Apple is planning a liquid-cooled iPhone (and so are Samsung and HTC)

The race to take the title of "World's Most Advanced Smartphone" is driving Apple [AAPL], Samsung and HTC to explore increasingly advanced technologies, with a Digitimes report claiming all three firms are working to develop liquid cooled smartphones in order to boost power efficiency.

Apple plans a liquid cooled iPhone

[ABOVE: Look how happy this model is to be holding an NEC liquid-cooled phone! "Joy of consumer technology".]

NEC beat them all to it

These won't be the world's first mass market liquid-cooled smartphones, that title belongs to the NEC Medias X-06E which will be made available on Japanese carrier, NTT DoCoMo.

"Smartphone players such as Apple, Samsung Electronics and High Tech Computer (HTC) have started showing interest in adopting ultra-thin heat pipes for their smartphones and are expected to release heat pipe-adopted models in the fourth quarter, at the earliest, according to sources from cooling module player," Digitimes reports.

I'm inclined to doubt we will see these players introduce liquid-cooled devices as soon as Q4 on the basis that the report confirms yield rates of the cooling modules used in such devices stand at only 30 percent -- I should imagine that's way too low a yield for inclusion of such tech within mass market devices, but yield rates will improve in future.

There's also the question of just how useful such tech might be in these devices, though perhaps the principal deployment scenario might be to enable faster graphics and central processors to be used in smartphones. Liquid-cooling is an efficient way to reduce operating temperatures at little cost to battery life.

"Since the conventional graphite plus foil cooling method is no longer able to dissipate enough heat in modern smartphone models efficiently, after 4G becomes a common transmission specification for smartphones in the future, the heat problem is only expected to become worse," Digitimes suggests.

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[ABOVE: Look, a smartphone runing a generic OS that's kind of rectangular and has rounded corners -- but it's LIQUID COOLED. That's good, right?]

Cooler, faster and good marketing

A move to adopt new cooling technologies makes a degree of sense. Consumers would be unlikely to slap their cash down for a fan-cooled smartphone as that would be too noisy, but as display and processor technology advances manufacturers will need to improve cooling efficiency, while also protecting battery life.

That's what Qualcomm (who provide the processor used in the NEC phone) think: 

"The hottest phones stay cool”. Qualcomm explains, “Mobile processors are required to process huge amounts of information quickly and without the use of a fan – so some get really hot. That heat is battery life and processing power wasting away.”

The efficiency of liquid cooling systems accounts for their widespread use among advanced computer users choosing to "overclock" their PCs in order to make them more powerful.

The big disadvantage is the matter of what happens if the liquid coolant leaks -- you don't need to be a genius to figure out that your phone will probably stop working if the liquid leaks. Assuming the device is resilient enough to handle a few bumps without breaking the cooling system the trade off for heat dissipation could be invaluable as devices continue to get smaller and slimmer.

A liquid-cooled...iWatch?

Use of liquid cooling systems may also enable devices to be both powerful and cool enough to be worn next to the skin -- which could open future opportunities for wearable devices.

Ordinarily this could suggest the potential to include this form of cooling within a future iWatch, but a fresh report from Jefferies this morning claims this gadget will be nothing more than a device designed to work in conjunction with an iPad or iPhone, rather than a fully independent cellphone alternative.

"We do not believe the iWatch will have a cellular chip so it will need to be paired with an iPhone for full functionality. Therefore we use our estimate of the iPhone installed base (250M) as the addressable market," the analysts said today.

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