Apple’s iPhone 5 international rollout has stopped, but why?

Many Apple fans around the world are beginning to ask “where the hell is my iPhone 5?” Why? Because after Apple’s brisk iPhone 5 launch a month ago, the company seems to have put is international rollout on hold, as the phone has failed to materialize in any additional countries, other than those mentioned during the launch event.

Apple is keeping very quiet on the subject too, perhaps because it boasted the iPhone 5 would be its fastest product rollout ever. Bold words that were perhaps a little premature, because right now, it’s slower than the iPhone 4S.

Sure, the iPhone 5 has been popular but this is Apple’s sixth iPhone and all of them have had bigger launches than their predecessors, so it’s unlikely to have under-estimated demand. Instead, it over-estimated Foxconn’s ability to glue and screw the things together, which combined with a complex manufacturing process and a desire to “fix” its forthcoming financial report, has put undue strain on the supply. Unsurprisingly, it has fallen over, and the international rollout has stopped.

To illustrate the problem, let’s compare the release schedule of the iPhone 4S with the iPhone 5.

iPhone 4S rollout

Apple announced the iPhone 4S on October 4 2011, and it went on sale in the US, Canada, UK, Australia, France, Germany and Japan on October 14. The next set of 22 countries joined it on October 28, and they were Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Singapore, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. Apple announced both these dates and the relevant countries during it’s October 4 event.

On November 1, Apple announced the next set of countries to receive the iPhone 4S. Albania, Armenia, Bulgaria, El Salvador, Greece, Guatemala, Hong Kong, Malta, Montenegro, New Zealand, Panama, Poland, Portugal, Romania and South Korea would all get the device on November 11.

That’s 29 days between both announcements and release dates to put the iPhone 4S into 43 countries.

iPhone 5 rollout so far

Here’s the same breakdown for the iPhone 5. It was announced on September 12 2012, and the USA, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore and the UK all received it on September 21. Then, on September 28, Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland all got theirs too.

Since the iPhone 5 was announced, 38 days have passed and the device has gone on sale in 31 countries, and no further release plans have been announced. While that initial run was fast, it has now stopped dead in its tracks.

Apple’s Phil Schiller called the iPhone 5 the company’s fastest rollout ever. Sorry, Phil, but that doesn’t appear to be the case at the moment. Apple still has time to recover though, as it has committed to putting the iPhone 5 into 100 different countries by the end of the year, which means it still has plenty of time to meet its target. The iPhone 4S made it into 70 countries before the end of 2011, something it achieved with three weeks less time available.

Delivery delays

For those of you living in a country with the iPhone 5, head over to your online Apple Store of choice and you’ll find there’s a 3 to 4 week wait for the phone. Apple loves it when demand outstrips supply, but it’s probably less happy about making its customers wait for a month before they get their phones. Situations vary, and some may get their phones earlier than expected, but these delivery dates have been in place since the iPhone 5 went on sale.

Looking back to the iPhone 4S, MacStories noted that when pre-orders started on October 28 2011 for the second batch of countries, delivery was estimated to be between 1 and 2 weeks. On November 11, by which time the iPhone 4S was available in 43 countries, Mashable showed a screenshot for delivery times of an unlocked 4S in the United States. Guess what? It was 1 to 2 weeks.

Production delays affecting Apple’s grand plan, or vice versa?

A report by Fortune says Apple pushed to get the iPhone 5 into 31 countries before the end of September, so sales would count in its Q4 2012 financial report and see the device break previous sales records. There was probably much rubbing of hands at the thought of the headlines, but surely the plan would have been toned down if Apple had any idea supply was going to be so restricted.

The gamble may not have worked out quite as well as it hoped either, as analysts are reducing their forecasts ahead of Apple’s fourth quarter results, due two days after its October 23 event. On average, iPhone 5 sales predictions have dropped from the low-30 million mark to the mid-20s.

While Apple wanted to grab itself an easy headline, production delays certainly weren’t part of the plan. A Foxconn executive told The Wall Street Journal that the iPhone 5 is “the most difficult device [the company] has ever assembled,” citing Apple’s demanding quality checks and complex design as issues slowing down production.

The ease with which the casing is scratched is also causing problems, as Apple’s strict quality control has seen more cases rejected and assemblers take longer over each stage; a good thing overall, but bad for getting devices out the door.

Then there are reports of workers at the factories going on strike over conditions, where as many as 4,000 employees were reported to have stopped making iPhones altogether. Foxconn denies the strikes took place, but China Labor Watch says otherwise.

So when will the international rollout continue?

Apple hasn’t said when the next round of sales will commence. China Unicom said it would be putting the iPhone 5 on sale within three months of its initial release, so we can estimate it to be sometime during December. A report by BGR.in says that the iPhone 5 is set to go on sale in India on October 26, and that it would only be available through Apple.

The upcoming October 23 event is a prime opportunity for Apple to talk about the next wave of iPhone releases, and an October 26 release date puts it the day after the company’s fourth quarter earnings call. It’s going to have to get moving too, as there are still 69 countries to go before it meets its own, self-imposed target for the year.

But production issues won’t be solved overnight, leaving us to wonder whether Foxconn can manage another clutch of countries. Apple’s eternal quest to be “number one” may backfire so badly that the rest of the world will also be 3 to 4 weeks away from getting an iPhone 5 through the new year.

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