The iPhone is, by far, the most important product Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) produces. Last year, the smartphone generated 63% of net sales in fiscal 2016, and it was largely responsible for driving Apple's services revenue higher as well. So reports that the next iPhone -- expected to be called the iPhone 8 -- might be delayed understandably worries some investors.
Adding flames to the fire is that Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) is seeking a preliminary injunction against Apple's suppliers as it pursues unpaid royalties in an ongoing legal battle against Apple and Apple's suppliers. If enforced, that could cause delays in the launch of the next iPhone, as well as supply shortages of Apple's current product lineup. At the very least, it will force Apple's hand to settle quickly with Qualcomm.
As an Apple investor, I'm not worried. Shareholders shouldn't fret over the potential for an iPhone 8 delay.
Would you mind waiting an extra week or two for your new iPhone?
Morgan Stanley analyst Katy Huberty recently visited Apple suppliers in China and determined there's "limited risk of a significantly delayed launch." Meanwhile, other top analysts said they expect a delay of several weeks.
A delay of a few weeks could result in a significant earnings miss for Apple in the fourth and first quarters, as the newest iPhone won't be on sale for as many weeks as the previous year. As long as Apple can get the device ramped-up before people start their holiday shopping in November, however, it should be fine. Sales of the iPhone 8 should eventually come in as expected, though perhaps shifting sales to fiscal 2018 quarter two.
Of course, a delay is not without risk. Competitors such as Samsung (NASDAQOTH:SSNLF) Huawei, or Google could release a phone that attracts a lot of attention from customers. Those could reduce the number of consumers switching from Android to iPhone while increasing the number abandoning Apple. But iPhone users are fiercely brand loyal, so the likelihood is low, especially if the delay is just a few weeks and Apple promises features worth waiting for.
Why the iPhone 8 could be worth waiting for
Nobody except Apple employees knows for sure what exactly Apple has planned for the iPhone 8. Rumors indicate that Apple is planning to embed the TouchID sensor in the display, allowing Apple to remove the home button and make the entire front side of the phone a display. It's also expected to release a model using an OLED screen instead of LCD, which would make it thinner and help the battery last longer. Most interesting is the rumor that the iPhone 8's front camera will include 3D-sensing capabilities, which could enable facial and iris recognition and assist in augmented-reality applications.
Again, these are all rumors, but they represent a significant upgrade from the last iPhone model, which was relatively underwhelming. Assuming Apple is still able to announce all of these features in its typical September event, it should draw enough attention and anticipation that consumers will hold off on their next smartphone purchase until it's available. Many are delaying their purchases already -- what's a few more weeks?
Qualcomm is nothing to worry about
Apple's issue with Qualcomm is that it charges a royalty rate for its chips based on the value of the device. Since Apple makes high-end devices with premium prices, it has to pay more for the same technology as manufacturers selling $400 smartphones, for example. Qualcomm says Apple has instructed its suppliers to stop making royalty payments until a court determines a fair price for its patents.
Apple isn't the only one that has a problem with Qualcomm's pricing. The FTC and Samsung are suing as well. That's left Qualcomm mostly playing defense.
Qualcomm's also tried to ban imports of the iPhone to the United States, to which Apple CEO Tim Cook responded, "There's plenty of case law around that subject. But we shall see." The supplier injunction will face similar difficulties in getting approved, as Apple has practically limitless funds to continue its legal case against Qualcomm.
Many analysts and investors are concerned over the potential delay of the iPhone 8, and Qualcomm's actions could add to its problems. But long-term investors shouldn't worry about near-term delays. Apple is still a dominant phone manufacturer, and that gives it a lot of power it can yield over suppliers and licensors.