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Friday, April 08, 2011, 07:05 am PT (10:05 am ET)

Apple keeping iPhone 5 cards 'extra close to the vest' in supply chain

As rumors of a later-than-usual iPhone launch for 2011 persist, a new report reveals that the notoriously secretive Apple is being even more careful than usual when dealing with overseas suppliers.

"Apple is keeping its iPhone 5 cards extra close to the vest on this launch to avoid a falloff in iPhone 4 demand ahead of a refresh, especially given the February launch of the CDMA iPhone 4 with Verizon," Analyst Brian White with Ticonderoga Securities said in a note to investors on Friday. He believes that the iPhone 5 could still launch in June or July, as previous models have.

White noted that various rumors have pointed toward a launch later than June this year for the fifth-generation iPhone. One report from March alleged that Apple has not even begun ordering components for the anticipated "iPhone 5," and the device is slated to arrive in the company's 2012 fiscal year, which begins in late September.

And a third report alleged that Apple is working on a major revamp of iOS, its mobile operating system, for version 5.0. New features like cloud-based storage of music, photos and video are rumored to arrive in the update this fall, likely alongside new iPhone hardware.

But despite all of those reports, White isn't yet convinced that the iPhone 5 will be introduced later than its typical June or July timeframe.

"Although we do not have a smoking gun that definitively rules out a delayed autumn unveiling or one that supports a launch this summer, there is a pattern of activity in motion with the supply chain that makes us question a delayed launch," he said.

White also cited sources who indicated that iPad sales could reach up to 40 million units in calendar year 2011. And supply chain sources also indicated that disruption from the earthquake and tsunami disaster in Japan will actually end up benefitting Apple, as suppliers will "rush to support Apple at the expense of competitors."

The analyst already revealed earlier this week that Apple has been offering upfront cash payments to component suppliers in order to secure components in the wake of the disaster in Japan. Apple has apparently also been using a "three cover guarantee," referring to capacity, stock and price, to block out competitors and prevent them from building ample supply of devices.