Authentication Chip In Lightning Connector

Back on announcement day for the iPhone 5, I said it would be difficult to impossible for 3rd parties to make Lighting cables because it was likely an active cable. Sadly I was right. From AppleInsider:

Peter from Double Helix Cables took apart the Lightning connector and found inside what appear to be authentication chips. He found a chip located between the V+ contact of the USB and the power pin on the new Lightning plug.

That’s pin 1, the far right pin of a Type A, the far left side of a mini/micro, and the top left of a Type B USB plug. That provides 5V DC. Depending on the nature of how the chip works it could be difficult for cables to provide even power, much less transfer data to the device. Pin 1 and 4 provide power/ground, 2,3 are data.

The big upside here is the market is huge for the first cheap silicon that can emulate this chip at least enough for power, preferably data. Assuming that happens we’ll see a plethora of 3rd party cables. Until then, we’ll see nothing. Of course that could be a huge lawsuit right there.

iPhone 5 Teardown

iFixit posted their teardown and as always it’s fascinating to look at. Chipworks did some analysis as well. Some observations:

  • Easier to repair – Looks to be substantially easier to repair than previous iPhones. Major win.
  • Broadcom nearly expunged? – Apple looks to be moving away from using Broadcom chips. The Broadcom BCM5976 touchscreen controller looks like all that’s left. I’m surprised as the iPad 3 included the Broadcom BCM4330 wireless chip. I assumed that would be in there.
  • New WiFi Chip – Interestingly Apple instead of a Broadcom BCM4330 went with a Murata 339S0171. Murata is apparently based on a Broadcom BCM4334 + Skyworks frontend chips according to Chipworks. Guessing this saves at the very least space. Possibly also power. Apple must be serious about cutting size/weight.
  • Lots of Qualcomm inside – Not a shocker for an LTE device.
  • Got rid of the linear oscillating vibrator – I wonder why this is. It seems in every way superior to keep the linear oscillating vibrator vs the rotational motor with counterweight. No idea why they would have done that. Cost?
  • Easier to repair home button? – The home button is the weak point of the iPhone hardware wise. It inevitably becomes less sensitive, and for some will just die. This appears to be stronger and easier to repair.
  • Sony based image sensor – Chipworks identified the rear camera as a Sony design, but not much than that. The Galaxy SIII uses the Sony IMX145, which the iPhone 4S also used. Presumably this is the next generation based on the specs.

Apple’s A6 CPU It’s Own Design?

Anand Lal Shimpi blew my mind with a report:

The A6 is the first Apple SoC to use its own ARMv7 based processor design. The CPU core(s) aren’t based on a vanilla A9 or A15 design from ARM IP, but instead are something of Apple’s own creation.

I had just assumed Apple licensed the designs as they have in the past. I figured with their interest in silicon designs that they would want more control in the future, but not to this level.

This just shows what sort of cash Apple has in the bank. I can’t imagine anyone other than Samsung possibly going this route, and even Samsung wouldn’t likely do it for just one product of theirs.

iPhone 5 Thoughts

iPhone 5

Some thoughts on the iPhone 5:

  • Design – The black model is a bit of a departure having finally removed the metal ring that’s framed the iPhones of the past. It looks more subtle in white. Otherwise it’s the classic iPhone design, just longer.
  • Dimensions – The larger screen will be nice, I suspect they’ve held the line in dimensions with the 4S to avoid fragmenting the ecosystem too much and upsetting developers (see: Android). Letterboxing makes old apps usable. It’s hardly perfect but a respectable long term move. Unlike many other phones it still seems usable with one hand.
  • Camera – In my opinion one of the bigger features is the improved camera. “The best camera is the one you have on you”. For more and more people it’s their phone. It will never replace an SLR, sheer physics and properties of light limit that. It however is substantially better than previous incarnations. Sapphire Crystal lens is pretty cool too. My lens scratched once before and it cost $30 to swap out the back panel. This means that won’t be likely to happen again. Backside ilumination sensor and large aperture mean better night photos. Something just about every mobile phone stinks at.
  • Panorama – Lots of apps already offer this feature. Apple did mention there’s new “image processing chip”. Curious if some of the algorithms to do panorama’s are accelerated for performance. That would make it a huge win. Also potentially better quality for the time it takes to process.
  • LTE – About time. I suspect they’ve been playing with LTE for ages, but opted against it because of power consumption. Apple held the line with power consumption. Seems like a win.
  • Dual band WiFi – I’m assuming both the iPhone 5 and Kindle HD include 5 GHz because the chipset offers it. While 5 GHz is fast, it’s got pretty limited range, and isn’t really necessary on a mobile device, especially one that can only process so much data at a time. You’re not pushing 300 Mbps to the iPhone 5. Marketing hype, but it’s not a bad thing to have.
  • New Display – Integrated touch is pretty neat. Rather than 2 layers to the screen it’s now one. Given the previous one generation was glued, this doesn’t really make repairs any more expensive. You had to replace the whole thing anyway. Apple mentions it makes things brighter. I’m betting that means they need less power per pixel to light the screen meaning it’s more energy efficient and thus cuts power needs despite the larger size or at least offsets it.
  • Lightning – New cable isn’t terribly surprising. It sounds like an active cable, but it doesn’t seem 100% certain. I’m betting it will be difficult or impossible to see cheap 3rd party cables like we did in the past if that’s the case. The adapter is ugly, and I’ll likely be using those for a while to keep my old stuff working with it. Budget for a few cables and at least one adapter. Eventually we’ll forget about that migration.
  • New earbuds – I’ll hold judgement. The original ear buds were actually decent sound wise, however it was virtually impossible properly position them in your ear to appreciate it. I ditched the Apple ones long ago for something more comfortable.

Overall the announcement met my expectations. I didn’t expect an all new phone, just a ton of revisions. It makes sense Apple didn’t include NFC. If Apple wants to go the payment route I’d expect them to do so via a Pay with Square like geofencing scheme.

Lastly, it appears AT&T will grandfather existing unlimited data customers even with LTE. Not so for Verizon customers.