Will coronavirus delay the 2020 iPhone?

I’m already expecting Apple to pull the plug on WWDC 2020. It would be dumb to bring 6,000 from all around the globe to California to rub shoulders with Apple’s top brass and indispensable engineers. Even if COVID-19 goes the way of seasonal flu once temperatures start to warm up, it’s likely that Apple will pull the plug on the event simply to remove the uncertainty and come up with a plan B.

OK, so WWDC 2020 falls victim to coronavirus, but what about the iPhone?

Why could coronavirus affect the iPhone?

First, the iPhone relies on a huge and complex supply chain. Hundreds of components from dozens of manufacturers and suppliers. And the components themselves, from displays to processors to flash memory, also have complex supply chains.

And as with a physical chain, the supply chain is only as strong as its weakest link. And even if the supply chain doesn’t experience a complete failure, delays would have an effect that would ripple along the chain.

Many of the companies involved in the iPhone supply chain are based in China, which was the first country to be affected by COVID-19. It’s hard to know how coronavirus has affected the iPhone supply chain, and how it is affecting Apple internally, but it’s a case of how much of an effect, not whether there’s been an effect.

iPhone launches are massive, and carefully timed. Everything comes together in order for there to be millions of iPhones available for people to buy on day one.

A leaked memo by Apple CEO Tim Cook offers employees the option to work remotely for the week of March 9 to March 13 “if the job allows.” In the same memo, Cook describes the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak as an “unprecedented event” and “challenging moment.”

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At this point it’s too early to say what sort of effect coronavirus will have on Apple, both its own employees and on the wider ecosystem that it sits in.

Another factor is whether coronavirus, and the associated economic fallout, will dull the demand for the iPhone such that it might make sense to delay the release of the next iPhone until things settle down again. While it is expected — or at least hoped — that coronavirus will subside come the summer months, there are no guarantees. And even if it does, it will be a looming threat come fall — which just happens to be when Apple will unveil the new iPhone.

All the fanfare and hype associated with the release of a new iPhone might not sound so good bookended by stories of deaths, disease, and uncertainties.

It’s rumored that Apple could be preparing to refresh the iPad and/or iPad Pro line. This would tell us something about how Apple and its suppliers are dealing with coronavirus. It might also give us an indication as to what the response to new shiny Apple things would be during a time of global uncertainty.

If any company has the resources to navigate coronavirus, it’s Apple. It’s a smart company that has faced many a challenge in the past. It will be interesting to see how it navigates this one.

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