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Is Apple Rewriting Its iDevice Release Calendar?

By Richard Adhikari MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Feb 22, 2011 11:36 AM PT

Picking the launch dates for the iPad 2 and iPhone 5 has become the hottest game in town among analysts and the media.

Is Apple Rewriting Its iDevice Release Calendar?

Some speculate that the iPad 2 will ship in March and that Apple will come out with an iPad 3 as early as September.

Others suggest production delays are impacting the upcoming rollout of both the iPhone 5 and iPad 2 and will cause the iPhone 5's release date to slip to September, rather than the late June/early July time frame in which previous models have arrived on shelves.

What could be happening? Apple isn't saying -- the company declined to respond to requests for comment by press time.

The Rumor Supply Chain

The rumor-go-round may have been kicked off by John Gruber writing on his "Daring Fireball" blog Feb. 9, opining that it would make sense for Apple to release a new iPad in September, when it traditionally releases new iPods.

That would allow the new iPad ride the holiday season wave, Gruber said.

That wouldn't necessarily mean a delay on the next iPad, though. He speculated that Apple might announce an iPad 2 in March and ship it in early April, about a year after the original iPad began shipping. This would be faster than the current model, have more RAM, be thinner and lighter, have a front-facing camera and run iOS 4.3.

In September, Apple might release an iPad 2.5 or "iPad Pro" something that's midway between the iPad 2 and an iPad 3.

Then Bloomberg Businessweek reported that an analyst from Yuanta Securities suggested recent design changes by Apple may have caused production delays at Hon Hai Precision Manufacturing. Hon Hai is the parent company of Foxconn, which makes the iPod, iPad and iPhone.

Further, Craig Berger, a senior vice president and senior research analyst at FBR Capital Markets, wrote in a note to investors Tuesday that the iPhone 5 will not likely be launched in July.

Various casing and touchscreen suppliers are still ramping up; some chip vendors haven't yet received firm orders for iPhone 5 processors, and suppliers for other sockets still haven't been nailed down, Berger wrote. He expects the iPhone 5 will be launched in September.

Ball of Confusion

In the same note, Berger wrote that iPad production is stable near-term and that he's heard Apple has raised its internal iPad production target for calendar 2011 from 38 million units to 45 million, much higher than Wall Street estimates.

So, what gives? What's really happening?

"I got some stuff on the iPad 2 from Asia that said it would be held up to late Q2," Rhoda Alexander, a director at IHS iSuppli, told MacNewsWorld. "But I looked into this more and it seems now there won't be any delays," she added.

"I expect the iPad 2 to hit retail shelves in April and the iPhone to hit stores in late June or early July," stated Brian Marshall, an analyst at Gleacher.

Forget about an iPad 2.5 and then an iPad 3 this year, Marshall told MacNewsWorld. "I don't think Apple will update the iPad twice a year," he explained. "I expect an annual refresh around April."

While it's true that there's been a general shortage of components for mobile devices, it's not likely that this has impacted Apple, said Will Stofega, a program director at IDC.

"Apple's always been good about making sure their supply chain is where it needs to be and cutting deals before they need to draw down on some of the components they need," Stofega pointed out.

Indeed, Apple tied down supplies of flash memory well in advance, and at its Q1 2011 earnings call in January, COO Tim Cook said in reply to a question that the company has identified another strategic area and pumped money into that, although he declined to provide details.

Is It Design, or Just Marketing?

Some reports speculate that the iPad 2's production has been delayed because it's made design changes. The processor and the touchscreen have been cited as possible targets.

"I was told earlier that Apple had begun production of the iPad 2 a couple of months ago, and it seems odd that there'd be a design change now," iSuppli's Alexander pointed out.

This is all speculation, yet there's still an outside chance that Apple may delay launching the iPad 2 and iPhone 5 for a few months.

If that does happen, it could be due more to Cupertino's canny marketing sense than to component or device shortages or design changes.

"Later in the year might be a good time to garner more attention, which may be why Apple might push back the iPhone 5 and iPad 2 launches," IDC's Stofega told MacNewsWorld.