There has been an incredible number of rumours on the upcoming 3G iPhone, but little proper analysis of the likely component choices, their technical specifications, and their consequences on the end-product. We hope to fill in that gap with this article, and deliver some useful information to gadget enthusiasts, hardcore techies, financial analysts and investors by doing so.

It is necessary to begin by looking at the wider dynamics of hardware development at Apple. The mobile phone industry is well-known for moving quickly in terms of new handset product development; what isn’t so well-known, however, is just how slowly it moves compared to Apple. Historically, the company hasn’t been on the leading edge in terms of feature sets or raw performance; however, this is more by choice than need as Apple’s lead times are amongst the shortest in the industry.

Component choices often seem to be finalised 6 months or less before the product’s mass availability, such as in the case of the PortalPlayer design loss in 2006 and Wolfson’s this year. As we will see shortly, the 3G iPhone is in the same situation with at least one of its possible wireless chips as it only started sampling about 9 months ago. That’s quite impressive given that, due to its very nature (including certification procedures), it’s not really possible to move as fast in the mobile phone market.

But ever since the original iPhone, and possibly even slightly before, Apple has had another trick up its sleeve: in-house development of their application processor, allowing for tighter software/hardware integration and even shorter lead times.

The Quick Recap and What This Article Isn’t

First of all, let us remind you of what this article isn’t: a leak. While we do have some non-public information at our disposal, such as in the case of the application processor, what you'll see in the article is educated speculation. Our primary goal is to put together everything that is known and analyse it in much greater detail than previously seen, through our in-depth knowledge of several of the key dynamics.

We also understand that not everyone cares about the gritty details, so we'll begin by a recap of everything you need to know about the 3G iPhone's probably components and why they matter.

  • Application processor by Apple: 65nm (vs 90nm), Higher-Clocked ARM11, PowerVR SGX 3D core (likely SGX 520) with OpenGL ES 2.0 support, PowerVR VXD (likely VXD 330 with plain VGA support; less likely VXD 370 with 1080p support). In-house System-on-Chip logic, music playback logic, etc.
  • 3G Baseband: Likely HSDPA from Infineon (as for the 2G-capable model) on 65nm; possibly a custom chip with no redundant multimedia functionality. Too early for 45nm given certification. Plausible alternatives include Icera, Qualcomm, Broadcom, and InterDigital, all of which are more likely to be the case if HSUPA is supported (because their solutions offer higher upload speeds). Qualcomm and Broadcom are much less likely if the latest leak from engadget implying Infineon RF is correct, but others still plausible.
  • 'Connectivity' Wireless: Bluetooth is very likely Bluecore6 from CSR (was Bluecore4); GPS from Broadcom is very plausible given their claimed power numbers are the lowest we could find, if the 3G does have GPS; WiFi is unlikely to receive a significant upgrade, likely still Marvell or CSR or Broadcom, as Atheros’ disruptive solution came too late.
  • Analogue: Wolfson’s audio chip design loss seems to be aimed at iPods, not iPhones, so it’s relatively likely to still be in the 3G-capable model and deliver the exact same sound quality as the original. If so, power management and touchscreen is unlikely to be integrated in a single chip.
  • Other things to watch for: OLED screen (significant battery life boost but no reliable indication it’ll be used however), whether the OpenGL ES 2.0 functionality is exposed on launch, and obviously potential software upgrades.
  • Costs: Nothing fundamental that would make the 3G iPhone significantly more expensive to manufacture than the 2G on first sight.