Inside the iPhone 5

In the wake of rampant rumors about the design and timing of the iPhone 5, it's also worth a look inside the expected update to Apple's popular smartphone.

With anticipation for Apple's iPhone 5 (or whatever branding is ultimately used) extremely high, most of the focus has been, not surprisingly, on design and timing . But what will make the iPhone 5 tick? That's the question I asked a couple of experts.

The upcoming phone is expected to pack Apple's latest and greatest A5 silicon, a Qualcomm 3G chip, and circuits that support a higher-resolution camera.

Apple's A5 chip is used in the iPad 2 and appears destined for the next version of the iPhone.
Apple's A5 chip is used in the iPad 2 and appears destined for the next version of the iPhone. Apple

A5 chip: The Apple A5 houses the main processor--or so-called application processor--that will power the phone. The A5 (technically a system-on-a-chip or SoC) is the same chip that currently powers the iPad 2. The A5 distinguishes itself from the older A4, used in the iPhone 4, by having two processor cores (the A4 has one) and faster graphics circuits. Two cores allow the device--like the iPad 2--to multitask better than a single-core phone.

"It's liable to be the A5," said Will Strauss, president of Forward Concepts, a company that tracks the phone chip market. But Strauss expects the chip to be a variation of the A5 in the iPad 2. "It's a geometric shrink of the A5. The geometries (size of the chip) will be smaller," he said.

A shrink of an existing chip typically results in better performance and/or lower power consumption.

Linley Gwennap, principal analyst at The Linley Group, a chip consulting firm, agrees that it will be an A5. "Presumably, dual-core A5...I haven't heard anything different," he said in response to an e-mail query.

But getting a dual-core chip into a small device like a smartphone--as opposed to the larger iPad--means that chip must excel at effectively managing how much power it uses. "The secret is the power management. It's got dynamic power management. So, the chip can lower the [speed] depending on the workload," Strauss said.

3G or LTE? One of the burning questions about the next version of the iPhone is whether it will have LTE (Long Term Evolution), a faster broadband technology sometimes referred to as 4G. "I don't think LTE is going to be in it. That won't happen until the April announcement (of a future iPhone)," Strauss said.

Qualcomm: Which brings us to the 3G chip. "Verizon has already said it's going to be a world phone. So, it has to be able to handle WCDMA and CDMA. And, of course, that's Verizon. We've not heard anything out of AT&T. But if it's going to be the identical device, it has to be Qualcomm as far as the baseband (3G) goes," said Strauss.

"Qualcomm baseband would enable one iPhone model that works on all networks," said Gwennap.

Strauss' and Gwennap's assessments are echoed by other analysts , who have said that Qualcomm will supply the baseband chip, allowing "Apple to streamline production of the iPhone for various countries."

Camera: OmniVision is rumored to be supplying the 8-megapixel CMOS sensor that comprises the circuitry for the iPhone 5's camera. That would be a step up from the 5-megapixel camera in the iPhone 4. Sony will also supply CMOS sensors, reportedly.

About the author

Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.

 

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