This has been a highly visible week for Apple and its supply chain ecosystem.  Included was Apple’s announcement of obscene earnings for its latest fiscal quarter and perhaps too much visibility to supply chain related information related to the newly introduced Apple Watch.

On Monday, Apple reported operating results for the March-ending quarter reporting a 27 percent increase in revenues and a startling 33 percent increase in profits. Gross margin climbed to 40.8 percent above previous Wall Street estimates of 38.5 – 39.5 percent. The overall business media headline was that Apple’s iPhone line-up is gaining market-share while commanding higher prices. The average selling price of an iPhone has risen to $659, up $60 in the last year, while iPhone shipments were up 40 percent from the year earlier period to 61.2 million units. Emerging market demand, in particular China, Hong Kong and Taiwan is reportedly fueling this latest iPad sales volume increases. Revenues associated with the Mac personal computer lineup trended positively, up 10 percent in the latest quarter, bucking an overall industry trend of declining PC sales. Apple closed its latest quarter with over $193 billion in cash, up $15 billion from December.

However, there are some warning signs. Sales for the iPad declined by 23 percent in the latest quarter, an indication of a further sales decline trend.

Yesterday, The Wall Street Journal reported (paid subscription or free metered view) that one of the key technology components within the Apple Watch has experienced reliability issues. The taptic engine component, which controls the sensation of tapping the watch while transmitting heart-rate data, was sourced among two key suppliers.  Citing people familiar with the matter, the WSJ report indicates that reliability testing has discovered that the taptic engines supplied by AAC Technologies Holdings of Shenzhen China, have demonstrated reliability problems, with Apple electing to scrap some completed watches. Engines produced by Japan based Nidec Corp. have reportedly not experienced the same problem, with Apple reportedly moving all remaining sourcing of this component to Nidec. However, it may take more time for the new prime supplier Nidec to increase production volumes.

Although the WSJ indicates that it is unclear whether the tactic engine reliability has contributed to short supply, by our lens, this may explain why existing orders for Apple Watches have been in a backlog condition since product launch. On Monday, Apple CEO Tim Cook confirmed that “demand is greater than supply” for the Watch.

The WSJ further indicates that Apple has now communicated to other watch component suppliers to slow delivery volumes until June, without explaining why, which has surprised suppliers who were in full blown ramp-up. Neither AAC Technologies nor Nidec elected to respond to the WSJ in a request to comment.

The WSJ cites additional sources as now indicating that Apple is further considering the addition of a second final assembly contract manufacturer to supplement Taiwan based Quanta Computer. That second CMS is rumored to be none other than Foxconn, Apple’s principal go-to contract manufacturer when supply chain volume output challenges occur. However, even if Foxconn is brought online, it will be several months before the CMS can make its contribution to boosting output. The WSJ sources indicated late 2015 as an estimate.

As Supply Chain Matters has frequently pointed out, Apple practices dual-sourcing of key technology components as part of its supply chain risk mitigation strategy. This is especially prevalent in new product introduction and ramp-up phases. There are currently three prime suppliers for Apple’s existing iPhone LCD screens with reports indicating the introduction of another for the next model iteration of iPhone. In the case of the tactic engine report, the dual-sourcing strategy has obviously proven effective.

Finally, today’s Wall Street Journal calls attention to IHS Technology’s recent teardown analysis of a 38-millimeter Apple Watch Sport, the entry level model for the product line-up. (Paid subscription or free metered view)  The IHS teardown analysis indicates that overall costs of component materials and manufacturing labor cost amount to $83.70 contrasted to a retail selling price of $349. That according to IHS equates to a 24 percent ratio for parts and manufacturing cost, lower than the average 29-45 percent equivalent cost for Apple’s other product lines. This is an indication that the Watch is a product line with even higher profitability potential.  The taptic engine component noted above has an estimated cost of $16.50, the second most expensive component. The touchscreen and display module was estimated to cost $20.50, the most expensive component.

In two weeks, analyst firm Gartner will again unveil its annual ranking of the Top 25 Supply Chains. Apple has consistently commanded the number one ranking for many years, and with these latest operating results, we suspect that the Apple supply chain will again command the top spot.  Financial performance alone is compelling and when considering supply chain risk mitigation and segmentation strategy, the result is obvious.

Bob Ferrari