Apple analyst Brian White of Wall Street firm Drexel Hamilton, who is currently on a Chinese tech tour, today issued a pair of research notes highlighting his upcoming Apple Watch and iPhone expectations through the end of 2016.
Foremost, White cites a source who believes only the 5.5-inch iPhone 7 Plus will feature a dual camera system, echoing the same prediction made by often-accurate KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo earlier this week.
The analyst claims that iPhone 7 production is expected to begin in July, and the next-generation smartphone is expected to help Apple and its suppliers return to smartphone growth in the second half of 2016, just months after the iPhone likely experienced its first year-over-year quarterly sales decline ever. Apple announces its Q2 2016 earnings results on Monday, April 25 at 2:00 p.m. Pacific.
Our meeting with a tech supply chain company highlighted a rough end to 2015 with significant forecast reductions from Apple; however, forecasts have been stable since then with 2Q:16 expected to be the trough. After a YoY sales decline in 1Q:16, our contact expects to return to growth in H2:2016. Production of parts of the iPhone 7 are expected to begin in July.
Meanwhile, White predicts that the Apple Watch could be refreshed within the next two to three months. He believes that a 20% to 40% thinner Apple Watch 2 could be unveiled by June, possibly at Apple's annual WWDC, which could take place between June 13-17 based on scheduled availability at Moscone West, the San Francisco convention center where the developer event is typically held.
Finally, we walked away with the sense that the Apple Watch refresh will not occur in September with the iPhone 7, but is more likely to occur within the next 2-3 months, and thus we believe an unveiling at WWDC in June makes sense. We believe Apple Watch 2 could be 20-40% thinner than the current Apple Watch.
Early rumors suggested that the Apple Watch 2 could debut at Apple's "Let Us Loop You In" event in March, which saw the introduction of the iPhone SE and 9.7-inch iPad Pro, but multiple sources have now reported that the next-generation wearable could debut around September. The original Apple Watch was announced in early September 2014 and released in late April 2015.
A few reports do line up with the June timeframe. In November 2015, a Chinese report surfaced indicating that Taiwan-based supplier Quanta Computer was developing the Apple Watch 2 in time for a late-second-quarter launch, with volume shipments beginning in the third quarter. In January 2016, another Chinese report said Quanta would begin trial production of the Apple Watch 2 by the end of that month.
Moreover, in September 2015, Cowen and Company analyst Timothy Arcuri claimed that the second-generation Apple Watch will launch in mid- to late-2016 and be thinner than current models. Few other details are known about the upcoming device beyond a June 2015 report that said it will feature a FaceTime video camera and expanded Wi-Fi capabilities, while new bands and finishes are always a possibility.
Whether the Apple Watch 2 is introduced in June or September, it appears clear that Apple may be elongating the wearable's release cycle beyond one year to avoid consumer exhaustion. Many customers only received the Apple Watch in December during the holiday shopping season, so a new model launching this spring may be considered too soon. A closer to year-and-a-half refresh would seem more appropriate.
Brian White is a longtime Apple analyst that currently serves as Global Head of Technology Hardware & Software at institutional brokerage firm Drexel Hamilton. He previously worked at investment bank Cantor Fitzgerald, where he held the same title, and Topeka Capital Markets. Like many analysts, he has both hits and misses in regards to Apple's upcoming product plans.