Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone X launch is now less than three weeks away, and under ideal circumstances, that would mean production has already been ramping in order to build more than 10 million units of launch inventory. This is why Apple typically begins mass production three to four months before launch, which gives it ample time to manufacture all of those devices to meet demand.
Unfortunately, that's not the case this year, as there have been countless accounts of production delays and bottlenecks. DIGITIMES is now reporting that the "first batch" of iPhone X units have been shipped out of Foxconn's factories in Zhengshou and Shanghai. The number of handsets in the batch? A mere 46,500 iPhone X units.
That's not nearly enough
That's a woefully inadequate number at this stage, but it's also unsurprising given all of the other reports of production challenges. The most apparent bottleneck remains the vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers (VCSELs), which are a crucial piece of the TrueDepth camera system that enables Face ID. The dot projector is a VCSEL array.
As VCSEL suppliers continue to ramp, these bottlenecks should ease, but these companies aren't out of the woods quite yet. For instance, VCSEL supplier Finisar said in September that it was experiencing delays with ramping production, and its next earnings call won't be for another couple of months, so investors will have to wait to get any more detailed information on the production ramp. Foxconn has reportedly ramped its production rate to 400,000 iPhone X units per week, up from 100,000 units per week.
The Nikkei Asian Review reiterated again last week that 3D-sensing components continue to be the weakest link, with the dot projector specifically called out as the "troublesome component holding back mass production of iPhone X." The report notes that manufacturers are having trouble with assembling TrueDepth modules. This brings up another important aspect of the process. Beyond component supply and availability (which is lacking), Foxconn -- which is reportedly the sole contract manufacturer of iPhone X -- still needs to produce units within Apple's strict tolerances that meet the company's aggressive quality control requirements.
In response to the string of reports regarding production delays, analysts have also been downwardly revising estimates for iPhone X. KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo is currently modeling for 30 million to 35 million iPhone X units in 2017, according to DIGITIMES. A month ago, Kuo dropped his estimate from 45 million to 50 million units down to around 40 million, while predicting that Apple wouldn't achieve supply-demand balance until mid-2018. Things aren't looking good for the fiscal first quarter of 2018, which just kicked off.