COVID-19 coronavirus could delay launch of 5G iPhones

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Latest iPhone was 1 out of every 10 smartphones sold in US last quarter
Apple usually unveils its new iPhones in September.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

The spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus could hurt Apple’s plans to launch its first 5G iPhones in the second half of 2020, a new report claims.

According to a DigiTimes report Monday, Apple extended restrictions on employees traveling to parts of Asia until the end of April. The extension will delay tests for the next-generation iPhone that “could have a direct impact” on launch timing.

Apple usually sends engineers to China early each year. Their job is to start figuring out the details for iPhone assembly ahead of the new models’ customary fall launch. However, a Reuters report from February suggested that coronavirus-related travel bans delayed those meetings. Today’s report suggests the meetings might not happen until the end of April.

DigiTimes notes that the original plan was for volume production of the new iPhones to kick off in June. That could be delayed by between one and two months.

Will coronavirus delay 5G iPhone release?

The DigiTimes report is not conclusive, of course. Apple could theoretically carry out some inspections remotely. (The company often receives component samples sent from its factories in China.) Remote technologies could also, in theory, allow Apple engineers to check out the production line without going to China. But this is one more piece of evidence showing how the coronavirus outbreak is impacting Apple production.

A previous report suggested that efforts to contain the COVID-19 virus could also affect manufacturing of the iPhone SE 2. Apple also informed staffers at Apple Stores to expect delays of two to four weeks for replacement phones and individual parts.

There is some evidence that the tide may be beginning to turn, however. Apple manufacturer Foxconn said it hopes to resume regular production in China by the end of March.