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iPhone 5 'geometrically more complex' than older Apple smartphones, says expert

Apple kept costs in line with last year's phone, even with LTE and larger screen

September 25, 2012 04:13 PM ET

Computerworld - The iPhone 5 is "geometrically more complex" than Apple's previous smartphones, a teardown expert said today after taking apart the company's newest device.

"Across the board, this is geometrically more complex, and very, very interesting," said Wayne Lam, senior analyst for wireless communications at IHS iSuppli, in an interview today.

iSuppli, which regularly disassembles smartphones and tablets to see which component suppliers are on the upswing, which have been dumped by designers and manufacturers, wrapped up its teardown today after getting its hands on some of the first iPhone 5 smartphones.

The research company's experts concluded that the iPhone 5 is the most complicated model yet created by Apple, in large part because of the inclusion of support for mobile carriers' faster LTE data networks.

"This is the most complex radio antenna design that I've seen on any phone I've examined," said Lam, referring to the iPhone 5's two antennas and the switching capabilities between the pair required to handle multiple LTE frequency bands.

Although the iPhone 5 is slightly larger than its four precursors -- it's about 7% taller, for instance -- it's even more jam-packed than older models.

"It's like a 3-D jigsaw puzzle in there," said Lam. "They've rearranged everything, ironed out the thickness of the battery, and gone with the smaller [Lightning] connector. It all goes along with the design tradition of Apple," he said, citing the company's reputation for elegance as well as for ditching older technologies and thus raising compatibility issues. "[Lightning] breaks a lot of compatibility, but it's much more functional," noted Lam.

Not to mention smaller.

Apple reduced the size of some components -- such as the docking connector -- to make room for new parts necessary for LTE, and for an audio amplifier chip three times the size of the one in the iPhone 4S.

But Lam kept returning to the iPhone 5's support for LTE as its most impressive engineering feat.

"There are only two antennas, but there are lots of ways to switch between the two," said Lam. "I was surprised at the level of engineering they had to go to."

To accommodate as many wireless partners as possible, Apple was forced to create two different models of the iPhone, Lam pointed out.

One, dubbed the "A1428," supports LTE bands 4 and 17, and is sold in the U.S. to AT&T subscribers. The other, A1429, handles bands 1, 3 and 5, and is sold to Verizon and Sprint customers in the U.S.

The two-model approach deviates from Apple's preferred strategy, which is to make a single model suitable for everyone, a tactic that, said Lam, "Gives Apple lots of leverage when they source components and drives really good prices for them," because of the volume of Apple's orders to its suppliers.



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