Apple, the golden iPhone, and the supply chain

Rumor has it that Apple has a gold-colored, blinged-up iPhone in the pipeline. But there's a lot more to manufacturing a golden iPhone than painting – or anodizing – the thing gold.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor
gold_iphone copy
A gold-colored iPhone is easier to Photoshop than it will be to manufacture.

There's always a bit of a silly season vibe in the air in the weeks leading up to an anticipated Apple unveiling, and since the Cupertino electronics giant is expected to unveil a new iPhone on September 10, the rumor mill has been kicked into high gear.

One of the craziest bits of tittle-tattle to emerge is that Apple is planning to release a gold – or champagne – colored iPhone. Now, while the idea of a blinged-up iPhone doesn't float my twig, I can see how such a device might have appeal in some territories. For example, the Chinese are loving gold at the moment.

But there's a lot more to manufacturing a golden iPhone than painting – or anodizing – the thing gold.

Firstly, how much of the iPhone will be customized? Remember how much trouble Apple had with the white iPhone? Just getting the glass elements right was a big enough job, and if the golden iPhone involves anodizing the stainless steel bezel, then this would add geometrically to the complexity.

Vanity or limited edition colors will also put more pressure on Apple to deliver flawless products. You probably remember the screams following the release of the iPhone 5 when some people received their handsets pre-scratched.

Apple's main job with the iPhone in the weeks following its release will be keeping the thing in stock. Even the tiniest crimp in the supply chain will have a detrimental knock-on effect on Apple's bottom line come the end of the quarter, and this is a quarter that analysts and pundits alike will be watching closely.

Anything that delays iPhones rolling off the production line and into the hands of customers is a bad thing, and if Apple is indeed to release the new iPhone in a gold version – of for that matter any color – then it needs to make sure that people aren't left waiting for specific colors to come into stock.

Even if any color other than than the normal black or white is listed as 'limited,' this could still end up with people holding onto their money until the color they want becomes available.

This too wouldn't be good for Apple come the first full quarter following the release of the new iPhone.

Apple does offer the iPod touch, iPod shuffle, and iPod nano in a range of colors, but there are two key differences between the iPod and the iPhone:

  • The iPod is a mature product, and sales are only a few million per quarter.
  • The iPod is nowhere near as important to Apple's bottom line as the iPhone is.

While I certainly wouldn't want one, if Apple does indeed offer a golden iPhone, it will be interesting to see how it plays out.

So, who wants a blinged-up iPhone?

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