Making sense of Apple supply chain rumors

Good supply chain analysts offer speculation based on the best available data.

A 12-inch MacBook coming? Good supply chain analysts offer a credible snapshot of what they see happening in the supply chain at the moment.
A 12-inch MacBook coming? Good supply chain analysts offer a credible snapshot of what they see happening in the supply chain at the moment. CNET

Critiquing Apple rumors has become a sport. But it may help to understand just what the "supply chain" variety of rumor is, exactly.

When Apple rumors are flying, it has become a weekly thing to rate them, i.e., separating the plausible from the dumb.

The source of a lot of speculation is from analysts surveying the supply chain of manufacturers in Asia. So, just what are supply chain analysts saying?

NPD DisplaySearch is a good example. It offer snapshots of what it believes is happening in the display supply chain. Typically through the lens of specific products. And often that means those from Apple.

But DisplaySearch makes no claim to special knowledge about what Apple will ultimately do.

Let's take a very recent example. David Hsieh, a vice president at DisplaySearch in China, offered "speculation," via a chart of upcoming Apple products, based on what he had been hearing in the supply chain.

Here's what he said:

Based on supply chain research, we believe Apple is planning to revamp nearly all of the displays in its products over the next year. This would indicate that Apple, once again, intends to count on display technology for new product innovation. We can speculate about Apple's new products as follows.

This isn't wild conjecture about future Apple products. He's passing along a snapshot of activity at manufacturers.

(And note that facile, armchair criticism of rumors can be just as misleading as a wacky rumor.)

Display suppliers, for example, may be getting inquiries from Apple for a 12-inch MacBook Air-class product or they may be "testing" production of displays for the product.

The supplier may ultimately not go forward with the product. That decision, of course, is Apple's.

Again, DisplaySearch isn't in the business of supplying wild rumors to clients (and that's who the data is intended for). They're in the business of offering educated guesses based on the best available information.

I asked Richard Shim, a stateside DisplaySearch analyst, for his thoughts.

"Our goal is to track the broadest bits of information throughout the supply chain and evaluate them over time to see what can be weeded out so that what is left is detailed, and hopefully, accurate indications of what is happening from a manufacturing and production standpoint."

So will Apple ultimately release a 12-inch MacBook-Air class laptop, or a 1.63-inch iWatch, or a 5.7-inch iPhone? We don't know, of course, but I'll give cautious credence to DisplaySearch's analysis, because it often offers the best data available at the time.

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