Is October 4th Time for the 5th iPhone?

It’s 7:15AM. I’m startled awake to the sound of a pinball machine and I can’t seem to ever find the power button on my iPhone 3GS to silence the alarm. I’m tired, but now I’m awake and holding my phone so I check my email. I check Facebook. I check MacRumors. For three months, I didn’t see any news about the iPhone 5, but today Apple announced a press event that should finally bring the iPhone 5 rumor mill to rest.

This is good news for me, since every morning my iPhone 3GS gets a little older, a little slower and a little more beat-up.  Since June came and went without an iPhone launch for the first time since 2006 and the much anticipated  iOS 5 and iCloud have been announced, I have been eagerly awaiting the newest iteration of the country’s best-selling smartphone and hoping that my own iPhone holds on a little longer.

And with an update almost certainly to be announced on October 4, you can be sure that there are teams working 24/7 to dig up the latest digital mockups, leaked photos and cryptic comments from those ‘in the know’. There are whisperings of shiny new features (larger screen, 1080p recording, 4G), but will the iPhone 5 be a radical redesign or will it be filed under “marginal update” in the annals of smartphone history? It is in this time of uncertainty that Apple enthusiasts turn to their rumor sites of choice for answers.

The following chart shows the unique visitor traffic of four of the top Apple rumors websites (MacRumors, TUAW, TIPB and 9to5mac) over the past two years:

Within the past two years unique visitors (UVs) on these sites have greatly increased in times preceding the releases of major Apple products. Notice that in January of 2010 (the original iPad was first announced on January 27th) MacRumors had just over 1.1 million UVs. Yet in the interim between then and the iPad’s release date of April 3rd, UVs at MacRumors had nearly doubled to almost 2 million. This large increase in traffic can be attributed to consumer curiosity building in anticipation of the new device. The same can be said for the next peak in UVs which coincided with the iPhone 4 release.

But the real revelation here isn’t the increase in interest surrounding the launch of two new gadgets – it is the sharp declines in the immediate months that follow. It is this spike that allows us to separate the everymen from the fanboys. And given the almost lockstep correlation in web traffic to these sites over the past 24 months, we’re observing consistent patterns of consumer behavior surrounding these product launches, not just the unique activity on one particular site.

This all explains 2010 very nicely, but what about the local peak in UVs during July 2011 and the subsequent downturn in August? Well, despite the absence of a new iPhone this summer, July was still a pretty big month for Apple in terms of releases and product updates. For example, the newest operating system, Lion, was released and the Macbook Air and Mac Mini product lines saw major updates, including the new Thunderbolt technology. Additionally, with 4 consecutive summers of iPhone updates as a trend, consumers appear to have been “trained” to look for this news in June or July, and this year was no exception.

Despite the August dip, the overall trend is still upwards since June 2011 and I’m reading into this a building anticipation for the next Apple handset. We now know the iPhone 5 is coming, but it’s the traffic going to them that reveals how much people actually care. And with Sprint rumored to be getting the iPhone 5 as well, this event will likely have industry-wide effects resulting in a lot of new customers and even some existing customers switching carriers.

What about you? How much do you care? What features are you hoping for in the iPhone 5? Make your opinions known in the comments below!

About Nathan Kollett:
Nathan Kollett is an Analyst in the Technology & Entertainment vertical at Compete. Nathan is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts Amherst and earned his B.A. in Economics with a minor in Mathematics and Statistics. You can follow him on Twitter at @nathankollett and connect with him on on Linkedin