iPhone 8 Production: Yes, It’s Late, No It’s Not!

May 9th, 2017

For several months, we’ve been hearing the same old refrain: Apple is running into trouble gearing up for production of the mythical iPhone 8. As a result, it may indeed by announced at a September media event as expected, but won’t ship for months. This is the result of alleged various and sundry difficulties setting up production lines.

A corollary rumor is that Apple shares Samsung’s difficulty in getting a touchscreen-based version of its fingerprint sensor to work, and hence will place it on its backside, contradicting it’s user-friendly Touch ID approach. In other words, the same as the Samsung Galaxy S8. Indeed, some alleged schematics of this alleged iPhone design have been posted, but it’s obvious there’s no evidence they are genuine.

True, if the iPhone 8 — or 10th anniversary iPhone — is what it’s rumored to be, a brand new glass-based design with an edge-to-edge OLED display and other goodies, it’s possible there will  be production difficulties. Indeed, Apple does run into product shortages for a time with new products. The AirPods represent a recent example. The iPhone 7 Plus was also constrained, but that’s supposedly because Apple misjudged demand, and maybe that’s also true for the fancy wireless earphones.

So on the surface, the stories about production glitches do appear to be credible, except that such rumors are usually repeated every year with a brand new Apple gadget is expected. We don’t hear quite as many warnings of that sort with Samsung gear, and that doesn’t mean supplies aren’t constrained there too from time to time. It’s just not getting that much attention.

Now comes yet another claim about iPhone production efficiencies. This one emerges from a Chinese publication, Economic Daily News, which cites the supply chain in reporting that the production ramp is on track. An AP report claims that the new iPhone will be introduced in September and ship on time in October.

What this means is that Apple’s schedule will evidently be met. So if there’s any supply constraint, it would be the result of a higher-than-expected demand for the new hardware.

So what’s the truth?

Without any confirmation — which will not come from an official source until Apple actually demonstrates the next iPhone — it’s very much guesswork. For now it’s a matter of which sources you want to believe, and which ones should be ignored.

To be fair, it may be that the usual early production bottlenecks are being amplified to indicate the presence of a serious problem rather than a perfectly normal testing and setup process.

After all, Apple CEO Tim Cook is a supply chain genius, so such problems ought to be minor and of short duration. When production constrains occur, it may be mostly about underestimating demand, or just that Apple would prefer to have a product in somewhat short supply to make it seem more attractive, more popular. But that may be the sort of conspiracy theory that really doesn’t make practical sense. Why should Apple lose potential sales, or will more people buy something if it’s a little hard to get?

On the other hand, this sort of chatter merely helps promote an unrelated Apple product. First you read speculation about the specs and the design. Interspersed with those rumors are ones about alleged production hangups.

I wouldn’t assume that all these stories are somehow fed by Apple to fuel demand. It’s pretty clear the company cannot fully clamp down on stories from the supply chain. It’s too large to control fully. At best, they can cite the official corporate line, that Apple doesn’t talk about unreleased products. Except, of course, when they do, and that’s usually in keeping with a marketing plan to boost interest in something that has never been done before.

So you may indeed see a demonstration of the next Mac Pro at next month’s WWDC, with the promise of delivery early in 2018. But that isn’t based on any rumors or expectations. Since the next Mac Pro may be built in the U.S., same as its controversial predecessor, you won’t be hearing about it via the Asian supply chain. So Apple can surprise and amaze people without any advance warning that it’s happening.

It can indeed be a neat way to present a “one more thing,” something we don’t see from Apple all that often nowadays.

But I do not expect to see a demonstration of a new iPhone at the Apple developer event, even though one unnamed industry analyst made that prediction. One would think that someone who professes an expertise about an industry would have a modicum of common sense. Apple isn’t going to pre-announce a new product when that announcement will gut sales of current models. Consider what’s already happening. According to Cook, some of the slowdown in iPhone 7 sales is due to expectations about a newer, better model.

There will be exceptions, and recent disclosures about the next Mac Pro aren’t going to hurt sales of the current model any more than they are already being hurt. Apple has already confirmed that an all-new model is under development, and has been selling off the 2013 version at a sharply reduced price. The damage has already been done.

As far as the next iPhone is concerned, I’m eager to see how it all turns out, but I don’t take much of the current chatter about it seriously.

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