Apple’s first 5G iPhone 12 will ship late this year

There's a possibility Apple will need to stagger the introduction of new iPhone models as pandemic chaos strikes manufacturing.

Apple’s first 5G iPhone 12 may not ship until later than normal this year, as the company grapples with COVID-19 supply chain problems, a senior company partner has suggested.

A little later than normal

Broadcom CEO Hock Tan warned investors that his company’s 2020 revenue would be impacted by what he described as a major product cycle delay at “a large North American mobile phone customer,' which is apparently how he has referred to Apple in the past.

Of course, we don’t know he’s discussing Apple, but it seems pretty likely, as most other North American mobile phone firms make relatively inconsequential quantities of devices.

He warned:

“In Q3, we will normally expect to see a double-digit sequential uplift in revenue from the ramp of next-generation phone at our large North American mobile phone customer."

He now doesn’t expect to see this revenue until the following quarter.

Apple traditionally introduces new iPhone models at a major launch event in late September, with the device usually being made available for pre-orders a few days later and shipment beginning the week after that.

Current speculation suggests the ship date may now slip into November:

  • The Wall Street Journal has previously flagged the possibility of a month’s delay in iPhone 12 production.
  • Nikkei has speculated the launch may be delayed by “months”.
  • Digitimes has made similar claims, adding that Apple may begin production of one of the upcoming models of the iPhone 12 a little earlier.

This suggests the "entry-level" iPhone 12 may be available initially with the company drip-feeding other models across subsequent weeks, staggering the launch while maintaining revenue, I suppose.

This also makes it possible that the highest-end models may not be available until just before Christmas, or even early 2021.

Not a huge surprise

This isn’t particularly surprising. Just like everyone, Apple’s teams have been struggling with supply chain and manufacturing challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, and development has been impacted because it has not been possible for key staff to travel. This extends to production line management.

In a sense, it’s not such a big deal: COVID-19 has not disappeared, and while things are limping into some form of new normal there is no guarantee the line will hold. We are one outbreak away from a return to lockdown.

It is also true to say that while 5G deployment activity continues, many network operators have been investing in QoS protection and working to maintain SLAs with their larger clients. That means the deployment of the next-gen tech has slowed slightly, and not just because staff have been unavailable.

With 5G likely intended to be one of the big selling points of the new family of iPhones, a delayed introduction may do no harm, as the services and networks needed for those smartphones don’t yet exist in significant quantity in most of Apple’s markets.

This will change in the next year, making the iPhone 13 a more attractive proposition for 5G support, particularly as Apple will likely tie this in with new breeds of service and supporting services bundles. TV+ content, for example, will likely boast a far bigger content catalog.

Of course, 5G isn’t just about consumer-facing services. The pandemic shows us the need for robust high-bandwidth mobile networks and enterprises are investing in cloud-based infrastructure, Wi-Fi6/5G and high-end services designed to maintain major Industry 4.0 IoT deployments. iPhones will be part of this tapestry.

What to expect in the next iPhone?

With 5G set for the high-end iPhone 12 and iOS 14 set to raise interest with new features and backwards compatibility, what else can we expect from the new models?

Previous reports have predicted multiple models of the device, with 5.4-in., 6.1-in. and 6.7-in. OLED display models available. They will boast a smaller FaceID system, more built-in RAM, a LiDAR sensor, and a U1 chip as launched in iPhone 11. High-end models are expected to hold larger batteries, 120Hz ProMotion displays, and to offer 3X optical zoom. They will run on a 5nm A-series Apple-designed processor, which promises better battery life with maximal performance.

Apple’s plans may change, and some of what it introduces may exceed these predictions; we won’t know until it introduces these devices whenever it is able to do so. However, with WWDC an online event this year, likely to have more people watching than ever before, there will be lots of interest in what Apple’s developer-focused announcements suggest is coming, and what (if anything) Apple will tell us about the ongoing impact of the pandemic on its plans.

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Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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