iPhone 6 'about to enter mass production'
After recent reports of problems and delays, the iPhone 6 is now said to be two weeks from launch
The long-awaited iPhone 6 is about to enter mass production and will be ready for its rumoured unveiling in less than two weeks, according to the latest reports.
Last week Reuters reported that problems with the screen had brought production of some components to a halt over the summer (see below).
The news agency's source suggested that the iPhone 6 might be delayed, or that supplies of the new handset could be restricted, after Apple insisted on a new design for the ultra-slim screen.
Now, however, AppleInsider says the iPhone 6 "has entered the 'product validation test' stage, which is the final step before mass production".
The claim is based on comments made by Xiang Ligang, a Chinese telecoms analyst who quoted sources inside Apple's Foxconn factory in China.
Xiang also said that "manufacturing is 'not a problem' at this point, and the handset remains on track for its rumoured September release", according to AppleInsider.
Apple is believed to have settled on 9 September to reveal the iPhone 6, with the new phone expected to go on sale about ten days later.
Two new iPhones are expected, one with a 4.7-inch screen and a larger one, possibly stretching to 5.5 inches. It is not clear whether both devices will be launched at the same time, or if only the smaller of the two will appear on 9 September and the larger phone will follow later.
iPhone 6: Screen flaw 'could delay launch plans'
Apple's plans to launch an ultra-thin iPhone 6 next month may have to be revised, according to reports that technical problems have left the company "scrambling to get enough screens ready".
Most industry-watchers expect the iPhone 6 to be unveiled on 9 September, with sales likely to begin about ten days later.
But today Reuters reports that Apple had to change the design of the new model over the summer, preventing it from building up a stockpile.
"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," Reuters reports.
One of the sources claims that Apple had tried to use a single layer of backlight film in an attempt to keep the iPhone 6 as slim as possible. It later emerged that the screen was not bright enough "and the backlight was sent back to the drawing board to fit in the extra layer."
Although the problem is now understood to have been resolved, the delays could limit the supply of the iPhone 6, which is expected to be in heavy demand.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Apple is asking suppliers to make between 70 million and 80 million iPhones before the end of the year, a significant increase on the 50 million to 60 million initial production run for the iPhone 5S and 5C last year.
"It's unclear whether the hiccup could delay the launch or limit the number of phones initially available to consumers," Reuters says.
Apple share price climbs in expectation of iPhone 6 launch
Investors have expressed their confidence in the forthcoming launch of the iPhone 6, pushing Apple shares through the $100 barrier to a new record of $100.53.
The previous record was set at a similar point in the product release cycle two years ago, when shares reached the equivalent of $100.30 just before the release of the iPhone 5.
The actual share price then was $702.10, but since then each share has been split into seven.
Analysts predict that iPhone 6, expected next month, will represent a significant advance on the current model, which received only a minor refresh last year. A larger screen, slimmer frame, faster processor and longer-lasting battery are expected to be among the improvements.
As a result demand is expected to be strong and Apple is reported to be preparing for a record production run of the new handset.
The Guardian says a series of bullish tweets from an influential investor has also driven up Apple's value.
"The shares were also boosted by tweets from activist investor Carl Icahn, who bought into Apple last autumn and added to his stake earlier this year," the paper said. "He called his investment in Apple a 'no brainer'."
More iPhone 6 rumours
There is no shortage of speculation about what will be included in the next iPhone, some of which seems to be based on wishful thinking:
Sapphire crystal: the use of sapphire crystal (also known as sapphire glass) for the iPhone 6 screen has been one of the most persistent rumours about the new handset. Apple is known to have invested heavily in the super-strong manmade material, which is resistant to scratching and bending, but recent reports suggest that it has been having trouble making it in sufficient quantities – and at sufficiently low costs – to furnish an iPhone production run of 100 million units or more. The Guardian recently suggested that Apple may end up using a blend of glass and sapphire crystal.
A Liquidmetal shell: As Apple strives to make the new handset as slim and strong as possible, some commentators have speculated that it may turn to Liquidmetal, an alloy that's stronger than aluminium. In theory that would mean the handset could be lighter and slimmer without skimping on strength or build quality, but in practice it seems unlikely. Although one of the inventors of Liquidmetal predicted two years ago that Liquidmetal cases would be possible by mid-2014, its use has so far been limited to small components.
Liquidmetal components: This is much more likely. Documents published by Apple-watching website MacRumors, suggest that the alloy could be used in buttons and switches in order to toughen up what have often proved to be weak points on previous iPhones.
Aluminium frame: Although Liquidmetal may be off the cards, most of the leaked images and technical drawings suggest that Apple will adopt an all-metal rear frame for the iPhone 6. Previous iPhones have made either extensive or decorative uses of glass, but this year's preview shots appear to show a rear panel fashioned entirely from aluminium – with a cut-out for the Apple logo.
