Affiliate Disclosure
If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Read our ethics policy.

Rumor: Apple's 4.8-inch iPhone 6 won't launch till June 2014 due to screen yield issues

Last updated

Apple plans to introduce an iPhone with a 4.8-inch display and additional processing cores to help stem market share losses to rivals like Samsung but has been unable to accelerate the launch of the product into the 2013 calendar year due to challenges in producing enough of the larger displays, one investment research firm said Wednesday.

Mockup of iPhone with 4.94-inch screen, created by Marco Arment.

Editor's Note: It has been brought to our attention that certain specific claims of the Jefferies report are somewhat suspect, specifically regarding a March media event. AppleInsider has reached out to analyst Peter Misek, who maintains a high level of confidence regarding his hardware predictions. As with any research-based report, the information within should be taken with a grain of salt.

In a report issued to clients on Wednesday, Jefferies analyst Peter Misek said Apple's product roadmap had called for a 4.8-inch iPhone to launch sometime during the 2014 calendar year but added that the company recently made an unsuccessful attempt to bump up its launch into the back half of 2013 amid increased competition and lost market share to rival Samsung.

We believe a summer CY14 launch was originally planned, but Apple tried to accelerate it to stem its market share losses. The earliest Apple could have launched a 4.8” phone would have been this fall (with a target of Oct); however, our checks indicate that Apple’s suppliers are running into difficulties trying to scale the screen size from 4” to 4.8”.

More specifically, Misek said scaling the in-cell screens from 4" to 4.8" has resulted in poor yields — meaning a significant number of display components from each batch being manufactured are not passing the company's quality assurance tests. As such, Apple is unlikely to be able to manufacture enough of the larger 4.8" displays to facilitate a full-blown launch of the handset until next spring.

"We believe Tim Cook defended the 4” screen of the iPhone 5 on the last earnings call in order to avoid freezing iPhone shipments in the quarters before a 4.8” launch," the analyst told his clients.

But poor yields of the larger display components may not be the only bottleneck Apple faces in pushing out the so-called iPhone 6. Misek believes Apple will jump from a 32-nanometer production process to a 20-nanometer process in a bid to add more processing cores (4 to 8), completely forgoing a move to a 28-nanometer process.

"While TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company) is targeting a 2014 ramp in its 20nm production we think that issues like double patterning could make it a more complicated transition than the 28nm ramp, which had its own substantial ramp and yield issues.

Additionally, Misek said Apple's current difficulty in ramping the in-cell displays at 4.8-inches may be forcing the company to look at switching to on-cell displays (which include a different integrated touchscreen technology), IGZO displays, and even OLED displays. The latter consideration, the analyst noted, would come despite Apple’s suppliers being well behind Samsung in their OLED capabilities.

Misek's notion of using OLED displays would seem to run counter to recent developments. On Tuesday, speaking at Goldman Sachs' Internet and Technology Conference, Apple CEO Tim Cook panned the image quality of OLEDs.

"If you ever buy anything online," Cook explained, "and really want to know what the color is, as many people do, you should think twice before you depend on the color from an OLED display."

On Friday, news emerged that Apple had hired away an OLED expert from South Korean manufacturer LG. Despite Cook's negative take on the current state of OLEDs, the technology does allow for thinner designs and better battery life.

Cook's comments came in the context of a larger defense of the current size of the iPhone's display. At four inches diagonal, the iPhone 5's display is smaller than much of its competition. Cook, though, said some observers' focus on screen size was akin to the spec races of the PC and digital camera industries.

Even as he spoke on screen size, Cook was less adamant in defending the iPhone 5's display size than he has been in the past. Twice in his response he said he "[wasn't] going to talk about what we're going to do in the future," leading some to believe the company may bend to market pressures and release a larger-screened device.