Apple Suppliers ‘Gearing Up for Mass Production’ of Updated iPad and AirPods

Companies in Apple's supply chain are reportedly "gearing up for mass production" of updated iPad and AirPods models, according to Taiwanese site DigiTimes.

Flexible PCB firms Flexium Interconnect and Zhen Ding Technology are gearing up for mass production for Apple's next-generation iPad devices, while Compeq Manufacturing and Unitech PCB supply rigid-flex boards for the forthcoming AirPods, according to industry sources.
The report says that both updates are expected to come at Apple's March 25 event, although reliable sources have indicated the event will focus on Apple's upcoming news and video services with no hardware announcements planned.

Minor hardware updates could come silently alongside the event or via press release around the same time, as DigiTimes's insights via the supply chain are likely limited to production timing rather than event specifics.

Hints of an updated low-cost iPad have been growing, with new iPad models appearing in a regulatory database back in January. Rumors have suggested the entry-level iPad could see its display grow from 9.7 inches to around 10.2 inches thanks to slimmer bezels, but we're not expecting to see Face ID and removal of the home button with this update.

As for AirPods, we've been hearing about an imminent update for many months now, with Apple's plans seemingly delayed as the company continues work on its AirPower charging mat. Updated AirPods would include a wireless charging case to work with the AirPower mat, as well as other upgrades including "Hey Siri" support and possibly new health monitoring features, a "grippy" texture, and maybe even a new black color option.

Related Roundups: iPad, AirPods 2

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New iPads Expected in First Half of 2019, Including iPad Mini 5 With Similar Design as iPad Mini 4

Apple is also set to launch new iPad models in the first half of 2019, according to Taiwanese supply chain website DigiTimes.


One of those new models is expected to be the so-called iPad mini 5, but anyone hoping for a major redesign should lower their expectations, as Japanese blog Mac Otakara reports that the tablet will have a similar design as the iPad mini 4.

Mac Otakara claims the iPad mini 5 will have identical dimensions as the iPad mini 4, including a thickness of 6.1mm, suggesting that the tablet will have the same 7.9-inch display is bezel size remains unchanged. The blog also expects the tablet to retain a Lightning connector, Touch ID, and 3.5mm headphone jack.

One design change expected is the repositioning of the rear microphone to a top-center position in line with the sixth-generation iPad.

The report claims it is unclear whether the iPad mini 5 will have an A10 Fusion chip akin to the iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus, and sixth-generation iPad, or an A10X Fusion chip in line with 2017 iPad Pro models and the Apple TV 4K.

It's also unclear if the iPad mini 5 will support the original Apple Pencil, but second-generation Apple Pencil support seems to be ruled out.

Related Roundup: iPad mini 5
Buyer's Guide: iPad Mini (Don't Buy)

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Compal Expected to Assemble iPad Mini 5 Launching ‘Later in 2019’

Taiwanese manufacturer Compal Electronics is expected to be a supplier of the so-called iPad mini 5 when the tablet launches later in 2019, according to DigiTimes. This would likely entail final assembly of the device.

iPad mini 4

Rumors suggest Apple will release the new iPad mini as early as this spring, likely alongside a new seventh-generation iPad with a slightly larger 10-inch display. Apple's plans to release a new iPad mini have been reported by Ming-Chi Kuo, Mark Gurman, DigiTimes, and the China Times.

Apple has debuted new iPads in March for three consecutive years, including the 9.7-inch iPad Pro in 2016, the fifth-generation iPad in 2017, and the sixth-generation iPad in 2018, so there's a good chance that Apple will unveil the iPad mini 5 and the new 10-inch iPad in a little over a month from now.

Kuo said the new iPad mini will feature an upgraded processor and a lower-cost panel, but few details are known beyond that.

The current iPad mini 4 was released in September 2015. The tablet features a 7.9-inch display with 326 PPI, A8 chip, 2GB of RAM, Touch ID, 8-megapixel rear camera, a Lightning connector, dual speakers, and a 3.5mm headphone jack. It is available with 128GB of storage for $399 (Wi-Fi) and $529 (LTE).

Related Roundup: iPad mini 5
Buyer's Guide: iPad Mini (Don't Buy)

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Next-Gen AirPods With ‘Health Monitoring’ Features Said to be Coming in First Half of 2019

DigiTimes reports today that Apple will release next-generation AirPods that include "health monitoring features" in the first half of 2019.


