unveiled at the September Apple music Conference and has steadfastly maintained the claim is true through June and into July. In fact, he confirmed as recently as July 5 that a shiny new iPhone looked to be in the early stages of supply chain production, and that people close to the company still believe that the new iPhone would be ready for the Jobs treatment in September.

So there is Reliable Source One.

Reliable Source Number Two is the Wall Street Journal, not exactly a one-laptop operation. The paper gives "the end of September" as a target launch date, which squares up with both Paczkowski's prediction of a September announcement and release. This doesn't even mention This Is My Next's separate prediction of a September release, nor 9to5Mac reporting that there are going to be two new iPhones in September, one low-end and high-end. But now we're falling down the rabbit hole and into the basement again, so let's focus:

There is likely to be a new iPhone in September. It will likely affect the price of all the other iPhones. The iPhones available now -- the iPhone 4 and the iPhone 3Gs -- will probably be cheaper in two months. Unless you drop your current iPhone in a pool, a bathtub or a volcano, do not buy an iPhone until Steve Jobs opens his beautiful brilliant mouth at the Apple conference in early September. When the post-turtleneckian dust settles, we'll have a clearer picture of whether or not this rumored new iPhone is worth the money. And then we can talk about--well, whether or not you should buy an iPhone now, or wait until the next one comes out.