Apple had no choice but to delay the iPhone 12 last year. The company announced in late July that the new phone wouldn’t launch on time. Pandemic-related events such as travel bans and lockdowns hindered Apple’s ability to develop and mass-produce the iPhone 12. But all signs point to a timely iPhone 13 launch this year. Apple didn’t warn investors about imminent delays a few days ago. The company did mention the ongoing uncertainties related to the health crisis. It even acknowledged that the iPhone production line has to deal with chip shortages. But Apple made no explicit mention of an iPhone 13 launch delay.
Then something happened. A new report from Asia indicates that TSMC experienced a significant incident. The TSMC plant that’s producing iPhone and Mac chips dealt with an emergency situation on Thursday. But the company said there is no obvious impact on operations.
Should we fear iPhone 13 delays?
The iPhone 12 release date might have been postponed, but Apple eventually caught up with demand. The iPhone 12 sold in record numbers in recent quarters, showing that people were still eager to purchase the latest Apple phone despite the ongoing pandemic.
Reports this year suggested that Apple took several precautions to streamline iPhone production and reduce the risk of delays. Apple secured essential iPhone 13 part production ahead of time, reports have said. Apple ordered record numbers of OLED panels from Samsung and A-series chips from TSMC, eying to manufacture some 90 million iPhone 13 units in 2021.
TSMC reportedly made Apple a priority customer, according to other unconfirmed reports. This implied the iPhone 13 will not see delays this year. Other leaks said that while Mac and iPad production might feel the effects of the global chip shortage, the iPhone won’t share the same fate.
Apple already mentioned iPhone chip shortages
Apple never confirms reports from its supply chain. But the company did say earlier this week that the global chip shortage will impact iPhone production for the first time. Even then, Apple suggested the chip issues are manageable.
Apple CEO Tim Cook said during the earnings call that the supply constraints Apple is seeing aren’t in the custom chips the company makes for its devices. Instead, they’re “legacy nodes” that make chips for displays or audio.
“The majority of constraints we’re seeing are of the variety that I think others are seeing, that I would classify as industry shortage,” Cook said. He added that there’s a different type of shortage resulted from increased demand from consumers. The exec did not mention the iPhone 13 specifically. Nor did he hinted at any iPhone production delay
“We do have some shortages in addition to that, that are where the demand has been so great and so beyond our own expectation that it’s difficult to get the entire set of parts within the lead times that we try to get those.”
The TSMC incident
It’s Nikkei Asia out with a story on Friday that details an incident at one of TSMC’s most important factories. Fab 18 makes is the most advanced chipmaking facility at TSMC. Sources reportedly said the latest processors for upcoming iPhone and Mac computers come from Fab 18.
If accurate, these must be the unannounced A15 Bionic and M1X/M2 chips that appear in Apple rumors. Any accident that impacts production would fuel iPhone 13 launch delay worries. The 2021 MacBook Pro already saw delays of its own, according to reports.
TSMC told Nikkei that “some TSMC production lines in the South Taiwan Science Park received certain gases from suppliers that are believed to be contaminated. These were quickly replaced with other gas supplies.”
The chipmaker discovered the contamination on Thursday night. TSMC is carrying “stringent” follow-up operations to ensure there will be no issues with production quality.
More importantly, TSMC said that it does not expect the incident to impact operations significantly. The company never addressed the kind of parts Fab 18 was producing at the time of the contamination.
Sources told the site that the contamination affected production in a limited way. TSMC called up employees who had gone home to return to work to handle the crisis.