Willie Teng, DIGITIMES, Taipei [Wednesday 26 May 2010]
A fan of Apple or not, one cannot deny that over the past few decades, the company has introduced products that have changed the way we go about our everyday lives. With the iPhone 4G expected to be unveiled in the upcoming Worldwide Developers Conference on June 7 and multiple leaks in the past months, we sat with Digitimes Research senior analyst Ming-Chi Kuo to discuss and sift through the rumors and facts of the new smartphone.
Q: Is the iPhone 4G reported by Gizmondo the real thing? Will it be the same as the one introduced on June 7?
A: I believe so. At least it will be very similar. The leaked iPhone 4G had a tag that said "N90," which is the internal development codename for the iPhone 4G, and very few people outside the company knew about it prior to the leak.
On a side note, Apple initiated the iPhone 4G project at the end of 2008. According to our sources, Apple actually has another product codenamed N91 for the project, which offers less change from previous iPhones compared with the N90. It's a parallel product to back up the N90 in case there are major delays due to significant modifications in casing, display resolution, digital camera support and so forth.
Q: Display support on the iPhone 4G has received a lot of interests. What are your thoughts?
A: Display resolution is a critical specification, since two of iPhone's competitive advantage are the App Store and support from application developers. If Apple changes the resolution for every new iPhone, it makes life extremely difficult for application developers since they would have to adjust the applications to ensure graphic quality.
We can see this issue brewing in the Android platform segment. I believe this is one of the main reasons why Apple has stuck with the same resolution since the introduction of the first iPhone in 2007.
Therefore, the resolution upgrade in the iPhone 4G needs to be significant enough to ensure competitiveness and minimal modifications in the next 2-3 years.
At the moment the highest resolution offering from the Android segment is 854x480, so the resolution of the iPhone 4G should at least be higher than 854x480, and mostly likely up to 960x640, which should provide the least interruption since it has the same length to width ratio as the resolution in current iPhones. It is also close to the resolution as offered in the iPad, which should be a plus for developers to create applications that fit both devices.
Even if Apple introduces iPhone OS devices ranging from 3.5-9.7 inches in the next few years, 960x640 should be sufficient, which is another great news for application developers.
The iPhone 4G will also come with IPS (in-plane switching) panel with FFS (fringe-field switching) technology, which offers wider view angle and lower battery consumption. This is Apple's attempt to strengthen the iPhone's e-book reader functionality.
Q: Why didn't Apple select AMOLED panels?
A: According to our sources, Apple had spoken with Samsung Mobile Display (SMD) about the possibility for AMOLED panels since the development of the iPhone 3GS, but production capacity remains a big issue. SMD only has the capability to fulfill 50-60% of iPhone orders at the moment even it dedicated all AMOLED capacity to Apple.
Of course, cost is always a concern. AMOLED panels cost US$34-38. TN panels cost less than US$10 and IPS panels around US$20.
AMOLED also has display weaknesses. SMD uses PenTile technology developed by Clairvoyante to produce AMOLED, which is less suitable for displaying text. With Apple quite keen on pushing e-reading businesses, AMOLED may not be the best solution at the moment.
Q: What are your thoughts on iPhone 4G's processor support?
A: The iPhone 4G should support the A4 processor based on ARM Cortex A8 core, the same processor that's running the iPad.
Though Apple said that the A4 processor was developed in-house, it was actually a joint effort between Apple, Samsung and Intrinsity, which has since been acquired by Apple. Our sources said that the majority of the technology actually came from Samsung.
Samsung has a Cortex A9 multi-core processor under development as well, but it requires OS support to take advantage of the enhanced power. Since the launch schedule of the Cortex A9 processor is estimated for year's end and iPhone 4.0 is not ready to fully utilize a multi-core processor, the A4 is the mostly likely candidate.
Q: There are quite a few rumors regarding memory support. What have you heard?
A: Apple has requested memory module suppliers to provide both 256MB (used in iPhone 3GS) and 512MB RAM for compatibility tests. According to our internal tests, iPhone 4.0 Beta is quite memory hungry compared to iPhone 3.0, and with more complex apps, increased multi-tasking needs and a 5-mega-pixel camera built in, the iPhone 4 needs 523MB RAM.
Q: You previously mentioned that iPhone 4G shipments will reach 24 million units this year. Do you still believe it's possible with what's happening in Europe and Korea?
A: I was referring to shipments from manufacturers to Apple, not sales to consumers. Judging from data we collected from sources from component suppliers, shipments of 24 million units are possible but it's still just a forecasts. We will continue to modify our projected figures in accordance with the latest market developments.
Based on historical shipment and sales data of previous iPhones, shipments of 24 million units could translate to 18-20 million units in sales in 2010.
Q: Does the 24 million units include the model said to be assembled by Pegatron?
A: All 24 million units will be put together by Foxconn.
Pegatron will indeed assemble an iPhone, but the manufacturing cooperation is still at the EVT (engineer verification test) stage. There are two more stages - DVT (design verification test) and PVT (process verification test) - before mass production. Though there were reports that shipments for this particular device will begin in the second half, we believe 2011 is more likely.
Q: Any final comments on the iPhone 4G?
A:The iPhone 4G will obviously be a highly competitive product, and will offer the most substantial hardware enhancements since the launching of the smartphone series. But that's not what I want to comment on.
Apple has been planning the iPhone 4G since the end of 2008, so it wouldn't surprise me if the company already has more modifications or more advanced products planned for 2012 and beyond.
Every company has their own product roadmaps, but whether they have similar plans in place and whether they have the foresight to predict what consumers need a few years down the line will be the difference in an already crowded market place that is seeing even more product entries.