Teardown reveals clues of iPhone 5 design

Verizon iPhone hints at better reception for next-gen, almost-identical phones for all networks, says iSuppli

The inside of Verizon's iPhone hints that Apple will be able to largely recycle the design for this summer's expected iPhone 5, an analyst said on Tuesday.

"Apple should be able to retain about 95% of the design of the CDMA iPhone," said Wayne Lam, a senior analyst with IHS iSuppli, talking about the next version of the iPhone, which experts believe Apple will introduce June 6.

The big news from iSuppli's teardown -- the practice of taking apart consumer electronics to see which components were used, how they were constructed and how much those parts cost -- is the move to a Qualcomm baseband processor, the silicon that allows the smartphone to make and take calls.

Until Apple debuted the Verizon iPhone, which operates on a CDMA-based cellular network, the company had relied on Infineon for the phone's baseband processor.

Lam said that it's likely Apple's next iPhone will work on both CDMA and GSM technologies, with only minor modifications to each networks' model. AT&T, and most of the world's cellular networks, use GSM.

His take: Because the Qualcomm processor supports both CDMA and GSM, Apple can slap the same processor in both CDMA and GSM iPhones.

"The changes required [for a GSM iPhone] are not insignificant," Lam said. "But the CDMA iPhone foretells the feature design of the next iPhone."

Analysts have been speculating on whether Apple will be able to ship a single iPhone that will support both technologies, a move one expert last week said was in Apple's interest.

Today, Lam didn't think that was likely because of the additional costs that Apple would incur adding parts that would not be used by everyone. Instead, Apple would probably retain separate models for CDMA and GSM networks.

"Apple's past history is that it has a very methodical pattern of design, and so is fairly predictable," said Lam, ticking off another clue that Apple will retain the bulk of the Verizon iPhone's design, including the Qualcomm processor, this summer when it introduces its next smartphone.

That next iPhone, which analysts and pundits have dubbed "iPhone 5" for the moment, will probably be introduced to the public on June 6, the opening day of Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), the event that Apple has used since 2008 to roll out its newest model.

Lam also applauded the antenna design of the Verizon iPhone, calling it more robust and technically better than what was used in the iPhone 4 that runs on AT&T's network.

"All the indications from the design, and the evidence that we see inside, is that the Verizon iPhone uses 'antenna diversity,'" said Lam, referring to a term that describes multiple antennas to improve reception and prevent dropped calls.

Both issues made national news last summer after the introduction of the iPhone 4 when owners complained that their smartphones couldn't hold a signal or bailed out of calls when held in a certain way.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs called it "Antennagate," and dismissed the complaints even as he announced that the company would give free bumpers or cases to iPhone 4 users.

Analysts disagreed whether the August 2010 departure of Mark Papermaster, Apple's head of iPhone engineering, was due to the brouhaha over the iPhone 4's antenna issues.

"I think [the iPhone 4 antenna design] was simply a technical mistake by Apple," Lam said Tuesday. He expects that the next iPhone for AT&T will integrate some of the design changes seen in the Verizon iPhone to improve the former's call reception.

Although iSuppli has not finalized its estimate of the Verizon iPhone's bill of materials (BOM), a list that calculates Apple's component and production costs, he said that preliminary numbers hinted at a lower BOM than the GSM-compliant model for AT&T.

"It looks like it might be 5% to 10% lower, with 5% more likely." Lam said.

Next summer, however, an AT&T iPhone 5 will be more expensive for Apple to manufacture due to the greater complexity and additional parts necessary in a GSM smartphone.

"It would add a little more to the [Verizon iPhone's] cost to strip out all the CDMA components and put back in those we think are needed for a GSM model," Lam said. "But whether it will be 5% we don't know. We haven't seen that phone."

Apple and Verizon will reopen online ordering of the CDMA iPhone Wednesday, Feb. 9, at 3 a.m. ET, and start selling the smartphone in their retails stores Thursday, Feb. 10, at 7 a.m. local time.

Apple and Verizon halted pre-orders of the iPhone 4 last week after about 15 hours, saying they had exhausted the inventories set aside for existing Verizon customers.

Many who pre-ordered the iPhone from Verizon last week received their smartphones yesterday.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at  @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon