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Apple to use Snapdragon in 'iPhone mini'?

Chinese reports suggest the firm could turn to Qualcomm to reduce cost in the rumored entry level iPhone


Published: 11 March, 2013

READ MORE: Apple | Processor | iPhone

Last week Apple was reported to be readying a foundry deal with Intel, to reduce its reliance on Samsung for iPhone processors. The latest twist is it might also bring back third party silicon to the iPhones, reversing the recent strategy of using only its own-designed A-Series app processors. But the partner this time would be Qualcomm, not its handset rival Samsung.

Apple could use Qualcomm Snapdragon in rumored low end iPhones, says a report in China Times, citing unnamed sources. That would give the US chip provider an even greater strategic relationship with Apple - it has already squeezed out other modem suppliers because of its expertise in CDMA and LTE.

It would also be a surprise move for Apple, presumably designed to differentiate a potential entry level iPhone from the premium models, in terms of cost and perhaps battery life (an iPhone weakness). Qualcomm can provide an integrated system-on-chip combining the processor and modem, which cuts power consumption, cost and device size, all important for an entry level device that would need to be priced below $200 unsubsidized to capture mass adoption in emerging economies. Currently, the iPhone uses a separate CPU, the Apple A5, and modem, while some Snapdragon configurations also provide tight integration of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

Analysts think Apple could cut up to $30 from the iPhone 5 bill of materials (which is about $200) by introducing lower cost processor, display driver and memory, and another $10 from a cheaper case and other reductions.

Other companies are expected to be introduced to Apple's supply chain to support a lower cost device and so prevent too much erosion of the vendor's margins. Renesas is said to be lined up to manufacture LCD drivers for the new handset, while NAND flash memory could be sourced from Toshiba, Micron Technology and SanDisk.

The diversification of Apple's suppliers, which is seen across all its iDevices, is designed to increase its negotiating position, ensure availability of critical components, and reduce its dependence on Samsung for memory, displays and processor manufacture. Samsung also originally designed the iPhone CPU, but that has now come under full Apple control. The smartphone maker is asserting rising control of the design of competitive elements like the processor and the RetinaDisplay screen technology.

Of course, there is no firm confirmation that Apple is even planning an entry level iPhone, though it is widely assumed that it needs to target a model at the growth in emerging markets and featurephone upgraders, and avoid ceding this growth market to Android.

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