Technology: Apple’s iPhone supply chain won’t return to normal for a few more months

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Just a day or so after Apple CEO Tim Cook seemed to hint in an interview on Friday that the iPhone maker might not be feeling the effects of the coronavirus much longer, fresh indications emerged over the weekend to suggest that the timeline for a return to normalcy may have just gotten extended.

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Reuters on Saturday, for example, reported that iPhone camera module supplier LG Innotek has closed one of its factories in South Korea after a worker tested positive for the virus. The plant will reportedly remain closed on Monday, and while no timeline has been given for when it might reopen, this is also in line with news that the world’s top Apple insider included in an analyst report over the weekend which predicts that coronavirus will remain a drag on Apple’s iPhone supply chain until closer to summer.

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A new report from TF International Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo (via MacRumors) notes that Genius Electronic Optical, which supplies iPhone camera lenses, saw a sharp drop in shipments over the past month. Moreover, it seems that supplies are dwindling, with Kuo also estimating that little lens inventory remains — and that it will take until May, at least, for production to pick back up again in a significant way.

All this makes for potential fresh headaches for Apple, which Kuo has already reported is facing continued delays and a slow return to normal at the China-based factories of its suppliers. And all this comes as the coronavirus not only remains an ongoing threat in China but is leading to an uptick in infections across countries like Italy and South Korea — places that Cook made a point on Friday of noting that he’s watching closely to see how the situation unfolds there in the coming days and weeks.

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A spectrum of scenarios, from the best to the worst case, have started forming the basis for analyst guesses about what the near future holds for Apple, with some of those analysts staking out a variety of positions in recent days. Wedbush analyst Dan Ives, for one, thinks it’s too early right now to make any definitive pronouncements about Apple’s iPhone production this year — but he has gone ahead and offered some guesswork of his own:

In a best-case scenario, he thinks Apple’s manufacturing partners could return to full operating capacity as early as April, which would provide for a smooth release for Apple’s 5G-enabled iPhone 12 lineup. At the same time, though, the release of the iPhone 9 might be pushed back from March to April. And in a worst-case scenario, Ive guesses that the iPhone 12 release might be delayed by as much as three months while the iPhone 9 might not see the light of day until June at the earliest.

That’s roughly in line with the prediction from Kuo, whose research note this weekend predicts that iPhone production won’t return to something closer to a normal cadence until the second quarter. “We’re still in February, there’s reason for optimism, but we’ll see,” Cook said Friday, when Fox Business put the same question to him.

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