Sketchy report claims weak orders for 5G iPhones in 2020

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Render shows iPhone 12 camera with three lenses
There may be more to the story than initial report claims.
Photo: Pigtou/xleaks7

The iPhone 12 isn’t even out yet, and already the first report is out suggesting that it’s disappointing in terms of order numbers from Apple. A report published by Digitimes Tuesday says that mmWave-enabled 5G iPhone orders this year are likely to reach only around 15-20 million units. That’s half the previous supply chain estimate of 30-40 million units.

The paywalled report said that this is “intensifying competition” among Apple suppliers who bank on the iPhone as a large piece of their business.

The story could concern those who are banking on the iPhone 12 to trigger the fabled “super-cycle” that has been rumored every year since iPhone sales started to slow down a few years back. There are plenty of reasons to think this year’s iPhones will be big, ranging from its rumored iPad Pro-style redesign to its next-gen 5nm A-series chip to, yes, its 5G capabilities.

But every year there are also rumors that next-gen iPhone orders are not what companies are hoping for. A few years back, the iPhone X was widely considered to be a disappointing seller, until Apple set the record straight by releasing its earnings. Simply put: it’s next to impossible on any ordinary year to look at a few supply chain rumors and conclude that shipments are likely to be “weaker” than expected.

iPhone orders: sub-6GHz 5G vs. mmWave 5G

Prediction are even tougher this year. The supply chain is still dealing with the effects of coronavirus, which has caused plenty of challenges with iPhone 12 development. The economic impact of coronavirus could also mean that Apple produces fewer iPhones early on, knowing that demand will pick up more months down the line — but not affect overall sales for the 12-month period.

Some analysts have suggested that, for this reason, 5G handset demand will be “muted” initially. However, Gene Munster of Loup Ventures is optimistic that 5G will be huge for Apple. The technology is expected to “exceed its hype, and Apple is one of the best ways to invest in the transformation driven by 5G.”

Most significantly, today’s Digitimes report refers specifically to mmWave-enabled 5G iPhone orders. This year’s 5G iPhone refresh is likely split between sub-6GHz 5G and mmWave 5G. The latter, to which this report references, is faster than sub-6GHz 5G and can reach theoretical speeds of 5Gbps and above. However, it’s only offered by a small number of carriers in certain countries right now. It’s not yet clear what the split between sub-6GHz 5G and mmWave 5G iPhones will be. Since this also relies on available 5G infrastructure, Apple shifting the balance between sub-6GHz 5G and mmWave 5G may not reflect overall demand for the next-gen handsets.

Are you excited about this year’s 5G iPhone refresh? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.