Some Hints About the Next iPhone?

February 9th, 2011

As the reviews and product tear-downs of the Verizon iPhone pour in, a few things are certain, and some fascinating possibilities present themselves. Of course, the early evaluations appear to confirm expectations that Verizon’s network is a superior environment for the iPhone. Indeed, the reason it appears to be difficult to duplicate the iPhone 4’s infamous “Death Grip” is that Verizon offers superior signal strength in many areas. Holding the iPhone the wrong way only has an serious impact when you have fewer bars.

The other prevailing question isn’t clear yet. Will the presence of millions of iPhones on Verizon’s network degrade connection quality, as it did with AT&T? Clearly, the latter was caught flat-footed, unable to provide a level of service commensurate with the quality of product they were selling. Sure, AT&T claims to have spent billions to bring their network up to par, but they are still rated as being inferior, and that’s a reputation that’s going to be hard to shake, even if things really change for the better.

Now during the run-up to the Verizon iPhone, some suggested the new version would be a “world phone,” meaning it would have a chip that supports both the CDMA and GSM networks.  In theory, that would make it possible to use the revised iPhone 4 most anywhere that supported either network protocol.

The initial teardowns show that the speculation is half right. According to published reports, Apple installed Qualcomm’s MDM6600 chip, the proper hardware for a CDMA/GSM world phone. Unfortunately, there is no SIM slot, required for GSM installations, and the antenna is tuned for CDMA. Reports from experts on the matter suggest that the task of offering an antenna that supports both would have required a fair degree of re-engineering, which would hardly make sense for a product that will be obsolete in a few months. There’s also the interior space factor to accommodate twice the number of antennas, and I don’t pretend to know the ins and outs of shrinking all that to fit comfortably within an iPhone (or even mounted externally).

On the other hand, this design decision appears to create a platform that may result in the iPhone 5 being the true world phone, assuming that Apple is able to devise an antenna system in a tiny form factor that will support all the requirements of these systems, not to mention the new LTE standard.

Now maybe you think I’m extrapolating from a small amount of data, but remember that Apple does try to leverage parts across products as much as possible. This to take advantage of lower prices for the higher quantities they’re able to order. It may also give them a chance to test the Qualcomm baseband chip to make sure that it will be suitable for the next iPhone, and no doubt the next iPad.

What this also means is that Apple should, in theory, be capable of building one 3G (or 4G) iPad 2, and it’ll be up to you to decide which data provider to use. That would surely encourage lots of competition to earn your business, particularly when there’s no service contract to worry about. So folks here in the U.S. could, one month, use AT&T, but if that carrier proves unreliable for your needs, you could go to Verizon Wireless the next month.

Having a single iPad 2 lineup also means fewer opportunities for confusion. Say you buy the GSM version, but, wait, you wanted the CDMA model instead. You return the first, take home the second, but then decide you’d rather use a GSM provider for your data. There you go!

With the iPhone 5, it would mean Apple could build a single model to serve in most countries, although you’d still be buying a subsidized version tied to a single carrier.

The rest of the speculation can take us anywhere. There are reports of more powerful graphics hardware that would probably appear in both the iPad 2 and iPhone 5. Ditto for an expected A5 chip from Apple, perhaps with dual-cores and a rated speed of 1-1.2GHz. Again, the more products that use the same components, the cheaper it is for Apple to build them and remain competitive in the marketplace.

This is a key reason why the so-called iPad wannabes have utterly failed to provide meaningful competition. They are almost always more expensive, unless limited to a 7-inch screen, or built so cheaply nobody would pay them a moment’s notice. As you might recall, Apple COO Tim Cook has already announced that they are investing some $3.9 billion of their spare cash to buy up components. Some suggest it’s LCD displays, others memory or processor chips. It may be a number of things, all designed to help Apple price their latest and greatest gadgets as low as possible, yet still earn record profits. These are the lessons the rest of the industry has yet to learn.


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