This fall, Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) is expected to unveil a redesigned next-generation iPhone model with an edge-to-edge OLED display and other novel features such as 3D sensing capability.
A recent report from DigiTimes, citing "industry sources," suggested that "shipments of upcoming iPhones could be interrupted, with yield rates at assembly plants and the supply of OLED panels likely to become issues."
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"While Samsung (NASDAQOTH: SSNLF) Display has promised to fully support Apple with regards to the supply of OLED panels, only 3-4 million OLED-based new iPhone devices will be ready for shipping before the new smartphones are unveiled at a product event slated for September," DigiTimes' sources "estimated."
Additionally, the report said, again citing those sources, that based on the "current supply of OLED panels, it will be difficult for Apple to ship up to 50-60 million OLED-based new iPhones in 2017."
This stuff is hard, so the iPhone 8 may be difficult to buy
With the iPhone 8, Apple seems to be straying a bit out of its comfort zone -- it's adopting a bunch of relatively risky, cutting-edge technologies at once.
There are obviously advantages to doing this. In a slowing smartphone market with increasingly fierce competition vying for consumer dollars, bringing to bear the absolute best technology that can be built in high volumes today is clearly a good thing.
The downside is that it only takes supply issues with a single component to lead to supply issues for the finished product. The new iPhone is expected to have many difficult-to-manufacture technologies (cutting-edge processor, camera subsystems, display subsystems, industrial design), so it shouldn't come as any surprise that production of the new iPhone this year may fall short of demand.
And, naturally, if supply falls short of demand, some customers are going to be left frustrated in the early innings of the coming iPhone product cycle.
The takeaway for consumers and investors
For consumers, I'd say that if you really want the new iPhone (something that should be clear to potential customers after Apple hosts its traditional launch keynote), your best bet is to be awake precisely when Apple begins to take pre-orders and get your order in.
This method is hardly foolproof, since many others will be trying to do the exact same thing, but it's probably your best bet if you want one of the new iPhone models early.
What does this mean for Apple's business and its investors, though? I suspect that we'll see something like what happened during the iPhone 6 cycle (Apple's last "super cycle") play out: Apple will sell all the iPhone 8 devices that it can produce during the first full quarter of availability, and then a good deal of the sales that would've been recognized in that quarter will get pushed out to the following quarter.
This is hardly ideal, as it means that it'll take longer for Apple to recognize that iPhone 8-related revenue and some potential customers may be quite frustrated (leading some of them to choose alternative smartphones, perhaps ones from Apple's competitors), but it's not terrible for Apple, either.
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