An anonymous Quora post posited a solid theory as to why the iPhone and the iPad seem to so handily beat out the competition every year. It's because Apple can get their guts literally years before anyone can even respond.
Here's what he or she had to say:
What Apple does is use its cash hoard to pay for the construction cost (or a significant fraction of it) of the factory in exchange for exclusive rights to the output production of the factory for a set period of time (maybe 6 - 36 months), and then for a discounted rate afterwards. This yields two advantages:
1. Apple has access to new component technology months or years before its rivals. This allows it to release groundbreaking products that are actually impossible to duplicate...
2. Eventually its competitors catch up in component production technology, but by then Apple has their arrangement in place whereby it can source those parts at a lower cost due to the discounted rate they have negotiated with the (now) most-experienced and skilled provider of those parts - who has probably also brought his production costs down too...
That's a pretty cogent argument, especially when you consider what's been going on in recent years. What Apple does is strategically shop for potentially winning technologies that they can invest capital in. They then build a relationship with the provider while everyone else is forced to wait. COO Tim Cook even addressed the strategy earlier this year.
It's worked time and time again. The user notes that, back in 2007, competitors struggled to get a capacitive touchscreen that could be mentioned in the same breath as the iPhone's. That's because Apple simply had access to new components earlier than anyone else in the business. The same holds true for the iPhone 4, whose retina display remains the best in mobile after a full year. That's even after acknowledging that the 10-inch Galaxy Tab promises a veritable retina display in its own right.