updated 09:40 pm EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Compares to 50-60 million units ordered for iPhone 5s/5c launch last year
A new report citing unnamed sources "familiar with the matter" claims that Apple has put in orders for its largest-ever initial iPhone run, asking suppliers Foxconn and Pegatron to produce between 70 million and 80 million units for the devices' debut in the fall through the end of the year. Claiming that the order includes both 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch models (though the latter has yet to reveal solid evidence of actually existing), the new upcoming production run compares to the 50-60 million units ordered for the iPhone 5s and 5c last year.
The company is asking suppliers to deliver the up to 80 million units by December 30, meaning the supply anticipates what Apple expects to sell of the alleged two devices through the holiday season. Assuming that the new iPhone models are not widely available until after September 30, this would compare to 51 million units sold to customers during the holiday quarter (Apple's fiscal first quarter) in 2013, and represents a significant step up in sales expectations.
Presuming the larger-screen rumors are correct (and there is significant albeit unverified evidence to suggest the 4.7-inch model, at least, is a reality), Apple may have good reason to think it will sell more iPhones than ever this holiday season: while many prefer the smaller screen size of the current iPhone for its ability to use entirely one-handed, studies have shown that larger screens are the key to getting up to 35 percent of Android users to upgrade to the iPhone. Larger display availability has been a consistent key feature that Android users say would make them switch to the iOS platform, and is increasingly seen as a "premium" smartphone feature: according to Counterpoint Research, 98 percent of Android-based smartphones that sold for more than $400 featured a screen size greater than five inches.
The Wall Street Journal repeated unverified and often-dubious claims that the alleged 5.5-inch iPhone model has had production problems with its display and battery. Apple may be using a new "in-cell" technology that embeds the normally-separate touchscreen layer directly into the liquid crystal display, allowing the screen to be both lighter and thinner. Various rumors have claimed that the problem was resolved, or perhaps not, as the story on the unseen model changes seemingly week-to-week.
To combat this claimed high display failure rate, the Journal claims that Apple's component partners are being asked to make enough parts for 120 million iPhones, the sources said. This compares to a similar request supposedly made last year for enough parts for 90 million iPhones to assist with repairs and for fallback if demand outstripped supply, which it did in the case of the iPhone 5s.
What is known for a fact is that Apple's manufacturing partners are again on hiring sprees to recruit and train enough workers to cope with the season of highest demand for the forthcoming iPhones. Foxconn alone has confirmed it is hiring some 100,000 additional workers, while Pegatron is also recruiting an unknown number of new employees. Rumor sites differ on exactly when production will begin, with some saying it is already underway while others claim production will begin in August.
Rumors also differ about when the alleged 5.5-inch iPhone will go into production, and when it might appear. Best guesses claim the larger model, which may -- or may not -- sport a scratch-proof all-sapphire glass cover will start being manufactured in September, but not debut until later in the holiday season or early next year. It is further alleged by the Journal that the two will both make 4.7-inch iPhones until September, whereupon Pegatron will be entirely responsible for the 4.7-inch version of the next iPhone, with Foxconn handling the larger 5.5-inch version.
The larger order is also said to rely on increased demand for iPhones from China Mobile and other Chinese carrier partners. The newspaper said that large-screen devices are finding favor in developing markets as people increasingly use smartphones as their only computing device, forsaking traditional desktop and notebook computers -- and even tablets -- for everyday duties.
One alternative explanation offered for the high production and parts orders for the iPhone may be that Apple wants to invest in having a larger parts inventory for after the holiday season, when many Chinese workers take some time off to visit family and celebrate the Lunar New Year, which will happen in February in 2015. While sales in the first calendar quarter of the year are always down significantly from the holiday quarter, Apple has been showing surprising strength in the March quarter over the last three years, with the post-holiday season becoming the second-best quarter for iPhone sales.