Apple's plans to launch a 5G-capable iPhone in 2020 could be derailed by Intel missing its targets for 5G modems, according to a report by UBS. Apple is already behind other companies including Samsung and Huawei, who have already shown off 5G-enabled versions of their latest flagships. It was already expected that there would be no 5G-capable iPhone in 2019, but according to this report, the company might not be able to release such a device in 2020 either if it sticks to its usual September launch timeframe, because Intel is unlikely to have its modems ready in time.
According to 9to5Mac, the UBS note to investors claims that Apple is actually now targeting 2021 for its first 5G iPhone launch, but believes even that target to be a technical hurdle. While this would cause a short-term decline in iPhone sales for Apple, the Swiss investment bank believes that the company's loyal user base and strong portfolio of services will help it retain users. It is also going to take time for 5G networks to become widespread outside of major cities.
Apple is currently locked in multiple legal disputes around the world with Qualcomm, the leading 5G modem manufacturer, which has led to its dependence on Intel. The company has stated that it would prefer to have multiple suppliers and split its orders between Qualcomm and Intel, but it stopped using Qualcomm chips several years ago. Apple was recently forced to stop selling older iPhone models in some countries after Qualcomm won legal injunctions over allegations of intellectual property violations.
The only other options for Apple, according to the UBS note, are MediaTek and Samsung. However, MediaTek's efforts are also said to be not ready to meet Apple's requirements. The report states that Apple is unwilling to partner with Samsung, which 9to5Mac notes is curious since the Korean giant has supplied several components including displays, DRAM, and flash memory to Apple over the years.
A previous research note from investment advisory firm Cowen suggested that Samsung would not give Apple favourable pricing, which would be a more likely concern. A report from the Taiwan Electronic Times earlier this month claimed that Samsung is willing to work with Apple but would not be able to supply an adequate quantity of 5G modem chips.
According to a separate report by FastCompany, Apple has lost confidence in Intel's ability to deliver chips on time for it to develop and test its 2020 iPhones. The company was said to have already notified Intel of a decision to drop its 5G modems for the 2020 launch cycle. Apple is also known to be trying to develop its own 5G modems, and the report states that it has over 1,000 employees currently working on this project including former Intel and Qualcomm engineers. However, it is unlikely that this effort will bear fruit till at least 2021, if not later. That would be in line with Apple's efforts to bring all hardware production in-house, most notably its ARM-based SoC development efforts.
Depending on how upcoming courtroom showdowns play out, analysts have not ruled out Apple returning to Qualcomm as a 5G modem supplier despite their acrimonious relationship.