Tim Apple should probably get together with Jamie Dimon and the heads of the other top Wall Street banks so they can get their economic projections straight (thereby perhaps delay whatever economic slowdown might lie ahead).
Because the consumer electronics giant is reportedly telling its suppliers to “mobilize” because Apple expects to ship more than 200 million phones in 2020, many with 5G capabilities, according to the Nikkei Asian Review, the Tokyo-based English-language paper that gets all the inside-track updates from Apple’s suppliers about the production whims of the mothership.
This is obviously one of the company’s most aggressive production targets in recent years, and a notable break with the company’s strategy of trying to shift investors’ focus to its growing services revenue. Smartphone sales have trailed off in recent years, yet Apple is setting some of its most aggressive sales targets in recent memory, suggesting that the company doesn’t expect the American economy to slide into a recession before election day.
The company is also hoping that its “aggressively priced” three-model suite of 5G phones, due out late next year, will help it steal back the mantle of world’s No. 2 handset maker from Huawei (Samsung has held the No. 1 spot for years). Come to think of it, that might rank as a national security priority in the White House.
According to the NAR, Apple’s shift to 5G marks a change from the company’s earlier reluctance: Its last batch of phones wasn’t 5G compatible, despite the fact that Samsung and several Chinese companies have released their own 5G compatible models.
And at a time of upheaval for the global supply chains of its suppliers, Apple is telling them to tool up and get ready for more than 80 million 5G phones, which is around the high-end for the company’s annual sales of new models in recent cycles.
But the message from Apple could not be clearer: There won’t be a recession next year…not if Cupertino can help it.
However, savvy investors must look deeper, and considering all that is going on in the world, and the US in particular, it would be reasonable to suspect that Apple’s plans for a grand 5G rollout might have been born more out of hubris than wisdom. Apple is nervous, the company feels like it’s falling behind on 5G, and it’s making a big commitment to step up.
The company typically ships between 75 and 80 million of its new iPhones each year. A total 206 million new 5G phones will produced worldwide in 2020, MIC estimates, representing around 18% of all new smartphone sales.
“Apple is lagging behind somewhat in introducing 5G products and it definitely wants to catch up,” Joey Yen, a tech analyst at market research agency IDC, said. “5G is one of the fanciest marketing buzzwords around … [especially] in such a mature and competitive market. It is a feature that can grab consumer attention and [allow companies to] claim they are technology leaders.”
Why? Because according to NAR, the company is already preparing to cannibalize sales of the 5G models by rolling out a new budget-conscious iPhone SE model next spring.
However, Apple’s launch of a premium 5G iPhone lineup could pressure its recent pricing approach to the smartphone market. This has emphasized affordability following a sales slump in 2018 that saw Huawei overtake it as the second-biggest smartphone maker in the world.
As such, Apple also plans to roll out a more cost-effective iPhone SE next spring as part of its strategy to keep targeting budget-sensitive consumers, especially in emerging markets such as China, as Nikkei previously reported.
“Apple is more prepared than previous years to face strong headwinds in China,” Louis Liu, research analyst at Shanghai-based Canalys, said.
“But it [still] faces a looming challenge, as Chinese vendors and operators are set to drive heavy marketing and promotions around 5G in the next two quarters. This could steal its thunder.”
The leak comes just hours before Apple posts its Q4 earnings after the market closes on Wednesday, which will offer the first glimpse into how the iPhone 11 has been selling.