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Why Apple Won't Release a Midcycle Gold iPhone X

Ashraf Eassa, The Motley Fool

Ahead of the launch of the Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) iPhone X, generally reliable KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo claimed that the company was facing difficulties manufacturing a version of the device with a gold finish. The analyst even said that a gold version of the device might launch after the standard space-gray and silver versions made it to market . 

It has been more than three months since Apple launched the iPhone X and about five months since Apple announced it (there was a two-month gap between announcement and availability), and Apple has yet to introduce a gold version of the current iPhone X. 

Apple's iPhone 7 Plus lineup.

Image source: Apple.

Here's why Apple is unlikely to introduce a gold version of the current iPhone X at all. 

The channel inventory situation

On Apple's most recent earnings conference call, CFO Luca Maestri explained that following the peak quarter for a new iPhone model (almost always the first quarter of any Apple fiscal year), the company takes steps to reduce the amount of latest-generation iPhone models that are sitting out there in the various distribution channels. 

The company does this because demand for the company's latest iPhone models, particularly at their launch prices, tends to wane significantly over the course of a product cycle. This is driven by several factors, including more-intense competition from other flagship smartphone launches, anticipation for future iPhone models, and the simple fact that many iPhone buyers rush to buy the latest models as soon as they come out. 

That being said, you may be remembering that Apple introduced the red iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus midway in early 2017 even though the company was certainly performing the same type of channel inventory reductions that it's doing now. 

That's true, but there are a few key differences to keep in mind. Apple intended to continue selling the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, albeit at discounted prices, into the following product cycle (you can buy either phone directly from Apple today). Apple is widely believed to be planning to outright discontinue the current iPhone X model once the new models launch later this year. That probably means that Apple needs to be more aggressive about reducing channel inventories than it previously was.

It doesn't make a lot of sense for Apple to ramp up production of a new variant of the iPhone X with a new finish when it plans to discontinue production of the phone in less than six months. 

Additionally, I don't believe the (PRODUCT)RED iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus were particularly more difficult to build than the other models -- it was simply a different color of aluminum. On the other hand, the gold iPhone X likely required a very difficult manufacturing process to change the color of the stainless steel band around the device from silver to gold -- hence the reported manufacturing problems. 

A final consideration

Also remember that a gold iPhone X would likely be highly desirable, especially in markets like China. Apple may be interested in saving the gold finish for the new iPhone X and its larger counterpart, which are set to launch later this year. I don't think offering the devices in gold would be a huge growth catalyst for next-generation iPhone X shipments, but there may be customers who are compelled to upgrade to one of the next-generation iPhones for fashion/aesthetic reasons. 

In that case, Apple might be better served by saving this potential selling point (however modest) for the coming iPhone product cycle rather than try to shoehorn it into the current one, which is nearly halfway done. 

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Ashraf Eassa has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple. The Motley Fool has the following options: long January 2020 $150 calls on Apple and short January 2020 $155 calls on Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.