Checks and guesses spurred rumors that Apple has begun shipping raw synthetic sapphire material to Asia for processing into iPhone 6 display covers. One analyst estimated the amount shipped would be good for….maybe 115,000 covers.
Apple last quarter shipped 44 million iPhones. But don’t worry: there’s the Ramp Up.
Also this week, the iOSphere was awash with “evidence” of the iPhone 6, mostly in the form of models, mock-ups, and dummies, none of which could be traced to anyone or anywhere, except for one that presumably created by a third-party manufacturer of iPhone cases; and a new iPhone camera sensor promises Big Pixels.
You read it here second.
iPhone 6 sapphire material begins shipping to Apple’s China partners
There are not many facts to this rumor but there a lot of expectations, beliefs, and convictions that hang on those facts.
The main source for the rumor is an investor’s report, by UBS Securities on the first quarter financial prospects for GT Advanced Technologies, which signed a nearly $600 million deal last November with Apple to supply and run its furnaces for growing sapphire crystal in large quantities at an Apple-owned factory in Mesa, Ariz.
[See Network World’s coverage of Apple’s sapphire strategy: How Apple's billion dollar sapphire bet will pay off; and, Slideshow: Here’s how Apple is spending $1 billion on sapphire]
9to5Mac apparently got a copy of the report and quotes extensively from it in a post by Jordan Kahn headlined “Apple begins shipping sapphire from Arizona plant to China ahead of iPhone 6 launch.”
The basic idea is that based on “checks,” whatever those are, the UBS Securities analysts think that at least some of the Mesa furnaces are now producing raw sapphire, in big hockey puck shaped “boules,” and “ingots” made from these have been shipped to Apple’s China partners for cutting, polishing, coating, finishing and assembly into smartphone-sized display covers.
+ Also on NetworkWorld: Best and Worst iPhone 6 Design Concepts +
Here’s the UBS excerpt from Kahn’s post: “Checks find GT’s Arizona factory likely started producing sapphire last month. Our own checks found that for the first time GT shipped some small quantities of sapphire made in its Arizona fab to one of Apple’s partners in China who is in charge of making sapphire covers. Our checks find the amount of ingots it sold into China last month was only about 2,200kg which would be in line with our estimate of about 100 sapphire furnaces turned on and running (our checks find 100 furnaces were targeted for installation in 4Q13). We believe GT is still on schedule in Arizona, where we estimate GT was to install another 400-500 sapphire furnaces in 1Q14 and 900-1,000 in 2Q14. GT confirmed last week that it received a 3rd prepayment from Apple recently (we estimate the 4th and last prepayment will be made in May) which also gives us confidence that its Arizona sapphire factory for Apple is tracking on schedule.”
As hard information goes, this is a bit squishy. If we assume UBS’ “checks” are all accurate, we’re talking about 4,850 pounds of sapphire. Independent analyst and investor, Matt Margolis, who has been following the Apple-GTAT deal on his ObscureAnalyst blog, estimates in his most recent post that this amount of material could result in “approximately 100,000 to 115,000 sapphire screens,” depending in part on the size of the display.
That’s clearly a drop in the bucket for quarterly iPhone sales. The question becomes: Can Apple and GTAT in Arizona, and Apple’s partners in China, scale operations to produce sapphire covers in sufficient quantity for projected late-2014 iPhone 6 sales? Or is Apple planning to introduce sapphire covers for the 2015 iPhone models, or one special 2015 iPhone such as a 5- or 5.5-inch screen phone?
At this point, no one seems to know for sure.
Margolis believes the production scaling has already taken place, but he doesn’t give much in the way of reasons for his belief. “I am slightly more optimistic than UBS as far as the sapphire furnace ramp up due to the fact that over 1,200 furnaces have been imported and delivered prior to the Mesa, AZ plant prior to March 3rd, 2014,” he wrote, adding that he thinks more furnaces were taken out of GTAT inventory. “I believe that nearly all of the furnaces were ramped up by the end of March based on GT’s ability to ramp over 500 furnaces a month….”
iPhone 6 revealed by a mold used to manufacture third-party smartphone cases
You can’t make up this kind of stuff, because no one would believe it.
This rumor is based on, according to AppleInsider (which was just one of the many sites to rebroadcast it despite headlining this “news” with the words “highly suspect…dummy”), photographs that appeared originally on a Chinese language Apple forum, then picked up by the French tech blog NoWhereElse.fr.
The photographs show a slender black rectangle, henceforth known as the Black Plastic Object or BPO. Here’s a view of the front.
AppleInsider doesn’t speculate on the size, apart from the fact that it seems bigger than the current iPhone models. MacRumors’ Eric Slivka gets a bit OCD in his post analyzing the BPO, and concludes it would be the larger of the two rumored models, with a display size of 5.5- to 5.7 inches. One clue is the “display to device height ratio,” according to Slivka. “The design drawings show that the larger 5.5-5.7 inch iPhone 6's display is approximately 80 percent of the height of the device, while the 4.7-inch model's display is around 75 percent of the device height. The photos of the mockup show lines delineating the display edges as putting the ratio closer to the 80 percent figure seen on the larger model.”
That’s quite a brainpower investment for a BPO of this type. “From what can be gathered, the black plastic object seen above is supposedly a mold meant for prototyping phone cases,” according to the anonymous AppleInsider staff post. “The person who posted the pictures did not offer specific dimensions or include current-generation iPhones for scale and it is unclear if the dummy was fashioned before or after the recent spate of rumors.”
So. Anonymously posted photos “supposedly” of a mold used for creating prototypes of smartphone cases -- without specific dimensions, let alone even a hint of legitimacy -- which could have been created at any time, including months ago.
But let’s not be hasty.
