vol 7, issue 11

Teardown: Apple iPhone 5

19 November 2012
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Apple iPhone5's major components

Apple’s newest smartphone yields surprises

Trust Apple to buck a trend and shy away from simplifying the latest iPhone. We take a closer look.

"While most manufacturers make great effort to simplify designs by minimising the total number of mechanical parts and fasteners in their products, Apple appears to be going in the other direction with the iPhone 5," says Kevin Keller, senior principal analyst, teardown analysis, for IHS.

"The iPhone 5 incorporates even more mechanical parts than previous iPhone designs, resulting in a very complex assembly. But Apple can do this and still produce the iPhone 5 at such low costs due to its capability to leverage its vast army of low-cost labour."

You should note that this IHS iSuppli teardown differs slightly from our usual model, as it represents a preliminary take on the device soon after its consumer release. The component cost (aka bill of materials (BOM)) in the basic 16GB model is estimated to be $199, rising to $207 when manufacturing is added. For the 32GB version of the iPhone 5, the BOM increases to $209, and for the 64GB version it rises to $230.

As well as being initial assessments, remember that these numbers do not include expenses such as software, licensing and royalties.

So what are the headlines all about? Allowing for the fact that the iPhone 5 has a lot in common with its predecessor the iPhone 4S, released last October, there have been some significant changes in both the design and the component suppliers.'''

"These have enabled major upgrades that improve the user experience," says Andrew Rassweiler, senior principal analyst, teardown services, for IHS. "They include a faster applications processor, a larger display, and a high-speed 4G LTE air interface. Beyond some of the high-profile changes that bring obvious benefits in terms of performance and features, there are then myriad upgrades and enhancements to virtually every component and subsystem."

One notable upgrade is the use of in-cell touch sensing for the the iPhone 5 display.

"Most other smartphone LCDs use a completely distinct capacitive touchscreen assembly that is physically separate and placed on top of the display. The iPhone 5 partially integrates the touch layers into the display glass, making the product thinner and reducing the number of parts required to build a display that senses touch without the need for a separate capacitive touch layer."

Touch capabilities

In the past, smartphones with capacitive touch technology employed different suppliers for the display and touchscreen. However, Samsung made the first advance beyond conventional capacitive touch with what is known as on-cell touch.

All of Samsung's Super AMOLED (active-matrix organic light-emitting diode) screens employed in smartphones use on-cell technology, which is sold as a single integrated display/touchscreen unit. When smartphone makers buy these Super AMOLED displays, they come with touch capability integrated. This simplifies smartphone product designs and also makes them thinner.

Apple's in-cell technology represents the next step by integrating the touch sensing feature into the display. No separate touchscreen assembly is involved; instead, a single unit'comes directly from the iPhone 5's three known display suppliers - LG Display, Japan Display and Sharp.

The addition of high-speed 4G LTE technology is estimated to have driven up the cost of the wireless section of the iPhone 5, to $34, compared to about $24 for the iPhone 4S.

One major change here is in the baseband processor. While Qualcomm remains the supplier of this critical component, the iPhone 5 integrates the company's MDM9615M and RTR8600 parts; the 4S, in comparison, employed the Qualcomm MDM6610 and RTR8605 devices. The new Qualcomm parts were used to allow support for the LTE air standard.

"We believe that Apple is implementing LTE in a particularly novel way," Rassweiler says. "Apple ideally would like to sell one iPhone in all markets. However, there are so many different LTE frequencies that must be supported around the world that this has become a difficult thing to do.

"For most smartphone manufacturers, the solution is to build different variations of their smartphones for each carrier, so that they won't spend extra money on superfluous components," Rassweiler continues. "However, this is not the Apple way. Instead, Apple packs all of the features needed to support as many carriers as possible with a single product. Still, that will be tough to do in this situation.

"For now, IHS believes there are at least two different versions of the iPhone 5, each with multiband filters that will allow Apple to support as many global markets as possible with as few versions of the product as feasible. In some ways,'this is an expensive way to do business, but by maintaining the fewest numbers of variations possible, Apple is playing to its strength in product design."'

Leading iPhone 4S suppliers making a return include Samsung (litigation notwithstanding), Qualcomm, Murata, Dialog Semiconductor, Texas Instruments, STMicroelectronics, Cirrus Logic, Avago Technologies, Skyworks, and AKM. Nevertheless, from the advanced, $17.50 A6 processor manufactured by Samsung, down to the relatively simple'$0.62 electronic compass from AKM Semiconductor, almost every part has been updated.

Key new suppliers include SanDisk, which contributed the NAND flash memory in the specific iPhone 5 dissected, marking the first time this storage player has been seen in'any IHS teardown of an iPhone. However, with the NAND'component being a commodity part available from multiple suppliers, Samsung, Hynix and Toshiba also could be serving as Apple's sources for this slot.

Elpida has replaced Samsung as the supplier of the SDRAM memory in the target analysed by IHS. However, again, Samsung and Hynix could be supplying this widely available memory part in other units.

Compared to the iPhone 4S, the SDRAM density has been doubled to 1GB from 512MB, and has a total cost of $10.45.

The battery in the iPhone 5 is supplied by Sony. This slot was taken by Amperex Technology in the iPhone 4S. The cost of the battery in the iPhone 4S is estimated at $4.99.

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