iPhone 5 delayed until September, says report

Reuters cites supply chain sources; analyst says Apple wants more on hand to meet higher demand

Apple won't start selling the next iPhone until September, sources have told the Reuters news service, adding to the chorus that the company will abandon a four-year practice.

"I think that's likely," said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research. "Apple has a supply chain that's busting at the seams trying to keep up with demand, and it's been at least dinged by the natural disasters in Japan."

Later today, Apple will hold its quarterly earnings call with Wall Street analysts, but Gottheil wasn't expecting to hear any news then about what most have dubbed the iPhone 5. Traditionally, Apple executives refuse to discuss unannounced products.

Tuesday, Reuters cited multiple anonymous sources within Apple's component ecosystem who said that production of the next-generation iPhone will begin in June or July, with shipping starting in September.

If accurate, it would be the first time Apple has launched a new iPhone outside of the June-July window, the prime factor in analysts' earlier predictions that the company would unveil the iPhone 5 in early June at its usual Worldwide Developers Conference venue.

Apple's success in selling iPhones may be at the heart of the problem, Gottheil said.

"To not drive people insane at launch, Apple may feel the need to have a larger inventory than in the past," said Gottheil. "Of course, that's goodness for Apple. But it sounds like what's happening."

Demand for the last three iPhones -- the 3G, 3GS and 4 -- greatly exceeded initial demand. In 2010, for example, Apple apologized for botching pre-orders, while AT&T, then the only U.S. carrier selling the iPhone, suspended early orders.

With out-the-gate sales increasing annually, Gottheil's point that Apple needs a larger supply before starting to sell the smartphone could be on the money.

Other analysts are also now leaning to a later launch.

"We expect the iPhone 5 launch to be more of a September event," Brian White, of Ticonderoga Securities, said in a research note to clients.

Even so, White stuck to his estimate of 16.2 million iPhones sold in the year's third quarter. "This should at least be achievable despite our expectation of a September iPhone 5 launch given the continued momentum for iPhone 4 and a bit of help from a potential 'white' iPhone 4 launch at the end of April," wrote White.

Last June, Apple acknowledged "challenging" manufacturing issues involving the white iPhone 4, and promised it would show up later that month. Recent reports, however, have pegged the almost-mythical device's launch to next week.

Most analysts expect Apple to post another strong quarter later today, with sales growth dramatically higher than the PC industry average.

"Although the iPhone and iPad 'halo effect' is clearly bringing a lot of new people into the stores, the main reason is that Apple has successfully transitioned the Mac into a qualitatively different thing from a PC," said Gottheil. "They've done that not on the basis of faster processors or more memory, but on the back of their customer support infrastructure."

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

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