C|Net’s Tom Krazit, reporting on a rumor from a Daring Fireball article that Apple could release new laptops in October:

If that date comes to pass, Apple will have officially missed the back-to-school shopping season, which is generally one of the best-selling quarters for the Mac. Even if it launched the new notebooks tomorrow it would have missed most of the college students who were looking to upgrade before heading back to campus[.]

Well, yeah. They’ve been doing this for years. From Mac Timeline, here are all of the hardware releases of MacBooks or iBooks that Apple has ever released during the back-to-school season:

  • 1 November 2007: MacBook update 2.0GHz or 2.2GHz (santa rosa), GMA X3100 video
  • 8 November 2006: MacBook now Core 2 Duo same price, 1.83GHz white same spec/ 2.0 GHz white 1GB RAM 80GB HDD/ 2.0GHz black 1GB RAM 120GB HDD
  • 19 October 2004: G4 iBooks updates, Airport Extreme standard, 12” now US$999
  • 22 October 2003: New G4 iBooks, similar form, slot loading optical drive, USB2, upto 1GHz
  • 6 November 2002: Updated to 700-800Mhz & US$200 price cut
  • 16 October 2001: Updated iBook G3 500 & 600MHz announced

For MacBook Pros and PowerBooks:

  • 1 November 2007: MacBook Pro new BTO 2.6GHz, 250GB HDD
  • 5 June 2007: MacBook Pro update 2.2/2.4GHz, 15.4” now LED backlight, 17” high res display optional, GeForce 8600M GT graphics, upto 4GB RAM
  • 19 October 2005: G4 15” - 1440x960, 17” - 1680x1050 resolution displays
  • 16 September 2003: All New 15” Aluminium Released. 12” & 17” Updated, USB 2.0 across the board
  • 6 November 2002: Updated to 1Ghz+ Superdrive & US$200 price cut
  • 16 October 2001: Updated Powerbook G4 550 & 667MHz models announced

So in seven years, Apple has not once released a new laptop in July or August, and only once in June. Fall updates, if any, have come in October or November, excepting one 2003 September refresh. I was hopeful but not optimistic they’d release new ones this week, but history shows that Apple just doesn’t care about back-to-school shoppers. Instead, they offer free iPods with the purchase of a new computer and let that drive sales. Then, once the students have bought up all their old inventory, they release new laptops and new iPods. (iMac updates actually have come in July and August in 2002, 2004, 2006, and 2007, but many schools now require students to have portable computers.)

Why not release shiny new computers for the students to gobble up? Well, I don’t know and I’m not a sales expert. Maybe they figure students have to buy a new computer no matter what, and all they need to do is sell their brand, not updated hardware, to them. As Krazit says, back-to-school season tends to produce great sales for Apple, always by selling older hardware. Maybe they could get better sales by releasing faster stuff in the summer, or maybe they’d run out of inventory.

Here’s another theory: part of being a Mac user is getting used to the company releasing new stuff right after you buy something from them, so maybe Apple figures all their new students switchers should experience that right away. I’m sure it’s terribly frustrating to be a new college student going off to school knowing you have to buy an end-of-life laptop. And this way they can release updates in the fall in time to have everything in stock for Christmas, only to make them obsolete at Macworld in January.