Another day, another headache for Apple, which according to the WSJ has hit a new production snag on its new iPhone X over a pair of components dubbed Romeo and Juliet, which is adding to worries about extended product shortages when sales begin in early November.
According to Nikkei, which first reported the glitch, Problems with production of 3-D sensors for facial recognition are still plaguing Apple's premium iPhone X. Apple introduced contoversial facial recognition to unlock phones and to authenticate payments for the first time with the iPhone X. It's also the cause of the latest snag as makers of 3-D sensor parts are still struggling to reach a satisfactory level of output, and to boost their yield rate.
As the WSJ reports, the "Romeo and Juliet" components are critical parts of the new facial-recognition system.
It has taken more time to assemble the Romeo modules than the Juliet modules, they said, creating an imbalance in supply. That has served as a bottleneck for the iPhone X’s mass production, according to one person, which could possibly crimp supplies beyond typical initial shortfalls when the phone is released Nov. 3.
The Romeo and Juliet modules at the center of the latest delay are two critical parts of Apple’s facial-recognition system, which is based on 3-D sensor technology. The Romeo module features a dot projector that uses a laser to beam 30,000 infrared dots across the user’s face, essentially mapping its unique characteristics. The Juliet module includes the infrared camera that reads that pattern.
The problem is that there weren’t enough “Romeos” to go with the number of “Juliets” on hand. The Romeo module is assembled by LG Innotek and Sharp.
The production problems are the latest glitch as Apple and its suppliers rush to load the flashy new features into the flagship model that carries high stakes for Apple. The first problems emerged earlier this summer and involved the iPhone X's screens, which are using organic light-emitting diode, or OLED, technology. Then there was a hiccup during Apple’s launch event Sept. 12, when the iPhone X failed to fully unlock the first time the company’s top software executive used it before the audience. Apple later said the Face ID technology had been inadvertently disabled beforehand.
Besides the facial-recognition system, difficulties involving the OLED screen have also made the iPhone X road to production bumpy. Apple initially hoped to equip the iPhone X with the Touch ID function, which allows users to open the phone by scanning their fingerprint. But incorporating the scanner into the new OLED display proved problematic, and Apple eventually scrapped the scanner on the new phones. The episode contributed to iPhone X sales being pushed back til November, people familiar with the matter said.
While the Journal reports that Apple’s plan to launch the iPhone in more than 55 countries Nov. 3 suggests it is confident it can meet demand. But as Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Toni Sacconaghi said in a recent note, “if iPhone X availability issues persist beyond November 15 and into the holiday season, we could see some frustrated iPhone users consider switching to other offerings,” possibly weakening sales estimates, Sacconaghi said.
Meanwhile, with the iPhone X still more than a month away from reaching consumers, initial appetite for the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus appears to be weak according to Nikkei. Some recent reports suggest that the delayed shipment may have dampened demand as well. "One of the sources said that demand for the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus appears to be weaker than that of their predecessors, but did not provide figures."