In terms of wireless headsets, Apple is set to release AirPods 2 sometime in the first half of 2019, and the new wireless earbuds with discrete designs to carry health monitoring functions are expected to receive enthusiastic market responses.
The mention appears in an article focusing on how wearables are expected to drive rigid-flex PCB market growth in 2019, but the report cites no sources for the AirPods rumor, and only mentions that Tiawan-based printed circuit board makers Zhen Ding Tech and Flexium Interconnect supply components for Apple Watch and AirPods "at the moment."

DigiTimes' sources often provide reliable information, but the site has a mixed track record when it comes to interpreting that information and accurately deciphering Apple's plans. The news site receives a flood of data from the Asian supply chain, some of which it claims pertains to prototypes or test products that never make it to market or change significantly before launch, skewing its accuracy.

With that in mind, and without corroborating sources, DigiTimes could be referring to a prediction from well-connected Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo that new AirPods with a wireless charging case would debut late in the fourth quarter of 2018 or early in the first quarter of 2019. Kuo later clarified that report to say that he expects new wireless AirPods in early 2019.

Listings for New AirPods were added to the Bluetooth Special Interest Group's regulatory database in November, suggesting a refreshed version of the accessory could well be coming soon. No new features are listed, but upcoming AirPods in the database do support the Bluetooth 5.0 specification, compared to Bluetooth 4.0 in the prior-generation AirPods.

Apple is also said working on third-generation AirPods that are set to be released in 2020 with a new design and perhaps improved water resistance that will allow the AirPods to hold up to "splashes of water and rain."

The AirPods aren't likely to be entirely water resistant, however, and won't be able to be submerged in liquid. These third-generation AirPods are also rumored to include noise cancellation features and increase the distance that AirPods can be listened to away from an iPhone or iPad.

Related Roundup: AirPods
Buyer's Guide: AirPods (Caution)

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AirPower to Launch ‘Later in 2019’ According to DigiTimes

Apple's long-awaited wireless charging mat AirPower has entered production and will be released later this year, according to DigiTimes:
Glass passivated package (GPP) bridge rectifier orders for Apple's AirPower continue to pull in, according to sources at related suppliers, who expect shipments for the wireless charger to boost further when it becomes available later in 2019.

Apple's AirPower is finally in production, said the sources. The Apple-designed wireless charging device was unveiled in September 2017, with the company originally targeting 2018 for launch.
The supply chain-focused website published a similar article last year claiming the AirPower would be released by the end of March 2018, a release date echoed by at least two other sources at the time. That obviously did not happen, but perhaps the issues that led to the delay are now resolved.


This isn't the first report we've seen that suggests the AirPower is still coming after all.

Earlier this month, Hong Kong website ChargerLAB cited sources within Apple's supply chain who claimed that manufacturers Luxshare Precision and Pegatron have both started production of the AirPower by today.


A few weeks prior, developer Steve Troughton-Smith said he's heard Apple may have overcome technical challenges with the AirPower and could move forward with a release. Those technical challenges included overheating and interference issues, according to Sonny Dickson, an occasional source of Apple leaks.


And back in October, Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo claimed that Apple may launch the AirPower by early in the first quarter of 2019, according to a research note obtained by MacRumors. The first quarter spans January through March.

AirPower is an oval-shaped mat that would be able to wirelessly charge multiple Apple devices at once, including the iPhone 8 and newer, Apple Watch Series 3 and newer, and AirPods when they are placed in an optional wireless charging case that is expected to launch alongside the AirPower.

Apple first previewed the AirPower at Steve Jobs Theater in September 2017, shortly after introducing the iPhone X, and indicated that it would be released at some point in 2018 in a press release. Apple failed to deliver on that promise, however, and hasn't commented on the AirPower for many months.

Apple also removed all but a few mentions of the AirPower from its website in September 2018. The mat is, however, still referenced in the latest iPhone user guides and in some recent Apple job listings. We also spotted a since-removed AirPower reference on the iPhone XS Smart Battery Case page in Malaysia.

All in all, the chances of the AirPower launching soon are looking better and better.


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iPad mini 5 and New Entry-Level iPad Said to Launch in First Half of 2019

Apple is said to be launching two new tablets in the first half of this year, including the rumored "iPad mini 5" as well as a likely replacement for its current entry-level iPad.


DigiTimes made the claim today in a report highlighting stable shipment expectations for Apple's touch panel suppliers, Taiwan-based German Interface Solution (GIS) and TPK Holding.
Apple reportedly plans to launch two entry-level tablets in the first half of 2019, including a fifth-generation iPad mini and another entry-level iPad model, said the sources.
The claim follows a rumor carried last month by the China Times that Apple is preparing to launch a new iPad mini in the first half of 2019, followed by a new entry-level iPad in two versions, with at least one featuring a 10-inch display within a narrower frame.

