It is looking clearer by the day that the iPhone 12 launch, expected for later in 2020, will be a messy process.
Nikkei Asian review has reported that “Apple is pushing its suppliers to try to reduce production delays for its first 5G iPhones as the U.S. tech company aims to limit the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic”. According to the publication, expectations are for up to two months of delays in the release of the four iPhone 5G models. If confirmed, the hiccup could push the smartphone’s launch date to late November or early December 2020.
This is yet another chapter in Apple’s 5G soap opera. Here’s a quick rundown on the company’s bumpy road to the new technology:
- November 2018: the first wave of speculation about Apple’s 5G phone comes out. The device is expected to be released in 2020.
- April 2019: the reports are sparse, but some begin to anticipate a delay in the 5G-equipped iPhone until 2021. Intel, the modem supplier, gets assigned the blame.
- January 2020: reports surface that “every 5G iPhone is on track to launch in Fall 2020, with no signs of delay”. Closely-followed analyst Ming-Chi Kuo reports that the iPhone 12 will include a faster mmWave version, contradicting his own previous projections.
- March 2020: due to the COVID-19 disruptions, the worst-case scenario begins to gain traction. According to some estimates, Apple’s 5G smartphones may not come out until 2021.
- June 2020: the more likely scenario seems to be one of multi-week delays that may not necessarily spill into next year.
What I expect of the iPhone 12 launch
I suspect that the 2020 iPhone release will probably come in two waves. The first leg will likely be in late September for sub-6 Ghz devices, which I expect should face fewer production bottlenecks. The second leg, around early-to-mid November, would be for the mmWave version.
I would not rule out a priority release in the US, since I believe this to be Apple’s main 5G battleground in the next 12 months. Availability in countries where the Thanksgiving shopping season is less of a factor might be delayed further.
What must happen in the 5G rollout process
The most important thing, in my view, is that Apple’s 5G devices see the light of day in 2020. By the Fall, Samsung around the world and Huawei in markets outside the US will have had an 18-month head start in the 5G mobile device race against the Cupertino company. While I believe that Apple has not been hurt much by being late to the party so far, it could be going forward, as US carriers look ready to go to market more aggressively on 5G services this year.
The second most important thing for Apple is that its high-end 5G device becomes available at scale in the US early enough in the 2020 holiday season. The iPhone X can serve as the yardstick here. An early November 2017 release date did not drag sales by much, if at all. However, the tight deadline (21 days before Black Friday) was a bit too close for comfort.