Why Apple should follow Google’s lead and ‘leak’ the iPhone 11 design early

It’s only June but already the fall smartphone wars are heating up. Apple last week unveiled iOS 13 and with it many of the new features that will grace the next iPhone, and now Google has one-upped the hype machine with an unprecedented reveal of the Pixel 4 months ahead of its presumed launch.

And why not? We all know the Pixel 4 is coming in October, and after YouTube creator Unbox Therapy got his hands on a metal model of new phone and seemingly spilled all the details about the new dual camera and design, it was just a matter of counting the days. So rather than let it play out with rumors and speculation for months like it did with the Pixel 3, Google went ahead and took control the narrative.

It’s a smart and savvy move. Smartphone makers have long wrestled with the reality that keeping a new handset secret until its launch is a futile effort. Ever since an Apple engineer accidentally left his iPhone 4 in a Redwood City bar, leaks have become big business, and there’s very little Apple, Google, or anyone else can do to keep their latest creation under wraps.

google pixel 4 backMade by Google

That’s not a render of the iPhone 11, it’s the Pixel 4.

And that inevitably leads to disappointment. Whether it’s from people hoping that the leaks are fake or people who decide that the new design isn’t up to snuff months before they get to see it in person, the big event is never as celebratory as it should be. Even something like the iPhone X led to more criticism than celebration, as people focused on what they knew rather than what was new.

And there’s the rub. The parts of the phone that Apple and Google can keep under wraps—the software features, chip enhancements, and architecture improvements—are overshadowed by the superficial aspects of the hardware. By leaking the look of the phone (or half of it anyway), Google is shifting the focus to what its new phone can do.

And Apple might want to consider doing the same with the iPhone 11. We already know it’s coming in September. And we kind of know what it will look like too. There have already been bountiful leaks that have revealed a giant square camera bump—which incidentally looks a whole lot like the Pixel 4—and it’s expected that all three models will be pretty much identical from the front. So what’s the harm in confirming what we already know?

Confirmation bias

It’s no secret that Apple is already looking at a post-iPhone life. The rise in services as well as the focus on wearables has diversified Apple’s portfolio and softened the impact of flattening sales, but the iPhone isn’t going anywhere for a while. Probably another 10 years, at least. So why stick to the same script?

google pixel 4 tweetMade by Google

Imagine a tweet like this from Apple.

If Apple were to “leak” an official render of the iPhone 11 over the summer, it would make instant headlines and cause a frenzy in the media. It would stop blurry spy shots and speculation. And I don’t think it would hurt sales either, since we all know it’s coming. Frankly, it would be akin to a launching a new color of the iPhone XS, injecting a surprise bit of excitement into a somewhat stale and fading product. It might even spur sales when people realize they’d rather have the current model.