Apple’s fiscal third quarter 2020 was another one for the record books, surpassing analysts’ expectations despite pandemic-related fears of a global recession. But the next quarter might not be as rosy as its predecessors, Apple CFO Luca Maestri hinted today on a conference call with analysts, as COVID-19-related delays could keep the company’s hugely important iPhone lineup from being updated with new models during the traditional September timeframe.
“This is an immensely challenging moment,” Apple CEO Tim Cook told analysts, noting that COVID-19 and racial justice issues loom large over the country, though he and Maestri spotlighted the company’s strong performance and financial resilience despite the troubled U.S. economy. But in subsequent comments, Maestri said that the launch of new iPhone models would likely come a few weeks later than in the past, leaving the $399 2020 iPhone SE as the newest model until then. Asked for clarification, Maestri underscored that new iPhones had previously launched in late September, and suggested that this year’s launch would be several weeks later.
Modem developer Qualcomm obliquely flagged the potential for a “partial impact” on upcoming quarterly earnings during a conference call this week, attributable to “the delay of a 5G flagship phone launch” by an unnamed OEM. Under U.S. securities laws, publicly traded companies are obliged to disclose advance knowledge of facts that might materially impact their financial performance in the upcoming quarter — an obligation that likely contributed to Apple’s decision to flag the issue today.
Rumors of delays for the new iPhones — believed to include iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro, and iPhone 12 Pro Max — have floated for months, though the specific reasons have remained unclear, and the consensus timeframe for the release has generally been “October.” Depending on whether Apple launches the phones in October or early November, the difference could either be trivial, or resemble late 2017’s famously odd iPhone X launch. Early sales of new iPhones, including pent up demand reflected in the first wave preorders, typically are included in mid-to-late September revenues.
Apple’s CPU manufacturer TSMC has suggested that it’s on track to deliver 5-nanometer A14 processors for the new phones, which are also expected to use Qualcomm’s already-released Snapdragon X55 modems rather than the newer but still unreleased Snapdragon X60. It’s possible that the delays are attributable to last-minute iPhone testing challenges, such as real world trials of prototype devices during COVID-19 lockdowns, and/or Apple’s decision to use custom Broadcom antenna and power amplifier components.
It remains to be seen whether Apple will hold a September event to introduce new iPhone and Apple Watch models, as it has done in the past, or will delay the announcements until October. The company notably turned its 2020 WWDC gathering into an entirely virtual show and pushed it back by roughly two weeks from its traditional time, generally receiving praise for the new format, while suffering little negative impact to its regular cadence of announcements.