Why Would Apple Postpone the iPhone 5? Japan

Last Updated Apr 1, 2011 9:56 PM EDT

Rumors are flying that the Apple (AAPL) iPhone 5 may not come until late this year, putting it into fiscal 2012 and well off its usual summer release schedule. Speculation points to the difficulty of supporting both GSM and CDMA technology versions to satisfy AT&T (T) and Verizon(VZ).

But if the rumors are true, there's a simpler reason that's easier to believe: supply chain disruption because of the events in Japan. It's been no secret since the earthquake and tsunami pummeled the country that supply chain impacts on the electronics industry would be significant.

More than a week ago, some equity analysts had already suggested that the situation would temporarily affect Apple's supply chain. Although Apple has struck major supplier deals that should give it preference in obtaining components, that assumes that the necessary parts are available at all.

Japan has an unusually important place in smartphone and tablet components, so the disaster becomes an unusually significant bottleneck. Display manufacturers are having difficulty getting certain products necessary for assembly. There is upwards of a 25 percent reduction in silicon wafers to make chips.

Not that Apple would admit it, but a delay would make sense --reports say that the company faces a shortage of iPod batteries. It clearly wouldn't be in this board alone. Nokia (NOK) expected at least some disruptions. When I emailed Motorola (MMI), it did not respond. HTC responded to say that it expected production to be uninterrupted because it has a secondary supply chain just in case of such events.

Companies that depend on South Korea or China for components could be fine. But Apple is not among their ranks. With a summer launch, Apple would need to be certain that it would have the necessary components on hand months in advance to ready enough units. Pushing out a launch months out would both let it see how conditions developed in Japan and establish some alternate suppliers.

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Image: Flickr user Saginaw Future, CC 2.0.

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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.

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