Apple's low-cost iPhone could be powered by Snapdragon silicon

Apple's low-cost iPhone could be powered by Snapdragon silicon

Summary: A new rumor out of China suggests that Apple would be willing to ditch its A-series processors in favor of Qualcomm's Snapdragon in order to bring to market the 'iPhone mini.'

TOPICS: Apple, iOS, iPhone
(Image: ZDNet)

Talk that Apple is planning to introduce a low-cost iPhone is hotting up, and the latest rumor is that the "iPhone mini" will be powered by Qualcomm's Snapdragon system on a chip hardware.

The rumor, first reported by China Times, has an unnamed source claiming that Apple will turn to Qualcomm for 28-nanometer Snapdragon rather than using its own A-series hardware.

The report also suggests that Renesas Electronics would be contracted to manufacture the handset's LCD drivers, while NAND flash memory would be sourced from a variety of companies, including Toshiba, Micron Technology, and SanDisk.

Before I go any further, let me point out that this discussion makes the assumption — for the purpose of discussing the rumor — that Apple is working on a low-cost iPhone. Not only has there not been a single word from Apple about this product, there is also scant evidence to suggest that it exists anywhere other than in the minds of pundits and analysts.

However, there's no doubt that this is an interesting rumor for a number of reasons

First, Qualcomm's Snapdragon silicon is manufactured by Taiwanese chipmaker TSMC, while the A-series processors that currently reside inside iPhone, iPads, iPod touches, and Apple TV devices are built by Samsung, a company with which Apple is locked in a fierce global legal battle. Apple has been working to eliminate Samsung from its supply chain, and as such, it makes sense to give any new processor contracts to a different company.

Then there's the issue of money.

Qualcomm also has hardware that might work for Apple in terms of keeping the cost of the iPhone mini as low as possible. Snapdragon 400 and 800 series hardware features on-board cellular modems, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, which helps to reduce component and assembly costs.

A quick back-of-the-envelope calculation suggest that Apple could shave as much as $30 off the base iPhone 5 bill of materials by switching processor, display driver and memory manufacturers. Combine this with a cheaper case, and some other corner-cutting, and another $10 could be shaved off the cost.

Not bad considering that a 16GB iPhone 5 has a bill of materials of $200 to begin with.

However, on the flip side, it's hard to imagine Apple giving up control of the iPhone's processor to Qualcomm, especially given that it has had so much success in the A-series hardware. It makes more sense for Apple to get TSMC to build its processors than it does to make a shift to different hardware.

Also, how would Apple explain away the shift from its A-series hardware to Snapdragon? Would it position its own hardware as a premium product and push Snapdragon as an inferior, but acceptable alternative for a low-cost device? If the iPhone mini is the embodiment of cost cutting and racing the bottom in terms of price, then what is it about it that makes it so desirable?

This is exactly what the PC industry did with PCs for over a decade, and that didn’t work out too well for the companies involved.

There's also the issue of fragmentation that goes beyond iOS developers having to support older handsets. Would the iPhone mini have the hardware grunt required to handle current iOS apps? And what happens at the next iPhone spec bump?

Its hard to imagine a company like Apple getting into a public discussion about shaving dollars off a device's bill of materials, but it is equally hard to imagine CEO Tim Cook promoting the virtues of switching to a chip that powers a lot of the competition's devices. All of a sudden, the iPhone mini is starting to feel like an Android smartphone that just happens to run iOS.

Is it in Apple's DNA to boast about making something cheap? I'm not sure it is.

This is one rumor we will have to file under "wait and see" until we know more.

See also

Topics: Apple, iOS, iPhone

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  • How small is "mini"

    How small is "mini"?
    Or is it actually going to be the same size as the iphone, but just with "previous gen" specs.
    Be interesting home you can get a "cheap" and whether it'll still have anywhere close to the massive mark-up the current one has.
    Look forward to the marketing of this.
  • Yeah aren't they all mini?

    They should not include NFC or wireless charging and make tiny phones to save on costs, oh wait no phone they make even has it yet and all are tiny.
  • Sorta' makes sense...

    ...if Apple is not giving Samsung any more orders for A Series chips whilst they ramp up with a new supplier meantime.
    I also think Apple will go with a new 'smaller' form factor to obviate the 'cheap' moniker. Still as fully featured, to get the best out of iOS 6... but sleeker; svelte, even jewel like. Or maybe because it's slated for later in 2013 it's awaiting some iOS 7 optimisation?. I could see them using "Smaller but Better" to counter the opposite notion. :-}

    Hey!...I need a job, ok?
  • Cheaper iPhone

    This is one thing I will believe only when I can hold it in my hands. Not expecting the experience.
    • +1

      It doesn't fit with anything they've ever done. Cut specs has only ever referred to the education market, and even that has been overlooked for the last half decade.

      It all rings a bit of apple making tv's; a rumour that won't quit because they have a product called 'apple tv' that seems to confuse people.

      The sell old gen hardware; anywhere you can get a 5, you can get a 4. UK price £319. With iPods starting at 250, how cheap are we looking to go here?

      I'm not saying they won't, but it's very very risky; that badge sells the brand. If that badge carries a cheap price tag in developing countries, then when they become developed countries will an apple phone be a status symbol? Do Mercedes, BMW, Audi make budget cars for china? No they make specialist luxury cars for those earning the big bucks.

      They'd also have no choice but to not run iOS as far as I can see, to stop it becoming like android; not knowing if software will run until you download it... What's that leave us with? A pixi phone? So a pixi phone with just a handful of apps aimed at people unlikely to spend large amounts of money... A Sony Xperia miro or similar is such a more obvious choice for virtually anyone.

      However I reason it I can't see how it makes sense, unless we are hearing the beginning of a shift to apple becoming a standard tech company; Samsung, lg, Asus, etc.
  • This makes no sense me.

    Apple has never been a low ball seller so way start now. Also they have older phones that are free or $100 for those on a budget. I wounder if this is related to the rumored watch product. Android has the budget conscious market covered and there are other wannabes (Windows. BB) who are giving away their products. Apple doesn't have to low ball its products as long as they keep innovating.
  • cutting corners is it a good idea?

    Don't know if they would go for a new chip that isn't theirs, but what I'm guessing is maybe on the hardware side, the inside has the previous generation chip, but the same screen, and plastic, and also some major features the new one has exclusively
  • The cheap iPhone

    is the 2 years old model with 8GB of storage. We'll soon be calling this the iPhone 4S.
  • No.

    Apple felt it appropriate to put this shit display in my ipad mini, so with profit levels where they already are for apple, it would be a lot easier for a "low cost" iPhone to have an equally low res display and basic materials from generations past. There's no need to shake up the entire development and manufacturing process just to make a cheap iPhone.