Apple iPhone 4S

Teardown: Apple iPhone 4S

We smash up Apple's latest iPhone to see what changes the company has made.

As the iPhone 3 was followed by the 3GS, a turbocharged revision, so the 4S looks and feels like the 4 but has been amped up with, most noticeably to users, the addition of the A5 dual core processor from the iPad 2, an 8MP camera module with a backside illumination sensor and features such as Siri voice recognition.

The launch disappointed the fans, but the 4S racked up an impressive 4 million sales over its launch weekend. Refining the product and wooing 3 and 3GS owners ready to upgrade already appears to be paying off.

'It stood to reason that Apple would not overreach. It stood to reason that Apple would remain conservative, and try and get as many cost reductions it could by leveraging similar, or in some cases, the same components used in the iPhone 4,' says Andrew Rassweiler of the IHS iSuppli teardown team.

Apple now has a portfolio of three iPhone 4Ss, two downgraded iPhone 4s (8GB configuration only), and a downgraded iPhone 3GS. It has subsidised phones through carriers at the $200-level, the $100-level and the $0-level.

'This approach has been a hallmark of other Apple designs, like the iPod line,' says Rassweiler. 'Offer the public several price points, establish the brand with new consumers and young consumers, then those users will ultimately walk up the pricing staircase, bring increasing future revenues.'

One significant change on the manufacturing front, largely invisible to the consumer, is that Apple has opted with the 4S to provide the same phone to all carriers in all markets, albeit in three memory configurations.

'This is something we have never seen on this scale, though we have seen some Research in Motion (RIM) devices with this approach,' says Rassweiler. 'Most manufacturers take out superfluous RF and power amplifier (PA) components to cost-optimise models meant for different carriers and different markets. Some novel approaches are being used to support this, putting Apple ahead of the pack on integration in the PA and RF sections. This puts Apple in a good position to offer LTE soon, offer the additional functionality, but still offer HSPA+/EvDO backward compatibility while keeping a small footprint. Still, such choices come at a cost.'

The 4S is an extremely complex product to make, even compared with other 'world phones'. There are many discrete mechanical components, and the handsets have to be built to last and be field serviceable. This means a lot of tight tolerances, a lot of screws, a lot of clips, a lot of tape and a lot of flex circuitry.

The 4S features 1,142 components (excluding box contents). The iPhone 4 CDMA featured 1021, and the iPhone 4 HSPA featured 984.

'Many of the components are smaller passive components in all of the designs, and much of the increased component count comes down to the increased 'one phone all networks' approach,' says Rassweiler.

Winners and losers

The move to a single SKU has had its most significant impact on the components in, as you would expect, the baseband, RF and PA sections. For the baseband and RF transceiver, the 4S uses two chips from Qualcomm, respectively the MDM6610 (with and internal 512Mb of DRAM), and the RTR8605.

'It's an interesting choice that we can't quite explain,' says Rassweiler, 'because the MDM6600 in the iPhone 4 CDMA actually integrates both functions into a single package. We assume this was done for board layout reasons.'

In the RF and PA section, another big winner is Avago, with a custom part that merges functionality previously offered by Skyworks and Triquint.

'Whereas Avago previously supplied only minor components of a commodity RF nature, this is a very special converged approach that gives Apple a real technology lead over most other manufacturers, reducing the complexity of the RF/PA section even more,' says Rassweiler.

The former Infineon Technologies mobile arm, now owned by Intel, has been partially supplanted by Qualcomm and supplies only a relatively minor RF switch. Audience Semiconductor's noise suppression chip also seems to be missing in action.

IHS iSuppli currently forecasts total unit sales of 85 million units for all iPhone models in 2011 and the 4S is expected to represent 40 million of those. Volumes for the 4S should double to around 80'million in 2012. *

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