Ever since the iPhone X was revealed we've heard reports of how limited availability is expected to be. Now the reason why there will be so few iPhone X available at launch is slowly being revealed, albeit by industry insiders who don't want to be named.
According to Bloomberg, the major hold up for iPhone X production isn't the OLED screen, although supplies have been limited. The biggest problem is Face ID and the components it requires to function.
The 3D sensor used for Face ID sits at the top of the handset and consists of three main components: a dot projector, a flood illuminator, and an infrared camera. Together they highlight the face (flood illuminator), detect the presence of a face (infrared camera), and ID the face using 30,000 projected dots (dot projector).
The dot projector uses a vertical cavity surface-emitting laser (VCSEL) made of gallium arsenide, which sits behind a glass lens. Both components are quite fragile, especially when you consider how thin they are. Making something so small, so complex, and so fragile at mass production speed means overcoming lots of problems.
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Initial yields of usable Face ID components were thought to be as low as 20 percent coming out of LG Innotek and Sharp. Apple apparently responded to that by lowering the specification for Face ID and therefore the accuracy, which in turn made the components easier to manufacturer and yields increased. It is unknown how much lower the accuracy of the system is, but Apple says there is a "one in a million chance" of defeating it.
None of this has been confirmed by Apple as you'd expect, but low yields of key components for a brand new ID system would account for the six week delay between the iPhone 8 and iPhone X launch. It's also why the rumors of very low stock at launch don't seem to be going away.
As to why Apple allowed this to happen, Bloomberg believes it's because the company refused to allow extra development time for the final Face ID system. According to Apple's chief design Jony Ive, the prototypes Apple used to initially develop the system were around one foot wide. That hardware was then miniaturized to what you see at the top of the iPhone X with manufacturers given two years to get there. Clearly they needed longer to achieve reliable mass production.
In just over a week we'll see if Apple managed to pull off what looks to be the most difficult launch in the history of the iPhone for the most expensive iPhone ever produced.
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