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Foxconn: iPhone 5 Is Hard To Make

Apple iPhone 5 shortages are the result of a difficult manufacturing process, but Foxconn says its productivity is improving.
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Apple iPhone 5 Teardown: Visual Tour
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Foxconn wants you to cut it some slack. The Chinese electronics manufacturer is under the gun for the low supply of Apple iPhone 5 smartphones available around the world. But the shortage isn't Foxconn's fault--at least, not really. You see, making the iPhone 5 is hard.

"The iPhone 5 is the most difficult device that Foxconn has ever assembled. To make it light and thin, the design is very complicated," said an anonymous company official to The Wall Street Journal. "It takes time to learn how to make this new device. Practice makes perfect. Our productivity has been improving day by day."

The iPhone 5 shipped in the U.S., U.K., Australia, and several other countries on September 21. By September 24, Apple had sold 5 million of them. The device hit 22 more markets September 28. While it is still fairly easy to walk into a wireless network operator retail store in the U.S. and buy one, there's a 3- to 4-week wait if you order one from Apple.com.

[ What's with all that extra silicon in Apple's Lightning cable? Read Apple Lightning Cable Teardown Reveals Mysterious Circuits. ]

One factor in the availability of the iPhone 5, at least when sales started, was the difficulty in manufacturing the iPhone 5's in-cell touch display. Sharp, in particular, had difficulty getting good yields of the display. It has since corrected that issue.

Now all the pressure is on Foxconn to assemble the components.

The materials used by Apple in the iPhone 5 are part of what is causing the problem, according to Foxconn. It uses aluminum for the back and side shell and an anodized effect for the paint and coloration. This combination is more prone to scratching.

"It's always hard to satisfy both aesthetic needs and practical needs [of Apple]", said the Journal's source. Apple recently changed its quality control standards in order to squash the number of scuffed iPhones that make it out of the factory.

All signs suggest that the iPhone 5 continues to sell well, but Apple has yet to brag about the next obvious sales milestone. Sales reached 5 million in just a few days. That was three weeks ago. What happened to 10 million? Surely the device has hit that sales mark, given its launch in dozens of additional countries.

My guess? Apple will brag about iPhone 5 sales at the iPad Mini launch event scheduled for October 23. It'll be one of the bullet points covered before the iPad Mini rears its head.

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Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing
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Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing
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Carrie Pallardy, Contributing Reporter