Global Chip Shortage May Delay New iPads and MacBooks (But Is the iPhone Safe?)

MacBook Pro and iPad Pro Credit: Mohammadreza Alidoost / Roberto Nickson via Unsplash
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It looks like Apple won’t be entirely escaping the effects of the ongoing global health pandemic on its supply chain, with global chip shortages expected to impact at least some of its product timelines.

According to Nikkei, Apple has already postponed the production of at least some MacBook and iPad models due to a shortage of the necessary components, although the report emphasizes that this is an internal problem for Apple at this point, and is not affecting product availability for consumers — at least not yet.

It’s a rare situation for Apple, which is well-known for its logical expertise and procurement power, and as Nikkei notes it’s a good indication of just how bad the chip shortage has gotten. If a company as powerful as Apple isn’t immune to such problems, there’s even less hope for smaller electronics manufacturers.

  • Specifically, MacBook production has been delayed due to shortages of key chips that would need to be mounted on printed circuit boards before final assembly. In this case, a single missing chip stalls the entire process.
  • On the iPad side, however, it’s a shortage of displays and display components that’s slowed things down.

The good news, however, is that it looks like this is not having an impact on Apple’s plans for this year’s “iPhone 13.” Several reliable analysts have already confirmed that the iPhone remains on track for a big September release, although Nikkei’s sources suggest that the supply for some iPhone components is “quite tight.”

A report from Bloomberg earlier this month highlighted how a single $1 display driver chip, and other “seemingly insignificant” parts have basically begun slowing and shutting down production from electronics companies to automakers. Analysts estimate that this could result in over $60 billion in lost revenue for these companies by the end of 2021.

Not all the shortages are directly attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic. As Bloomberg notes, the winter storm in Texas heavily impacted U.S. production, and a fire at a key Japan factory has forced it to shut its doors for over a month. Even those companies that are running at full tilt are having problems keeping up with demand.

What’s Affected?

The report from Nikkei doesn’t indicate which MacBook or iPad models are affected, so it’s hard to know whether this will delay any of Apple’s new product announcements. At this point we don’t even know if the report is referring to mass production of yet-to-be-announced products, or simply more inventory for the models that are already on sale.

Multiple reports suggest that a new iPad Pro is right around the corner, but of course, those are just rumours. We don’t know for sure if Apple is actually planning to debut new iPads and MacBooks at an event this month, but even so, the company still has plenty of room to change its mind if it’s run into problems producing enough units to go on sale.

Apple is also expected to debut new Apple Silicon MacBooks at some point this year, but there’s been little solid information on a timeline for those, which means it’s entirely possible that they’re not on the roadmap until later this year anyway.

What About the iPhone?

Perhaps ironically, it was a previous shortage of these kinds of display driver chips that led to Apple’s decision to drop the faster 120Hz display from the iPhone 12 Pro last year. After Apple delayed the iPhone 12 launch into October, it clearly wasn’t willing to wait for the supply of these chips to improve before releasing its flagship iPhone 12 Pro models.

That said, it’s a problem that’s expected to be resolved for this year’s iPhone, as it’s a safe bet that Apple has already snatched up as many of these chips as it possibly could, likely just as a result of the supply chain order it already had on the books for the iPhone 12 Pro.

Earlier this week, we heard that mass production of Apple’s A15 chip is ahead of schedule. However, while this is good news, it’s far from the only component that goes into an iPhone, so other small components could still either result in production delays, or force Apple to make slight adjustments to its plans, as it did last year with the faster display technology.

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