“The purported mock-up boasts features seen in other recent "leaks" like a silicone-rubber case that was the subject of a side-by-side video comparison with the iPhone 5s, Nexus 5 and Galaxy Note 3. In a follow-up video, it was discovered that the case itself is thinner than the 7.6-millimeter iPhone 5s, suggesting Apple's upcoming handset could be substantially slimmed down.”
That’s something, eh? This purported mockup of a prototype case for iPhone 6 has some of the same features of another purported mockup of a prototype case for iPhone 6. And that case was thinner than the current iPhone. And that, in turn, “suggests” that iPhone 6 could be not just slimmed down but substantially slimmed down. It all falls into place.
Of course, there is that problem with the BPO’s rear-side “round cutout presumably meant to house an LED flash.” That would be, potentially, a problem because this is the "old style" flash, which, according to AppleInsider, “is particularly curious given Apple's move to the two-color dual-LED True Tone module used in the iPhone 5s.”
What’s the bottom line here? “While the mock-up's veracity is highly questionable, it does give a good idea as to what the iPhone 6 could look like if information from the rumor mill turns out to be true.”
iPhone 6 camera may have bigger pixels
“Apple looks to be focusing on camera technology to help the iPhone 6 stand out,” according to Cherlynn Low, in a post at TomsGuide.com. “Several new reports point toward the next-gen iPhone sporting a shooter that will pack bigger pixels, faster autofocus and electronic image stabilization to snap better-looking photos.”
Her source for this is “Chinese analyst Sun Chang Xu of ESM (Electronic Supply & Manufacturing)” who posted on the Chinese language microblog site, Weibo, “to share new details on the technology behind the rumored iPhone 6.”
“Sun expects the iPhone 6's camera sensor will pack larger pixels (technically, photosites) measuring 1.75 microns, up from the 1.5 microns on the iPhone 5s,” according to Low. “Bigger pixels allow cameras to capture more light, giving the photos more clarity and brightness (important when shooting at night). The HTC One's UltraPixel camera has photosites measuring 2.0 microns.”
Bigger is better. Apple has not been focused on simply packing more megapixels into its camera capability, so there are a range of rival phones that have a higher specification for that compared to the iPhone. Instead, the company has emphasized accurate color and exposure, sharp images, good low-light performance, fairly large file sizes for opened photos, and a simple, effective user interface. This PC Magazine review, for example, compares the 8-megapixel iPhone 5s camera favorably to the 41-megapixel camera in the Nokia Lumia 1020.
Sun also predicts that the Next iPhone camera will feature electronic image stabilization, instead of optical zoom, allowing for an overall thinner camera assembly, according to Low.
But, again, there is no source given for any of these predictions, so it’s not clear if these are “leaks” or simply more-or-less-educated guesses.
iPhone 6 “revealed” in, and by, more dummies
Not one but two new iPhone 6 dummies, or mockups, or models surfaced this past week. Every iOSphere site that trumpeted these revelations as worthy of attention included a warning that these were suspect photos and hence not deserving of attention. Or at least, not deserving of as much attention.
The various photos, some of them apparently repeated, are supposed to represent white and silver dummies, or mockups, or models, or something, of a 4.7-inch iPhone 6. No one bothers to explain where or how or when these models were made, or has any information about who posted the originals.
But it’s an iPhone, kind of, so it’s all good.
The French language site NoWhereElse found photos on a Chinese language site. Here’s the Google Translate version of the NoWhereElse post.
“Photographed from every angle, this industrial model tells us nothing we did not already know but is nevertheless an opportunity for us to make us ever more precise idea of what the future smartphones or California might look like,” according to NoWhereElse’s confident founder, Steve Hemmerstoffer. He adds the iOSphere Disclaimer. “Needless to remind you that a leak of this kind is never irrefutable proof that his source claims and should always be approached with the utmost caution.”
If it was really needless to say it, no one would say it.
The iOSphere doesn’t quite know what to call these things. Hemmerstoffer labels it an “industrial model.” BGR’s Chris Smith, who posted about Hemmerstoffer’s post, labels it a “dummy model” that “is supposedly based on real iPhone 6 schematics that leaked some time ago.” Perhaps one day soon it will become a fake dummy model or even a spurious fake dummy prototype model.
Both Smith and Hemmerstoffer affect a rather bored air about the revelations, since this dummy model prototype reflects so many of the “design elements from [other] recent leaks,” as Smith puts it, “including curved glass, curved corners and edges, an iPod touch-like volume rocker, the relocation of the power button from the top side to the right side and the more round camera flash are all shown off in the video. Furthermore, the iPhone 6 mockup has a very thin profile, consistent with what recent reports have claimed about the device.”
No one seems to wonder whether the dummy creator simply read all those “reports” and designed the object (or at least an image of one) that reflects all the suppositions, speculations, hopes and conjectures that comprise them.
A second “mockup” originated at the Chinese language site, Baidu (via Google Translate) and seems to be simply a set of photographs.
“The images don’t reveal anything exciting or new, but they may give you a better idea of what could be coming later this year,” explains Dom Esposito at 9to5Mac, who nevertheless posts the images. He doesn’t bother to explain why or how the new images, if they don’t reveal anything new or exciting, nevertheless may give you a better idea of what could be coming.
Esposito’s post kept BGR’s Smith busy reposting. Smith says the Baidu images are “showing a purported silver iPhone 6 mock-up.” Once again, he doesn’t explore who did or even might have made the mockup, for what purpose, or when the mockup was created.
“Interestingly, the same set of images was posted yesterday in a gallery of images showing a white iPhone 6 mockup,” Smith notes, accurately. But he doesn’t say why this is interesting, or what it might mean for the veracity of the images or the mockups or whatever the heck this is.