There have been several reports from both the press and the financial analyst community -- often citing "people familiar with the matter," or "supply chain checks" -- claiming that Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) is, at this very moment, still determining whether it will ship an under-the-display fingerprint sensor or simply abandon Touch ID altogether in its premium iPhone model slated to launch later this year.
I've seen some responses to these reports that essentially say Apple locked down the design of the new iPhone models some time ago, given that they're slated to launch soon, so there's no way that the company is still making feature determinations at this point.
Although that reasoning isn't far-fetched, it's not quite as simple as that.
Much set in stone, a few things still in flux
There are certainly aspects of the iPhone that had to have been in planning for years, and there's absolutely zero chance Apple will make changes to those aspects at this point. Components such as the applications processor, display, image sensors, wireless chips, and other key internal pieces have long development cycles and, at this point, are set in stone.
So, much of what will define this year's iPhone models -- both the lower-end LCD models and the higher-end OLED display model -- is done and dusted. Those components are almost certainly in mass production now, and Apple's device manufacturing partners have probably even been receiving these components for quite some time.
However, if Apple plans to announce the OLED iPhone 8 in late September, with serious volume shipments happening in either October or November, then it's perfectly reasonable for Apple to still be working on one final component, especially one that's not necessarily integrated with other parts of the phone that need to be in volume production now.
An example would be the under-the-display Touch ID sensor.
A real, but small, window of opportunity
Analyst Andy Hargreaves explained in a recent research note that his team believes "it would typically take 12 weeks from placement of fingerprint IC [integrated circuit] orders to full-volume production of iPhones." He adds that "if Apple is able to solve its fingerprint problems and place orders for fingerprint ICs before August, it would probably be able to reach volume production in late October or early November."
Hargreaves' reasoning seems sound, given how long it takes to produce chips and then ship them to device assemblers that then put the phones together.
To be clear, if Apple does achieve volume production on these OLED iPhone models in "late October or early November," it could be a little while after that before customers receive their devices.
But the reports that Apple is still trying to work out the issues with the under-the-display Touch ID technology does seem to pass a basic sanity check. I really don't think -- as, perhaps, some people say in response to these reports -- that these reports are made up.
Apple's OLED iPhone seems as though it will represent the very bleeding edge of what a smartphone can be in 2017, and it makes complete sense that, even now, Apple is still trying to put the finishing touches on the device.