While I do not have a clear picture of the situation (not even speculative), here are some dot connecting lines that have formed after reading all kinds of rumours and observing the absence of some usual leaks and rumours before a product announcement.
I think Apple in general, and Tim Cook in particular, are very meticulous in analysing problems / missteps and taking the time until they can come with the right solution. there are many examples out there, but who would have thought only a few years back that Apple will become a major powerhouse in chip design? Let me try to make a very short list of Apple strategic goals with a new product, beyond the obvious functionality, aesthetics, affordability etc. :
1) in order to make a truly “magic” (like in sufficiently technologically advances) device, you not only have to think different(ly), but build a new manufacturing chain from the ground up
2) thou shall not copy! if you use non standard materials / processes / chips, the crowd of fast copiers, I think the greatest plague that hit Apple since 2007, would always be far more than one year behind
3) public relations: be it worker environment, sustainable manufacturing and information / parts leaks
As I want to keep the list short, I will stop at three items, but continue with some comments on each.
1) We have seen great acceleration not only in R&D expense but also in manufacturing capacity during the last few quarters; not only heavy investment in the sapphire plant, but also machines. And as we have seen both with the Mac Pro and with Foxconn, more and more robots will replace workers in the assembly line (note the connection with 3) ).
2) We know that sapphire will be used, but because of production capacity and brittleness compared to gorilla glass, I do not think it will be used in iPhone 6, no matter the version / size / price. If it’s going to be used during the following year, I think iWatch (or whatever name they decide to use) is it.
There is an even bigger (?) sleeper out there (I know, I was excited about it in the past and nothing happened), liquid metal. A wearable device that would have to save every tenth of a millimetre and of a gram, take very complicated / curvy shapes, be strong, look good, and that could not be (easily) copied, this would be a great solution; not to mention that sapphire + liquid metal would make a great piece of jewellery imported from the future. Take a look at those designs by the new employee of Apple
And if this material will ever be developed, why not wait until it’s ready to launch not only a new type of device, but start a new era of computing: wearables.
3) This is even wilder speculation than above. In such a small computer (iWatch), there will either be very few or no screws / buttons / moving parts, or they are going to be too small for (lightly trained) human hands that have to assemble millions of those with great efficiency and precision. Not to mention a very small, thin and thus fragile logic board and … oh my, tiny cables and connectors!
If one designs a totally new device, why not also design its birthplace in the same time (think Tesla Model S) so that the puzzle becomes a natural fit (instead of trying to fit the square pegs of the old manufacturing ways in …). Sapphire produced in the US. Liquid metal cases produced in the US. Maybe imported internals and screens. Assembled in the US. Great public relations and advertising, almost inimitable!
There are for sure many other things that make sense once you change the perspective. I would love to hear what you guys think we’ll get next week.