Apple sets course for new display tech in June/July iPhone 5S

Apple [AAPL] is preparing its attempt to drive device sales, plotting course for an iPhone 5S release for June/July along with a move to new display technologies across its product range, company watchers claim.

[ABOVE: Sharp shows its IGZO technology at CES, jointly developed with "another company".]

Plotting course for IGZO

The company has clearly decided to deal with the fluctuations in iPhone sales by accelerating introduction of incrementally improved new models of the device. Peter Misek of Jeffries claims the company plans to begin production of the next version of the iPhone in March, shipping the new device in mid-summer.

The news emerges as the usual suspects continue to claim decline in component orders for iPhones and the iPad mini: in both cases apparently the company has reduced display orders. One possibility here is that Apple intends deploying new display technology across its devices.

Trip Chowdhry of Global Equities Research calls these reports "accurate" he believes a "technology shift is happening at Apple." That shift sees the company invest in IGZO displays for its products. The company is known to have been in discussion with IGZO inventor, Sharp, in order to achieve this, but it is thought manufacturing yield problems delayed this plan.

Reports of cuts in display orders may well suggest the company is about to deploy this new technology across its devices, running down stock of previous display components in anticipation of this shift.

IGZO is lighter, demands less power and easier to cut into different shapes. In conjunction with Liquid Metal, a process which makes metal castable while retaining its essential robustness, it seems clear to me that Apple's putting itself into position to introduce devices in innovative new shapes and designs -- devices competitors will find extremely challenging to match while still making profits in the inordinately aggressive smartphone game.

IGZO displays can also be cut into large sheets, so it seems likely the firm will introduce large high-resolution displays -- potentially within the Apple television, and perhaps first deployed in future Apple displays for Macs, particularly as the firm moves toward launch of a new and updated Mac Pro.

New configurations

Misek last month predicted the next model of the device will be available in various colors and will deliver better battery life. In future, he suggests Apple will move to offer iPhone models with a larger 4.8-inch display, though this may be an element in the iPhone 6.

He also anticipates some form of entry-level iPhone. Apple marketing chief, Phil Schiller, moved to dispel expectation the company would introduce a cheap device.

Critics believe it's unlikely Apple would want to cannibalize sales of its flagship iPhone by offering an alternative configuration, however, Apple has shown in recent years that it doesn't mind cannibalizing sales of its own devices -- it clearly prefers that if any cannibalization is going on, its an Apple product that replaces an Apple product.

The company seems on course to introduce biometric sensors in a future iPhone. KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo predicts this will carry a fingerprint sensor in the the home button. The analyst believes this will obviate the need for passwords and user names. This makes sense, but a more secure implementation would demand both a known fingerprint as well as more traditional security protections.

Like Misek, Kuo also predicts a new iPhone variant will be made available in multiple colors when it ships in summer. He also anticipates an improved camera and a new (A7) Apple processor in the flagship device, which should ship the same time he says.

Kuo also predicts:

  • A thinner, lighter 10-inch iPad
  • Retina Displays for the iPad mini (which could account for reduced display orders for that model)
  • A cheaper iPod touch
  • A better Apple TV
  • A move to an all Retina Display MacBook Pro range.

Motivated teams

Speaking at the Bloomberg Design conference, iPod inventor, Tony Fadell talked a little more about how the design process works at Apple, revealing that 99 percent of projects which pass certain product development milestones do actually ship. He contrasted this with his experience at Phillips, where products can be canned shortly before they are meant to ship.

This  means Apple's design teams are highly motivated: “When you’re in a culture that has a point of view, and drives to launch everything it does, you know you’re on the hook and you better bring your best game every time,” said Fadell.

Highly motivated and with the world to lose, Apple's current silence should perhaps be perceived as that of a firm preparing to strike, rather being the silence of an animal retiring to lick its wounds. 

The next year in Apple product releases already looks set to be quite interesting as the company drives inexorably toward its big reveals in June/July and October.

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