Reliable Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo claimed in October that Apple is working on a new version of the iPad mini with an upgraded processor and a lower-cost display panel, with the device being launched in 2018 or 2019.

Ironically, Kuo's prediction came two months after DigiTimes said it did not believe Apple plans to introduce an updated iPad mini, and in fact has "no further plan" for the smaller tablet.

An alleged case for the next-generation iPad mini also surfaced in December that featured a vertical camera cutout, suggesting a camera arrangement similar to the iPad Pro with a rear flash, and a center microphone cutout.

Apple hasn't updated its smallest iPad since September 2015, but the device did receive a price cut in March 2017, with a 128GB capacity model costing $399.

As for the entry-level iPad, Apple was previously reported to be launching the two new low-priced versions in 2019 to boost the sales growth of its affordable tablet options. The 9.7-inch iPad was last updated in March 2018 and in the same month the year before that.

Today's DigiTimes report cites industry sources claiming GIS will supply over 40 percent of the touch panels for the new iPads, while TPK and China-based O-film Technology will provide the remaining 60 percent.

Related Roundups: iPad mini, iPad

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Apple Watch Series 4 Expected to Gain Second Manufacturer Following ‘Much Better Than Expected’ Demand

Taiwanese manufacturer Compal Electronics will begin mass production of Apple Watch Series 4 models in November, according to industry sources cited by supply chain-focused publication DigiTimes.


Compal will share orders with fellow Taiwanese manufacturer Quanta Computer, which has reportedly reached its maximum capacity for Apple Watch Series 4 production following "much better than expected demand" for the latest models, according to Apple analyst extraordinaire Ming-Chi Kuo.

Kuo also said Compal will be added as a second supplier of Apple Watch Series 4 models, which entails final assembly of the wearable.

Kuo believes Apple Watch shipments from suppliers to Apple will fall between 18 million and 19.5 million units in 2018. Apple does not disclose Apple Watch sales, grouping the device under its broad "Other Products" category in its earnings reports, alongside the Apple TV, AirPods, HomePod, and so forth.

Apple Watch is the world's most popular smartwatch by many metrics, including market share and revenue. In fact, Apple says the Apple Watch is the world's most popular watch of any kind, having surpassed Rolex.

Many models of the Apple Watch Series 4 ordered on Apple.com today are estimated to be delivered in late October in the United States, lending credence to strong demand, limited supply, or some combination of the two. With a second supplier coming on board in November, availability should improve.

Related Roundups: Apple Watch, watchOS 5
Buyer's Guide: Apple Watch (Buy Now)

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iPhone XR Could Account for Over Half of New iPhone Sales in Second Half of 2018

Global shipments of Apple's new iPhone lineup should exceed 85 million units in the second half of the year, according to research conducted by DigiTimes, with the more budget-friendly iPhone XR expected to account for over half of all sales.



Shipments of the LCD-based 6.1-inch iPhone XR are expected to account for over 50 percent of combined shipments of the new three models being released, although the availability of the iPhone XR will come on October 26 compared to September 21 for iPhone Xs and Xs Max.
Total iPhone shipments – including older-generation models – are expected to top 127 million units in the second half of 2018, representing "modest growth" for the tech giant's mobile business.

Meanwhile, Apple's total smartphone revenue is likely to reach nearly $100 billion in the second half of the year, which is a 10 percent increase compared to the previous year.

The estimates for the new iPhone XS, XS Max and XR are said to be based on supply chain information, combined with Apple's annual sales and the average selling prices over previous years.

Apple's lower-spec iPhone XR features an edge-to-edge "Liquid Retina" LCD display with wide color and True Tone support, and the same all-screen design as the iPhone Xs and Xs Max, but with an aluminum frame instead of stainless steel.

It comes in White, Black, Blue, Coral, Yellow, and (PRODUCT)Red colors, and will be available in 64GB, 128GB and 256GB models. Pre-orders for Apple's new smartphones begin on Friday, September 14, ahead of an official launch a week later on Friday, September 21 in over 30 countries and territories.

Related Roundups: iPhone XR, iPhone XS

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2018 iPhone Shipments to Apple This Fall Predicted to Be Highest Since iPhone 6 Lineup

Apple's upcoming trio of iPhones will see an estimated 70-75 million units shipped from suppliers to Apple by the end of 2018, according to supply chain sources speaking to DigiTimes. Thanks to the expected solid performance of the iPhones this year, Apple's main supply partners TSMC and Foxconn are looking forward to new revenue highs in Q4 2018.

