I have no idea what Apple will announce tomorrow. I do know that it will be an updated iPhone, that will likely be available in the coming few weeks, just in time for the holiday shopping season. It’s becoming more and more likely that rumors of teardrop designed hardware, complete with a new larger display were off base and what we’ve been calling the iPhone 5 will not announced tomorrow. It might not be coming until 2012. It seems like tomorrow will bring the announcement that the iPhone 4S is coming and not the iPhone 5. This new iPhone will be the bridge from the current iPhone 4 to what will likely be a new design. 15 months after the iPhone 4 and Apple will be releasing the iPhone 4S, a stopgap device . Evolutionary rather than revolutionary, but will it be enough to continue Apple’s strong sales.

iPhone 4S stopgap

Sales of the iPhone 4 continue to be brisk. While the tech cycle continues to lust for new product designs, consumers are less concerned with product cycles. The iPhone has become an appliance. If the current iPhone 4 lined the shelves of Apple Stores this holiday season, they would continue to sell well. There isn’t a single phone that has seen any sort of critical sales that are anywhere near the iPhone 4. Consumers are content with buying the latest and greatest. If the iPhone 4S gets announced tomorrow, consumers that are interested in picking up an iPhone will purchase the iPhone 4S. Will the lack of an iPhone 5 push customers who want an iPhone to suddenly find themselves shopping a Galaxy II or Nexus Prime?

What about current iPhone owners? If you are like me, you purchased an iPhone 4 last July. Verizon customers who resisted the temptation to jump to AT&T bought their iPhone 4 in February. I’m not eligible for an upgrade and neither are any of the Verizon iPhone 4 owners. While I’d gladly pay for an evolutionary upgrade, not everyone has $500 to drop on an iPhone. When Apple dropped the iPhone 3GS, AT&T allowed early upgrades. This isn’t so easy with multiple US carriers and the inconsistent launch dates between AT&T and Verizon.

Releasing an iPhone 4S follows the pattern Apple has used in the past. iPhone 3G was succeeded by the iPhone 3GS. The smartphone market is more competitive than it was back then. Some would argue Apple might be slipping during a period where Android phone manufacturers are turning up the heat with the Nexus Prime among others. Are they off-base? The iPhone 4S would likely include a number of impressive upgrades internally and let’s not forget about iOS 5. These should be enough to still remain as a highly competitive device against the slew of Android phones. If the iPhone 4S gets slotted at $199, then it opens up an opportunity for the $99 iPhone 4. The duo of an upgraded iPhone 4S and value priced iPhone 4 is highly competitive.

Tomorrow could also see the addition of Sprint to the mix of US carriers offering the iPhone. As the 3rd largest wireless carrier, this brings a good number of potential iPhone customers. There are consumers who won’t switch carriers for a phone. Just like Verizon before them, Sprint will bring with them carrier loyal customers that have been waiting for an iPhone.

It’s easy to get caught up in the lust for a new iPhone. At the end of the day, the iPhone 4S will build upon a known commodity. The iPhone 4 is a kick ass phone. Best in class build quality, materials and software. There’s nothing wrong with taking a great phone and making it better. It might be a stopgap device, but the iPhone 4S will still be better than great and that’s not bad.