It's unclear whether the hiccup could delay the launch or limit
the number of phones initially available to consumers, the sources
said, as Apple readies larger-screen iPhones for the year-end
shopping season amid market share loss to cheaper rivals.
But the issue highlights the risks and challenges that suppliers
face to meet Apple's tough specifications, and comes on the heels of
a separate screen technology problem, since resolved, in making
thinner screens for the larger iPhone 6 model.
Cupertino, California-based Apple has scheduled a media event for
Sept. 9, and many expect it to unveil the new iPhone 6 with both 4.7
inch (11.94 cm) and 5.5 inch (13.97 cm) screens - bigger than the
4-inch screen on the iPhone 5s and 5c.
Two supply chain sources said display panel production suffered a
setback after the backlight that helps illuminate the screen had to
be revised, putting screen assembly on hold for part of June and
July. One said Apple, aiming for the thinnest phone possible,
initially wanted to cut back to a single layer of backlight film,
instead of the standard two layers, for the 4.7-inch screen, which
went into mass production ahead of the 5.5-inch version.
But the new configuration was not bright enough and the backlight
was sent back to the drawing board to fit in the extra layer,
costing precious time and temporarily idling some screen assembly
operations, the source said.
Output is now back on track and suppliers are working flat-out to
make up for lost time, the supply chain sources added.
Japan Display Inc <6740.T>, Sharp Corp <6753.T> and South Korea's LG
Display Co Ltd <034220.KS> have been selected to make the iPhone 6
screens, the sources said.
Representatives for those three suppliers, and for Apple, declined
Apple is known to make tough demands on its parts suppliers for new
iPhones and iPads as it competes to create designs, shapes, sizes
and features to set it apart and command a premium price in a
fiercely competitive gadget market.
This can cause glitches and delays, including screen problems that
crimped supplies at last year's launch of a high-resolution version
of Apple's iPad Mini.
It also highlights the danger for suppliers of depending too heavily
on Apple for revenues, creating earnings volatility.
Earlier this month, Japan Display, said to be the lead supplier for
the new iPhone panel, said orders for "a large customer" - which
analysts said was Apple - arrived as expected, but shipments may be
delayed in the July-September quarter.
[to top of second column]
Japan Display's reliance on Apple's cyclical business has spooked
some investors. UBS Securities has forecast that Apple will
contribute more than a third of the Japanese firm's total revenue in
the year to March 2015. Japan Display's share price dropped to a
12-week low of 501 yen after first-quarter earnings on Aug. 7 lagged
In Taiwan, home to several Apple suppliers and assemblers, export
orders grew less than expected in July, even as factories rushed
output ahead of new smartphone launches, reflecting the erratic
nature of the business.
"Currently, there's a small shortage in supply of a specialized
component for our communication devices," said a spokesman for
Pegatron <4938.TW>, which assembles iPhones. "This kind of problem
regularly occurs and the impact on production is negligible."
Supply chain sources had previously said challenges with the new
iPhone's screen in-cell technology, which eliminates one of the
layers in the LCD screen to make it thinner, caused a delay in the
production of the larger 5.5-inch version. One display industry
source said the in-cell issues had now been resolved.
The pressure on Apple for stand-out products has increased as
Samsung Electronics Co <005930.KS> and, more recently, a clutch of
aggressive, lower-cost Chinese producers such as Xiaomi Inc and
Lenovo Group Ltd <0992.HK> have eroded the U.S. company's market
The iPhone 6 unveiling has been widely anticipated to bolster
momentum for Apple shares, which have risen by a third, to above
$100 each, since the company posted strong first-quarter earnings in
(Additional reporting by Michael Gold in TAIPEI, Sophie Knight in
TOKYO and Christina Farr in SAN FRANCISCO; Editing by Edmund
Klamann, Miyoung Kim and Ian Geoghegan)
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