Reports: Apple slashes iPhone component orders

While some experts take the news with some salt, others explain the downturn by citing rocketing sales of Samsung's Galaxy S III

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"This may be a long-term issue for Apple," argued Hayes. "Apple hasn't changed the iPhone as dramatically as we're used to seeing, but instead [has] made only small changes to its functionality."

As an example, Hayes cited Near Field Communications (NFC), a technology that Apple has yet to apply to the iPhone, while Samsung has made much of it in advertising campaigns, showing users transferring data simply by touching their phones together.

Other analysts were, like Gottheil, skeptical of the order downsizing. Brian White, of Topeka Capital Markets, one of Wall Street's most bearish on Apple, said in a research note last week that his "Apple Monitor," an index of Taiwanese component makers that derive more than half of their revenue from sales to Apple, was down sequentially just 3% in December, significantly less than the seven-year average of 11% for that month.

"In our view, the upside in the Apple Monitor is driven by the strongest new product ramp in Apple's history, with 80% of December quarter sales from new product launches," White wrote to his clients.

White's forecast for iPhone sales during the quarter that ended Dec. 31, 2012, is 43 million, which would be a record, and 40.1 million for the April-June quarter. Others on Wall Street have pegged fourth quarter 2012 sales as high as 50 million units.

Apple will release earnings for the fourth quarter on Jan. 23, when it will disclose iPhone sales for the period and as it has in the past, provide general information on its existing inventory.

Just don't expect CEO Tim Cook to divulge whether the company's cut iPhone component orders, said Gottheil.

"Under Cook, Apple has been more aggressive about ordering," said Gottheil in another explanation for the downturn. Historically, Apple has had ongoing -- and at times long-running -- problems producing enough iPhone to meet demand. "Maybe they've hit the other side of that now. And maybe that's why they've been able to fill the pipeline so well for the iPhone 5."

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

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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