Japan disaster could delay iPhone 5, disrupt PC supply chain

iPhone factory workersThe global electronics supply chain could soon be disrupted by the ongoing disasters in Japan caused by recent earthquakes, tsunamis and nuclear catastrophes. That includes access to parts that make up PCs, as well as components of Apple products, like the iPad 2 and the upcoming iPhone 5, experts say.

News of such disruptions comes first via Acer Taiwan president Scott Lin, who says that, while the PC industry’s supply chain will remain intact for 2.5 to 3 months, some companies are beginning to stockpile their inventories of DRAM and LCD panels, causing short-term price inflation for those components, Digitimes reports. Lin also says that the availability of silicon wafers and adhesive used in LCD panel assembly, 90 percent of which is produced by Japan-based companies Sony and Hitachi, are already in short supply.

According to Lin, who knows first-hand how natural disaster can affect the electronics industry after experiencing the 1999 Taiwan earthquake, says that the key to resolving the supply problem is to restore Japan’s power system, which is currently in shambles due to multiple nuclear meltdowns.

As iSuppli principal analyst Michael Yang tells Computerworld, a shortage of NAND flash memory chips, which are often used in tablets and smartphones, is already underway due to production disruptions at Toshiba, which produces about 40 percent of the world’s NAND chips.

The short supply of NAND flash memory could potentially cause a delay in the release of Apple’s next-generation iPhone, which is expected to debut in June. But because of Apple’s position in the industry, the Cupertino-based company has little reason for concern.

“Apple’s purchasing power and its relationship with the [NAND] suppliers means it will get priority,” Yang tells Computerworld. “There are three other major suppliers of NAND — Samsung, Hynex and Micron — and there’s enough flex there that it shouldn’t be a huge issue for Apple.”

Other companies, including HP, Nokia and Motorola, could also be affected by an NAND shortage.

Production of the iPad 2 could also experience hang-ups, according to iSuppli analyst Wayne Lam who spoke with All Things Digital. The problem primarily centers on the iPad’s three-cell li-ion battery pack, which Lam believes is manufactured in Japan.

With disaster in Japan still taking its catastrophic toll on countless lives, the last thing on most people’s minds at the moment is how their future electronics purchases might be affected. But in this age of a global economy, it’s something everyone — from Steve Jobs to your neighborhood Best Buy register jockey — should start to consider.

Additional information added at 7am PST.

Image courtesy of Stuart Isett

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