Consumers who tuned in to Apple’s signature early September event hoping to hear tantalizing details about the forthcoming iPhone 12 were treated instead to an hour-long infomercial detailing the company’s latest Apple Watch models and a refreshed line of mid-range and low-cost iPads.
The flagship smartphone’s conspicuous absence wasn’t totally unexpected. Apple warned during its last earnings call that disruptions to its supply chain from the coronavirus pandemic could delay the latest iPhone.
“Last year, we started selling iPhones in late September,” the company’s chief financial officer, Luca Maestri, said on the call in late July. “This year, we project supply to be available a few weeks later.”
While the pandemic may have affected the supply of specific components, manufacturing capacity has made “a strong recovery” in recent months, according to Ross Rubin, principal analyst at Reticle Research. If the forthcoming phone delivers genuinely new technology consumers crave, pushing the launch back should be fine for sales.
“The iPhone 12 may have enough new to it to warrant a separate event; the key is to have it ready in the run-up to the holidays, so a change in launch by a few weeks isn’t a major change,” Rubin said.
And if analyst forecasts are accurate, the iPhone 12 could be worth the wait: It’s expected to be Apple’s first smartphone with 5G capabilities.
The ability to operate on the next-generation of super fast wireless networks could convince millions of people to upgrade their smartphones.
Indeed, analysts predict the 5G iPhone will generate a “super cycle” of consumers buying new devices, even if Apple is somewhat late to the party — arch rival Samsung has been rolling out 5G-enabled devices for over a year now. On Monday, Google teased two new 5G smartphones from its Pixel line that it will reveal on Sept. 30.
Apple is jumping into the 5G fray just as next-generation compatibility is becoming a common smartphone feature and before the highly touted benefits of 5G coverage are widely available. Apple can likely count on the iPhone’s loyal user base to wait until later this fall for a 5G device from their preferred brand.
“Almost all of the major Android brands now have at least one 5G line in the market; Samsung has several,” Rubin said. “So, it’s important in terms of keeping up feature parity and future-proofing, but the networks are still being built out and a dramatic speed increase versus 4G hasn’t yet come to most 5G networks.”
In terms of stoking consumer enthusiasm, it makes sense to push the announcement back to account for the manufacturing disruptions, analysts at Morgan Stanley wrote in a research note on Sept. 10.
“An iPhone announcement closer to product launch and shipment dates is less likely to disrupt demand.”