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Here’s when the next iPhone will (almost definitely) go on sale

As sure as kids going back to school and leaves changing color, September is also the time of year when Apple reveals new iPhones to the world.

Now that we have a good idea of when it will happen — a new report says Apple will make its annual offering to the smartphone gods on Sept. 12 — we actually know a lot more than just when we’ll get our first look at the iPhone 8.

Working backwards from the event date, we can make educated guesses about the on-sale date, when the first reviews will post, and the exact time iPhone users will be able to download iOS 11. That’s because we’ve done this before (several times), and over the past few years, the iPhone release schedule has fallen into an impressively predictable pattern.

However, there’s a big exception that could mess with our calculations. This is (reportedly) the year Apple will break from tradition and actually release three new iPhones: the iPhone 7S, iPhone 7S Plus, and the straight-from-the-future iPhone 8.

Apple, true to form, hasn’t said word one about new iPhones in any kind of official capacity.

Given that, before we start throwing around dates, let me add two very important caveats. First, Apple, true to form, hasn’t said word one about new iPhones in any kind of official capacity. The event date is based on a report citing anonymous sources, so it could all be wrong. Secondly, even if the date is correct (an earlier rumor gave the Sept. 12 date, too), exactly what Apple will announce is still very much up in the air.

But the date fits the pattern of Apple events in previous years, so let’s proceed as if it’s the real deal. From there, a number of other dates become much clearer. So for the next few paragraphs, assume the word “probably” is peppered throughout:

First, the invites. Apple almost always sends invitations to the event about a week before, so we’re talking the day after Labor Day in this case: Apple will send invites to the 2017 iPhone event on Sept. 5, at 12 p.m. PT or a little after.

The iPhone 7S and iPhone 7S Plus will go on sale Sept. 22. This date fits the pattern of iPhones going on sale the Friday the week after the launch event. Pre-orders will start at midnight PT the previous Friday, on Sept. 15.

iOS 11 will be available for everyone to download on Wednesday, Sept. 20. Anyone with an iPhone 5S or later, iPad Pro, iPad Air, iPad Mini (except the first one), or a sixth-generation iPod Touch will be able to update their devices to Apple’s new operating system starting at about noon two days before the latest iPhones go on sale.

The first reviews of the new iPhones will publish on Tuesday, Sept. 19. Apple sometimes varies the exact time of the reviews, but they almost always go up on the Tuesday before the on-sale date.

Apple is also rumored to be unveiling a new Apple Watch, likely called the Apple Watch Series 3. The wearable is a little too young to have a predictable release pattern, but if it does debut at the event, there’s a very good chance it’ll launch alongside the iPhone 7S and iPhone 7S Plus, with the same pre-order and release dates. At least that’s exactly what Apple did for the Apple Watch Series 2.

When is the iPhone 8 coming?

So, what about that iPhone 8? Well, there are three main possibilities.

 

First, Apple could unveil the iPhone 8 on Sept. 12 and release it at the same time as the iPhone 7S and iPhone 7S Plus. That puts all the phones on the same schedule, although it strikes me as unlikely for a few reasons:

  • It means the iPhone 8 will cannibalize sales from the other iPhones right out of the gate without giving the 7Ses any time to stand on their own.
  • It assumes the new tech on the iPhone 8 won’t need any extra shakedown time.
  • It creates a logistical nightmare for everyone: customers, press, Apple Stores, and Apple itself.

More likely, Apple will unveil it at the September event and say it’s coming “later this fall.” It may even pin down a month, like Apple did for the HomePod announcement in June (coming this December). And HomePod wasn’t just a rare exception — Apple AirPods took months to ship, too. This gives everyone breathing room and lets Apple dominate the news cycle twice this fall. My guess (and it’s definitely a guess)? The iPhone 8 goes on sale in October.

Could Apple announce the iPhone 7S and iPhone 7S Plus and then, later in the fall, announce the iPhone 8? That’s highly unlikely. If it does, everyone who buys one of Apple’s 7S phones with the expectation that it’s the latest and greatest will (rightly) feel like they had the rug pulled out from under them. There’s no way Apple has two iPhone events this fall.

Finally, there’s still a chance that all the rumors about the iPhone 8 are overblown, that Apple actually isn’t going to announce a phone with an edge-to-edge screen, wireless charging, facial recognition, etc., and that all those rumors were about next year’s phone, or something else entirely. That’s still possible, but given the convergence of rumors over the last month, it feels really unlikely at this point.

So where will the event be held? It’s anyone’s guess, but there’s a new contender for venue: the new Steve Jobs Theater at the just-opened Apple Park campus. We’d love to get our first official look at the venue as much as anyone, but we’re not holding our breath. It’s unclear if the Theater specifically is ready, plus it might not be big enough. The iPhone event is the Super Bowl of Apple’s calendar and the tech world — last year’s was held at San Francisco’s Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, which can hold 8,500 people; the Steve Jobs Theater is said to hold 1,000.

All of this is subject to change, of course. Apple might throw a curveball or surprise everyone by switching up their batting roster entirely. But I doubt it. The iPhone launch playbook is one of the most predictable patterns in the industry. Apple still has a lot of blanks to fill in with its new products, but the release schedule isn’t one of them.

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