Supply Line Troubles To Delay iPad 3 Launch?

Analysts and pundits have been predicting an iPad 3 with a late 2011 launch for some time now, but if accounts from suppliers in Asia are to be believed, there just is no way that’s going to happen — if the rumors of the high-DPI screen are correct in the first place (and we think they are).

A 9.7″ display sporting 2048×1536 pixels, four times more than the current iPad and three times more than the HD displays on many Android tablets, is quite simply at the very limit of LCD panel manufacturing capability. Apple previously had hoped to have at least five or six million units by the end of the year and placed orders to that effect, but Digitimes is reporting that those orders have disappeared.

The chatter around the display industry water cooler is that Sharp is the only company capable of making these panels with any kind of real reliability; Samsung and LG apparently can’t reach a good yield. If these companies wanted to throw away money, they could invest despite poor yields, as Microsoft did in order to bring the Xbox 360 to market early, but we all know how that turned out. Samsung has actually demonstrated an alternative type of high-resolution display, but it’s unlikely Apple would use it even if it were ready for market.

These screens would be among the highest performing in the world, yet must be manufactured by the millions for relatively low cost. Apple doesn’t make its own displays (among other things), so it’s at the mercy of OEMs like Sharp. And if Sharp says “if anybody could do it, we could — but we can’t,” then Apple has no choice but to take that hit and delay the product.

Meanwhile, the same sources estimate as many as 30 million iPad 2s will be shipped in 2Q11; with no “rare” parts, they can be made as fast as the millions of hands in vast factory towns can put them together.

Of course it has to be said that a product that is not announced can’t, strictly speaking, be delayed. And I’m sure Apple was prepared for this eventuality, likely being informed while collaborating with Sharp that yields might just not hit targets in time. So: a revised launch schedule. January, anyone?