Apple may delay 5G iPhone launch: report

Apple may push back the anticipated fall launch of its first 5G iPhone because of challenges related to the COVID-19 outbreak, according to Nikkei Asian Review.  

Unnamed sources told Nikkei that Apple is weighing a decision to delay the phone release possibly by months, in part out of concern about lowered consumer demand because of the ongoing global pandemic, along with supply chain issues and disruption to product development schedule.

A delay is not definite, according to the news outlet, as sources indicate internal discussions are still in the early stage, but worst-case scenario the launch could be pushed to 2021. A decision will be made in May at the latest, the outlet reported.

RELATED: Apple looks to reopen some stores in April: report

Apple this month temporarily closed all of its retail stores outside of Greater China indefinitely and implemented work from home policies for many employees in efforts to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. 

Bloomberg obtained a memo earlier this week that showed the tech giant may reopen some stores in the first half of April, depending on the situation in the local community.

As of Thursday, nearly two dozen states in the U.S. have urged residents to stay home, covering at least 200 million people, according to the New York Times. Countries in Apple’s European market, including Italy and France, have also implemented mass quarantines in response to rising novel coronavirus cases.

Apple’s headquarters are based in Cupertino, California, where the governor has ordered the state’s 40 million residents to stay home as much as possible and nonessential businesses to close temporarily. 

Global limits on travel are also reportedly impacting production schedules because Apple has had to delay engineering work that requires trips between the U.S. and China for close, in-person collaboration on a more finalized prototype.

JPMorgan analysts on Tuesday said that Apple could delay the iPhone launch by one or two months, but that it was unlikely it would be pushed back further than that, according to CNBC.

The firm pointed to potential delays in 5G network rollouts in the U.S. as much of the country stays home.

While rival Samsung has already launched multiple 5G smartphones, some expected Apple’s first 5G iPhone to help fuel a smartphone upgrade cycle and wider adoption of 5G handsets overall.

RELATED: Big 4 could see device sales plummet

AT&T COO John Stankey, speaking on the carrier’s fourth-quarter earnings call in January, had said the company expected a strong 5G device upgrade cycle in the second half of 2020 when popular devices came to market, bringing more customers into retail stores. That was before the coronavirus outbreak became a global crisis.

Now, all four major U.S. carriers have shuttered some company-owned stores temporarily. While that combined with Americans’ voluntary restrictions on movement are expected to hit U.S. handset sales and Apple hard in Q2, the global smartphone market has already been challenged by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Data from Strategy Analytics shows global smartphone shipments plunged 38% year over year in February due to the coronavirus, which the company said is the biggest fall in the history of the worldwide smartphone market.