A pair of fresh reports have arrived pointing to iPhone 8 production challenges, and appear to be preventing Apple Inc.'s (AAPL - Get Report) shares from taking part in a Wednesday tech rally. But considering the details of the reports, and Apple's long history of responding to such production challenges for new hardware, investors shouldn't be too alarmed at this point.
On Tuesday evening, Fast Company reported Apple engineers have been "working feverishly to fix software problems" related to a pair of iPhone 8 hardware features. In particular, they're trying to fix software issues related to the phone's wireless charging system -- the chips used by the system, supplied by Broadcom Ltd. (AVGO - Get Report) , are said to be working fine -- and are struggling to get the 3D face-detection sensor built into the phone's front camera to work reliably.
Not long afterwards, Bank of America analyst Wamsi Mohan reported talks with supply chain contacts indicate "the iPhone 8 will ship 3-4 weeks delayed" due to technical issues that are being worked through. These include challenges related to placing the fingerprint sensor underneath the phone's OLED display, and the packaging of its 3D sensor.
As a result, Mohan has cut his September and December quarter iPhone sales estimates by 11 million and 6 million units, respectively, albeit while raising his March quarter estimate by 10 million units. He maintains a Buy rating and $180 price target for Apple.
These, of course, aren't the first reports pointing to iPhone 8 delays. RBC, Cowen, KGI Securities and other firms have also suggested that the iPhone 8 could ship a little later than less technically demanding iPhone 7S models that (like the iPhone 7 and 7-Plus) are expected to sport LCD displays rather than OLEDs. The reports have generally pointed to a possible 1-to-2 month lag in the iPhone 8's production ramp relative to the 7S ramp.
In addition, some Apple suppliers have indicated that this year's iPhone production ramp will take longer to unfold. During its June 1st earnings call, Broadcom suggested its iPhone chip sales ramp would start off slower than usual this year, but also predicted it would "accelerate dramatically" during the company's October quarter.
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For now, reports point to a moderate delay in the iPhone 8 ramp, rather than something more severe. With new iPhones normally going on sale around the third week of September (after having been revealed 10 days earlier), it is possible that delayed shipments will hurt Apple's September quarter sales. But the odds of a big impact on the seasonally huge December quarter remain pretty low.
Indeed, given how high iPhone loyalty rates are, the main impact of an iPhone 8 delay could simply be to push out sales from calendar Q3 to Q4. It is possible that some impatient customers will end up buying an iPhone 7S rather than an 8, and that would hurt Apple's average selling prices (ASPs) a bit, but that's far from a doomsday scenario. For now, analysts on average expect 47 million iPhone sales in the September quarter at a $641 ASP, and 84 million sales in the December quarter at a $719 ASP.
Also: In the event that iPhone 8 engineering challenges prove much harder to crack than anticipated, workarounds may exist for some of them. For example, Apple could choose to place the phone's fingerprint sensor on its back panel -- Samsung and many other Android OEMs take this approach -- if it struggles to get a below-display sensor working properly. And as Business Insider has reported, the company could delay shipping the iPhone 8's wireless charging accessory while it works out charging software issues.
It's also worth keeping in mind that Apple has faced supply constraints for popular new iPhone models several times before. Last year, shortages persisted for the iPhone 7-Plus and its dual-lens rear camera through the December quarter, with many early buyers having to wait several weeks for an order to ship. And both the iPhone 6 and 6-Plus saw shortages during their first months of availability in 2014.
In those cases, supply constraints and delayed shipments for a hot new iPhone model simply proved to be a nuisance rather than a disaster, with customers generally choosing to wait until their desired iPhone became available or (to a lesser degree) opting for another one. Unless production delay reports start to look a lot worse than they do right now, the same should hold for the iPhone 8.
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