Specifically, if suppliers hit this range it will be the best performance for an iPhone since the launch of the iPhone 6 models in 2014. One of the main reasons for the boost is given to the "price-friendliness" of the 6.1-inch LCD iPhone, which Apple is expected to introduce as a cheaper alternative to the other two models: an updated 5.8-inch iPhone X and a larger 6.5-inch "iPhone X Plus," although Apple may not go with the "Plus" branding this year.


Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo believes Apple will use an aggressive pricing strategy for its 2018 iPhone lineup: the 6.5-inch OLED device will be priced at $900 to $1,000, the 5.8-inch OLED second-generation iPhone X will be priced at $800 to $900, and the 6.1-inch LCD iPhone will be priced at $600 to $700. While the 5.8-inch and 6.5-inch will be available in September, a few reports have stated the 6.1-inch model will face a delay.

DigiTimes also references "smooth production and strong shipment momentum" picking up soon:
Most supply chain partners are expected to see revenues pick up significantly along with smooth production and strong shipment momentum before peaking in the fourth quarter of the year.

The impressive upgrades in overall designs and functions as well as the price-friendliness of the 6.1-inch model should give the new devices a shipment momentum much stronger than their two preceding generations, the sources said.
For TSMC, the supplier is expected to "fully recover" by the fourth quarter, following a "debilitating" computer virus that hit many of its fabrication tools in early August. Concern quickly spread about the company's inability to fill Apple's orders in the wake of the virus, but follow-up reports quickly suggested that TSMC would be able to "fill orders on time for Apple Inc.," ensuring no delays in chip shipments for the 2018 iPhones.

In regards to the 2018 iPhone assembly, both Foxconn and Pegatron will share duties building the models. Foxconn will build the majority of the two OLED iPhones, while it has just 30 percent of the orders for the LCD model, with Pegatron getting the majority of the duty building the cheaper iPhone this year.

Yesterday, a report from Bloomberg provided a hint at one name that Apple has brainstormed for the 2018 OLED iPhones -- "iPhone Xs" -- but it's still unclear what the final names will be. The actual reveal event is now rumored to be held on Wednesday, September 12 at Steve Jobs Theater, according to two unnamed sources speaking to French radio station Europe 1, followed by iPhone pre-orders kicking off on Friday, September 14.

Despite concern over sales figures quickly dropping after first-adopters purchased the ten-year anniversary iPhone X, the flagship device performed well in Q4 2017 and remained popular among customers throughout 2018. Addressing concerns over dwindling sales and those worried about numbers, Apple CEO Tim Cook in May said: "I think it's one of those things where a team wins a Super Bowl. Maybe you want them to win with a few more points, but it's a Super Bowl winner and that's how we feel about it."

Related Roundup: 2018 iPhones

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Apple Adds Two Chinese Manufacturers to MacBook Chassis Supply Chain

Apple has added two China-based manufacturers to its list of MacBook chassis suppliers in an effort to push down prices quoted by Taiwan-based makers, according to a new report today by DigiTimes.


China-based Shenzhen Everwin Precision Technology and AAC Technologies are said to have obtained Apple certification in 2017, and this year they began small-volume shipments of the metal-alloy chassis for Apple's notebook line-up.

Previous years saw Taiwan-based Catcher Technology, Foxconn Technology and Casetek Holdings dominate the supply of MacBook chassis, and Apple reportedly intends to continue relying on them because of their excellent manufacturing capabilities, but not before it has capitalized on the Chinese makers' lower production costs.

DigiTimes' sources indicate that for Taiwan makers, competition from China rivals will have more impact on their gross margins than on order volumes. To offset the impact, Taiwan companies have increasingly sought orders from Chinese brand vendors of high-end devices like laptops. Responding to the rumored potential of Chinese competition for Apple's business, for example, Catcher said its outlook for 2018 remained unchanged.

Apple is expected to release a new low-cost MacBook Air later this year that will be similar in design to the current MacBook Air, but with slimmer bezels around the display. Based on the latest rumor, the new machine will be a straight MacBook Air upgrade aimed at students and schools, with a lower price tag than MacBooks in the MacBook family.

It remains unclear how a new 13-inch Retina MacBook Air fits in with Apple's existing 12-inch Retina MacBook lineup, so the company's plans for its upcoming notebook range could still throw up a surprise or two.

Related Roundups: MacBook Air, MacBook Pro

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