Topeka Capital Markets analyst Brian White’s claims that his trip to Asia recently netted him a few iPhone 5 insights, including a unibody form factor and late summer release date. Read why I think the first rumor sounds plausible, but the second one makes little sense to me.
As a rule, we should take analysts’ prediction with as many grains of salt as we do tech rumor blogs, as many of them use their clout as analysts to gin up the market on speculation of wild, fantastical rumors. Topeka Capital Markets analyst Brian White, however, offered up a few new rumor tidbits about the iPhone 5 that are worth delving into, whether they turn out to be credible or not.
On his recent visit to Asia, Mr. white claims to have picked up some clues about the iPhone 5′s features and release date. His claim that the iPhone 5 will sport a 4-inch screen and 4G LTE aren’t really eyebrow-raising prognostications, since a 4-inch+ display and 4G seem to be foregone conclusions for the next iPhone. More interesting, however, are his comments about the iPhone 5′s form factor.
According to Business Insider, the iPhone 5 will sport “a new, sleek look that we believe will require a Unibody case. This new, sleek look will be the most important reason that consumers decide to upgrade to the iPhone 5.” This quote is a bit confusing: is BI saying that the iPhone 5′s form factor will be unibody, or that its sleek form factor will require a unibody case? Other tech publications have interpreted this quote differently. For example, ZDNET’s Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, commenting on the iPhone 5 unibody quote, said, “I’m also not sure what to make of the unibody suggestion. It’s worth remembering that the original iPhone, the iPhone 3G and the iPhone 3GS were unibody construction in a sense (although not machined out of a single aluminum block). Apple can do some amazing things with aluminum but putting the antennas back inside the iPhone would leave less room inside for components (and the battery),” indicating that he thinks we’re talking about a single-piece chassis for the iPhone 5.
It’s worth mentioning that unibody construction is not an alien design element for Cupertino: we’ve seen them deploy it with the MacBooks. There were also faint rumors of a future iPhone being cut from a single piece of metal, though the notion of it being “cut” might be inaccurate, with Apple opting for the use of LiquidMetal to mold a metal unibody iPhone 5 form factor instead. LiquidMetal did make headlines on the day of the iPad 3′s launch by saying it was shipping a large shipment of its alloy for something mysterious, which briefly made investors think that the New iPad would be made of LiquidMetal.
Suffice it to say, a true unibody construction is not out of the question for the iPhone 5.
What seems less likely to me personally, however, is White’s belief that the iPhone 5 is slated for an august/September release date. You’ll recall that throughout the 2011 summer, we were told over and over again that the iPhone 5 would be released in august, then September. It never seemed like a reasonable possibility then, and it still doesn’t, since august is a particularly bad month of any product launch, due to the large number of people going on summer vacations in the northern hemisphere. To me, the iPhone 5 will be released either in June or in the fall, like the 4S — a late summer release just doesn’t seem viable.
BI envisions the late-summer iPhone 5 release date this way: “Our sense is that some suppliers will begin production of certain components during the month of June, however, this does not necessarily mean the iPhone 5 will launch in June or even July.” while BI is going on sense, it would appear that components are already in production, notably from Samsung and Texas Instruments. And if the iPhone 5 is to utilize the A5X processor in the New iPad, then those are already into mainstream production. If key components like the display, power management chip, and processor are already in production, it remains to be seen why BI would think that it will not be until June that we see production ramp up for the iPhone 5, as it will not take three months for Apple to amass the raw components they need to begin assembly.
In the end, it appears that what is driving BI and other tech blogs’ belief in a iPhone 5 release that is later rather than sooner is this assumption: “In our view, a August/September launch may make more sense given the iPhone 4S was just launched in October 2011.” There is a tendency to believe that whatever Apple does immediately sets a new pattern. I am still of the belief that 2011 was an irregular year for the iPhone release, and not necessarily a paradigm shift.
Finally, it’s worth noting that the BI article has this to say near the end of the article: “We believe the iPhone 5 ramp for the December quarter could be extraordinary, dwarfing previous launches and driving the stock closer to our $1,001 price target.” This quote shows how tech analyst hype does indeed build into Wall Street, with these new predictions looking to drive up speculation on Apple stock.
By Michael Nace