Apple's iPhone 5 release date: Q3 launch?

By Jonny Evans

The Apple [AAPL] iPhone 5 speculation climbs yet another notch today on news -- albeit from a sometimes patchy source -- that the company is winding down display orders for its existing model, putting the third quarter firmly in the frame for a product introduction.

[ABOVE: Having used most of the interesting iPhone-related videos, instead here's a lovely song from the talented Bev Lee Harling.]

Supply and logistics

I've been proposing October as the potential introduction point for the new device, but fresh information suggests an earlier introduction is possible. So what's the data?

iPhone 4S displays are presently products by TPK and Wintek, but Digitimes reports "sources" who claim touch panel shipments for iPhones from those suppliers are set to slip 15-20 percent in the second quarter of 2012 -- the current quarter.

This suggests either or both the following:

-- iPhone sales may be stagnating slightly as the world economy shrinks. (Which suggests tough times for most vendors).

-- Apple is preparing to introduce a new model and is winding down its touchscreen display inventory accordingly.

The report:

"TPK Holding and Wintek are expected to see their shipments of touch panels for iPhones decline 15-20% sequentially in the second quarter, as iPhone 4S is moving into the final stage of its product life cycle, and Apple is likely to adopt in-cell touch solutions for its next-generation model, according to industry sources."

Display technology transition

We've discussed in-cell touch screens in the past. These demand less battery life and take less time to manufacture than the existing displays, and will likely be produced by Japanese firms, including Sharp, the firm Foxconn acquired a major stake in earlier this year. TPK and Wintek aren't manufacturing such displays at this time.

Digitimes adds: "Due to a stock-pile of iPhone 4S and the effect of deferred purchases at consumers, TPK expects its revenues to fall about 10 percent sequentially in the second quarter of 2012, the company said earlier."

The second half of 2012 sees both TPK and Wintek continue to ship displays to Apple, but these will equal just one-third of the shipments the two firms supplied in the first half of the year, the publication's sources explained.

iPhone 2012: new iPhone and iPhone 4S

What's the takeaway here? Here's some suggestions:

-- Apple may well be using up its existing stocks of displays to make way for new display process technology.

-- Transition to the new displays is expected to take place within the third quarter, but supply of existing touchscreens will continue, albeit at a reduced level.

-- This suggests a product transition at some point within the third quarter.

-- That production of the displays used in existing models continues across the rest of the year suggests Apple intends deprecating its iPhone 4S, though the model will remain available as a lower-cost option.

Soothsaying September

There's no doubt that the report will add a little fuel to the speculation favoring a WWDC introduction of the iPhone, though I remain unconvinced on that.

I anticipate the new device will be announced and reach retail toward Fall, but now suspect introduction in early September, rather than the October launch I had expected.

Of course, like any Apple prediction, this speculation isn't rubber-clad pending further data, and is subject to the caveat that Digitimes is not a consistent source.

What are your thoughts?

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