Apple iPhone X production delays caused by problems with the 3D sensors used for facial recognition could cause tight supplies of the handsets when they are scheduled to go on sale on Nov. 3, according to reports.
The production problems for Apple's upcoming flagship smartphone are related to the techniques used by the 3D sensor to project 30,000 infrared dots onto a user's face so it can map out the user's facial characteristics, according to a Sept. 27 story by Bloomberg.
A related report from Japan's Nikkei newspaper said the makers of the components "are struggling to reach adequate production levels," according to unidentified people who are familiar with the issues.
Earlier in September, other reports revealed that Apple was also facing manufacturing problems with the OLED displays in the new iPhone X, which could lead to lower-than-expected phone production inventories and a potential shortage of the devices as the December 2017 holiday gift-giving season approaches. Other potential production problems were also named, including issues trying to incorporate fingerprint sensors into the new phones, according to an earlier eWEEK story.
Apple did not respond to an inquiry on Sept. 27 seeking comment on the latest reports of production problems with the iPhone X.
Several IT analysts told eWEEK that while the reported component and production issues have not been confirmed so far by Apple, it is not unusual for such problems to crop up on the launch of new devices.
"Delays are hardly a surprise when manufacturers are putting new technologies into production," said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT. "Sometimes it's caused by a shortage of needed parts and sometimes the new features can contribute to poor quality and yields. The iPhone X has two new, highly touted features—facial recognition and a redesigned camera—that could be problematic."
If the reports of the difficulties are true and not just rumors and innuendo, he said, delaying availability of the devices shouldn't be a big problem or impact holiday sales appreciably "unless supplies are so constrained that you end up sparking Cage Match-style shopping frenzies" in stores when they do become available.
Rob Enderle, principal analyst of Enderle Group, said he expected these kinds of production delays with the iPhone X because the company "made it a dumping ground for a lot of technology that doesn't typically ship in iPhone volumes, so constraints on some items was very likely."
Components for the facial recognition cameras "would need to ramp massively while maintaining quality, and this is almost always problematic," said Enderle. "The greater the number of new things you put into a phone, the higher the probability you'll have a quality and/or supply problem."
Enderle said Apple followed an approach that was similar to the one taken by Samsung when that company unveiled its then-new Galaxy Note 7 smartphone in late 2016 with a multitude of new features. The Note 7 suffered battery fires and explosions immediately after its launch and ended up undergoing a complete recall of all Note 7 devices.
"I doubt this will be the only problem with shipping it on time at scale," Enderle said of the iPhone X. "I'd anticipate additional problems."
The new iPhone X, the 10th anniversary edition of the first iPhone that was unveiled back in 2007, was announced by the company on Sept. 12 along with new iPhone 8 and 8 Plus models. The handset features an all-new 5.8-inch OLED Super Retina display, a new A11 Bionic processor, Face ID facial recognition, wireless charging capabilities and an improved main rear TrueDepth camera. The phone will start at $999 with 64GB of onboard storage when preorders start on Oct. 27. It's expected to be in stores and available for purchase online on Nov. 3. A 256GB model will cost $1,149.
The standard iPhone 8 starts at $699 with 64GB of onboard storage, while the iPhone 8 Plus starts at $799 with 64GB of storage. Preorders for the phones started Sept. 15, and the devices went on sale on Sept. 22.
Avi Greengart, a mobile analyst with GlobalData, said "it is never easy to piece together a complete picture from supply chain leaks, but it does appear that Apple is finding it challenging to incorporate new components into the iPhone X, whether that is a new display or new imaging sensors."
The company did give itself "some slack to resolve production issues" for the iPhone X by moving its shipping date to well past that of the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus models, Greengart added. "Unless Apple indicates otherwise, I would expect the iPhone X to be available on its announced date, but whether supply can meet demand—even at the higher price point—has always been an open question."