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NPR News

Apple Warns Of Product Shortage Due To Supply Chain Issue

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Apple has new iPad Pros and updated Macs. And you can order them now, but you may not receive them for a while. This week, the company, which we should say is among NPR's financial supporters, warned that it cannot keep up with demand because of a global shortage of semiconductor computer chips, the same shortage that's already brought many auto factories to a standstill.

NPR tech correspondent Shannon Bond joins us. Shannon, thanks so much for being with us.

SHANNON BOND, BYLINE: Hi, Scott. Happy to be here.

SIMON: So customers can click and pay now, but then what?

BOND: Well, they're going to need to be a bit patient. So, for example, if you go to Apple's website right now and look at one of these new iPad Pros, it says it's available starting in the second half of May. But, you know, I tried to go through and actually put one in a cart and order it. And it says it won't be delivered until late June or even early July. You know, that's quite a wait for this. And that's because Apple says it's running into this problem that is bedeviling supply chains across the world. There's a big shortage of chips right now. And chips are those little electronics inside...

SIMON: Yeah.

BOND: ...So many products that we use every day - right? - not just our phones and our laptops, but also video game consoles, even our cars.

SIMON: This is a huge problem for Apple and certainly every other person in the industry, isn't it?

BOND: That's right. I mean, Apple says this issue, it's going to cause their sales in the next couple of months to be about $3-4 billion less than they would be. You know, that sounds like a lot of money. That (laughter) is a lot of money. Actually, for Apple, that's not that huge an amount of money. They're still expecting strong growth, but the point is, the growth could have been stronger because there has just been huge demand over the past year for iPads, computers. They've just been selling like crazy during the pandemic. Apple says over the last nine months, Mac sales were the highest they've ever been. And even, you know, just this week, it reported blockbuster sales and record profits in the first three months of the year.

SIMON: So profits are still strong. But this is - I mean, a $4 billion bump in the road is not small change.

BOND: Well, you know, it's interesting here because for Apple, it's actually largely, so far, been able to avoid this chip shortage. It's known for really managing its supply chain quite well. But this warning shows even Apple is not immune to these problems in the global supply chain.

SIMON: And why is there this global chip shortage?

BOND: I mean, it's really demand, right? So over the past year, people have been stuck at home. Many people bought new computers. They bought new monitors for work and school. They also bought new TVs and PlayStations and appliances. You know, companies and schools had to invest more in electronics to make remote work and classes happen.

And then there's this other factor, which is cars. So these days, cars have hundreds, even thousands of chips in them. They, you know, track and control everything from tire pressure to the entertainment system to the safety features we rely on. Now, last summer, car sales, you know, went down dramatically when manufacturing shut down. But then they recovered much more quickly than anyone expected, including the chip-makers. So on the one hand, there's more demand. On the other side of the equation, there have been supply issues, including manufacturing disruptions from the winter storms in Texas and a big fire at a factory in Japan.

SIMON: Anybody have any ideas on how long this shortage might last in the supply chain?

BOND: Well, Apple's CEO was asked about this, Tim Cook. He said it's really hard to give an answer about that. Other CEOs we've heard from in the past couple of weeks have been pretty pessimistic. Ford warned it's going to get worse before it gets better. Nokia said this shortage could drag on for maybe another year or two.

Now, chip-makers in Taiwan, where many of these chips are made, they're boosting production, but it's going to take time to rebuild inventory. These are complicated pieces of equipment to make. They're done in these specialized fabrication plants. So for all of these companies and all of those customers out there, it's going to be a waiting game.

SIMON: NPR's Shannon Bond, thanks so much.

BOND: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.