While we already know that we’re not going to see any of Apple’s 2020 iPhone lineup launch before October — rumours aside, Apple admitted outright to investors that it would be “a few weeks later” than usual — it now looks like it may not even have all of its iPhone 12 models ready to launch at the same time.
We’ve been hearing rumours for months that Apple could choose to delay some iPhone models, but those reports have been all over the place, with some indicating that only the 6.7-inch “iPhone 12 Pro Max” would be delayed into October, with others suggesting that Apple could release the 6.1-inch models early, which would mean the larger iPhone 12 and the smaller iPhone 12 Pro would come out at the same time.
When it finally became apparent that the entire lineup was being delayed into at least October, many suspected that these were simply all part of the same rumours. However, according to Bloomberg, it now looks like there was still a germ of truth here, and that it’s the two “Pro” models that will get a later release date.
Specifically, Bloomberg’s sources have said that Apple will be adopting a “staggered release strategy” of shipping “the lower-end phones” sooner than the pair of Pro models, suggesting that the “iPhone 12 Pro” and “iPhone 12 Pro Max” could be delayed into November, in a move similar to what happened with the iPhone X three years ago.
The Bloomberg report otherwise confirms much of what we’ve already heard about the new iPhone models and Apple’s other product release plans, including yesterday’s report from Mac Otakara predicting that Apple’s AirTags will also be arriving this fall, while also adding that they’ll “be equipped with a leather carrying case.” The report also adds that Apple is working on two new Apple Watch models, confirming reports last week that an “Apple Watch SE” is in the works as a lower-cost replacement for the aging Apple Watch Series 3 in order to compete with lower-cost fitness devices like the Fitbit.
Notably, however, Bloomberg doesn’t offer any specifics on timing for any of Apple’s product releases. While the Mac Otakara report suggested that everything is being delayed until October, including the Apple Watch and new iPads, there’s also a fair bit of evidence that Apple could release those two devices in September via a press release, separately from its big fall iPhone event which leakers and analysts now pretty much unanimously agree won’t happen until October.
What About 5G?
According to Bloomberg, Apple has committed to 75 million 5G iPhones, asking its suppliers to produce just as many as it did last year, meaning that Apple is continuing to expect the new models to sell very well even in the midst of the ongoing global health pandemic and recession.
Earlier this year, Apple told suppliers that it expects to sell 213 million iPhones in total between April 2020 and March 2021, although that naturally also includes the iPhone 11 lineup, iPhone SE, and iPhone XR, which are still being manufactured and sold, and at least some of which will undoubtedly continue to be sold after the 2020 iPhone lineup debuts.
Among the 5G iPhones, however, it seems that demand for the ultra-fast mmWave iPhones may actually be lower than expected, meaning that Apple may have reduced orders for these particular models.
We already know that it’s very likely Apple will be producing two versions of at least some of its 5G iPhones — those that support only the more widely deployed sub-6GHz technology, and those that also add to that support for the much faster but shorter range mmWave 5G.
According to venerable Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, however, who predicted earlier this year that Apple would be releasing the mmWave 5G version of its new iPhones in at least five countries, the numbers for these faster 5G models may be lower than expected.
According to a research note from TFI Securities shared by MacRumors, the global rollout of mmWave technology has been slowed down by the novel coronavirus pandemic, meaning that in many markets there simply won’t be any mmWave 5G for customers to take advantage of yet. As a result, shipments of these particular iPhone models could be “several million units” lower than originally expected.
Originally, Kuo predicted that Apple would ship 10-20 million mmWave 5G iPhones by the end of 2020, and then another 40-50 million in 2021, however he’s now revised those numbers to 4-6 million and 25-35 million, respectively.
Kuo doesn’t indicate whether he still believes that the mmWave models will launch alongside the rest of the 5G models, so it remains to be seen whether this reduction in shipments will actually cause a delay or simply mean that mmWave-capable iPhones may be launched in fewer countries or on fewer carriers.
With Apple’s penchant for keeping its product lineup simple, it seems unlikely that it would launch both the sub-6GHz only and mmWave versions of otherwise identical iPhone models in the same places, but it’s certainly possible that individual carriers could once again get specific models appropriate for their networks, much like Apple did back in the early days of its LTE iPhones.
For example, Verizon’s 5G network is exclusively mmWave, which means that it would pretty much have to have an mmWave-capable version to be able to actually sell a 5G iPhone — a sub-6GHz only version would be limited using the 4G LTE network — whereas T-Mobile has deployed a massive sub-6GHz network with no mmWave at all, meaning that an mmWave iPhone would be pointless for its customers.
Sadly, this does mean that iPhone users in countries like the U.S. may once again find themselves with compatibility issues should they decide to switch carriers. For example, a T-Mobile or AT&T customer who buys a sub-6GHz only iPhone wouldn’t be able to use 5G at all if they later decided to switch to Verizon.
Notably, however, it may not be that big of a deal at the end of the day anyway; Bloomberg has spoken to Apple employees who have been testing the new iPhones already, who have reported finding the performance to be a disappointment on the current 5G networks.