Super-slim frame: Whatever it's made from, most commentators expect the iPhone 6 to be noticeably slimmer than its already svelte predecessor. A few months ago some were predicting a depth of just 6mm, but specs supposedly leaked by Amazon in recent weeks suggest we can look forward to a 7mm iPhone. The slender dimensions are apparently causing problems for component-makers: the difficulty of making a battery that's just 2mm thick has reportedly led to production delays.
A8 chip: Concerted speculation that the new device would include a revamped processor has been "confirmed" by Venturebeat. "The A8 will run at a frequency of 2.0 GHz per core and will create noticeably faster response time and graphics rendering in the new phones," its source says. "By comparison, the A7 chips in the iPhone 5 run at only 1.3GHz per core." Even if those details prove wide of the mark, a newer, speedier chip is a safe bet: Apple is unlikely to build an all-new phone around old technology.
13-megapixel camera: There has been comparatively little speculation about the iPhone 6 camera, but tentative reports out today suggest that Apple may build in a 13-megapixels sensor capable of recording high-resolution 4K video. "Apple is well-known for investing millions into its camera sensor, though the company has always refrained from entering the megapixel count race because adding more megapixels tend to have an negative effect on the low-light performance," Tech Times says. But the website sounds a note of caution: "The original source comes from a Chinese web forum, which may not be the best place to find legitimate iPhone 6 leaked information."
Optical image stabilisation: MacRumors says the bigger of the two iPhone 6 models "may include camera improvements in the form of optical image stabilisation with modules produced by sensor company InvenSense". Camera performance is becoming increasingly important at the top end of the smartphone market, and analysts suggest that optical stabilisation, which reduces image blur, could help to justify a larger price tag for the 5.5-inch iPhone 6.
A curved screen: At the end of last year Bloomberg carried a report predicting the next iPhone models would have screens that curved down at the edges. Curved screens are said to be more durable, more comfortable to use, and better suited to watching videos and playing games, according to Sky News. This would be a bold move for Apple, which usually likes to stand back and see how other phone-makers fare with new, risky technologies – and more recently a source told The Wall Street Journal that Apple has no plans to make use of curved glass. However, despite all the leaked images apparently showing the iPhone 6 with a flat screen, rumours of curved glass have resurfaced, most recently in the Daily Mirror.
Quantum dots: This is probably a technology for future handsets, not the iPhone 6. Patent filings suggest Apple is experimenting with tiny crystal semiconductors just a few thousandths of a millimetre across, which could improve the colour and sharpness of mobile screens. "The techniques Apple describes would let its screens not only show colours more accurately," Business Insider says, "but also show a wider gamut of colours." The publication had predicted in March that the quantum-dot screen may be ready this year, but no further reports of the technology have emerged.
Battery life: Mixed signals have emerged about the iPhone 6 battery life. On the positive side, analysts have pointed to iOS 8, Apple's new operating system, and its new A8 processor as evidence that the company is paying more attention to power consumption. The chip, says 9to5Mac.com "adds significant performance and efficiency enhancements in order to improve the iPhone’s battery life". On the other hand, more recent reports suggest that the slim frame of the new phone has forced Apple to adopt a battery that is just 2mm thick. Taiwanese sources suggest that the new battery has a "similar capacity" to its predecessor, which may dash hopes of significantly improved performance.
Eye-tracking: Some rumours suggested that the iPhone 5S would be eye-controlled, allowing users to scroll through pages without touching the device. When the technology failed to materialise in the last model, hopeful observers shifted their attention to the iPhone 6.
NFC: Another long-predicted feature, Near Field Communication or NFC would allow the phone to act as a payment system. Users would wave their handsets over a receiver to transfer money in shops and restaurants, or between friends. Several Android and Windows Phone devices already support NFC payments, but Apple has yet to make the leap.
Health monitors and apps: Apple has already unveiled its new operating system, iOS 8, and what we've seen so far suggests that Apple is turning its attention to health and fitness. Smartphone accessories such as the Fitbit and FuelBand have proven the demand for health-monitoring devices, and reports suggest that the iPhone 6 will be able to keep track of its owners pulse and body temperature, as well as other metrics. These features may work in conjunction with the long-awaited Apple iWatch.
Price: Financial analysts suggest that the iPhone 6 will be more expensive than its predecessors, in part because of the cost of new components, and in part to re-establish the profit margin eroded by last year's upgrade. When Amazon Japan apparently leaked details of the new device last month, the price, which was the equivalent of £100 higher than a similar iPhone 5S model, took many commentators by surprise. It's unclear whether the leak reflected genuine pricing information, or even if it was a way for Apple to test reaction to a price rise.
Production run: After relatively minor iPhone upgrades last year, analysts expect this year's more substantial changes to create unprecedented demand. According to the Wall Street Journal, Apple "is asking suppliers to manufacture between 70 million and 80 million units combined of two large-screen iPhones with 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch displays by Dec. 30". That's substantially more than the 50 to 60 million iPhone 5S and 5C production run last year, and a huge leap from the 35.2 million iPhones sold in the three months to June.
More on the iPhone 6
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