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What’s Inside Every iPhone, from Retina Displays to Cameras (bloomberg.com)
230 points by shawndumas 6 days ago | hide | past | web | 93 comments | favorite

As I heard it, Apple boosted VLSI design smarts in the UK to get audio stuff in the iPod era, got really good FPGA and there was a one-two year boost in the british chip smarts IPR. Next cycle round, Apple went to the cheaper foundries and said "do this smart stuff cheaper" and undercut. So the apple model appears to me to be: get good design work, but don't depend on it, leverage scale to get cheaper.

Apple is still hugely exposed to the lack of diversity in touch screen and battery smarts. I expect to see something there, because it must hurt paying Samsung with one hand, while you are suing for a pound of flesh with the other.

Apple already uses OLED panels frpm LG in the Apple Watch, but LG hasn't got the capacity or the consistent quality on phone sized panels to rival Samsung. There are reports Apple put down $2.7bn on LG to help with capital investments to get them in the game, but volume shipments at iPhone scale wont be possible until 2019.

One problem is the ELVESS OLED camera tracking vapour deposition systems used in the manufacturing process are only made by Canon and only in very small quantities - about 10 a year.


Apple only used OLED from LG in their first Apple Watch, all subsequent Apple Watch's OLED are from Samsung.

LG, has yet to prove themselves regarding Mobile OLED display panel. ( Look at the problems with V30, and soon the Pixel 2 ) I seriously doubt Apple are putting $2.7B on the Mobile OLED, ( or what LG called POLED, which is the same as Samsung's AMOLED ), they could have spend the same money on JDI.

Looks like some reports of uneven backlighting / quality issues.


God, Yes. Why did I not point that out LG 's OLED quality were no good. ( My hand and mind are always out of sync these days )

And one reason why I dont believe Apple will invest in an OLED production line for capacity and assume their quality standard will improve in the future. LG had the best Desktop > TV Size OLED Panel ( WOLED ), that is I think where Apple are heading.

LG also was also sourced for the first gen retina macbooks due to capacity issues with Samsung. So this story repeats over the long haul where Apple has to go to lg for a seriously inferior product. Would be fantastic to see them correct this issue since they keep paying the same quality price over and over again.

> So the apple model appears to me to be: get good design work, but don't depend on it, leverage scale to get cheaper.

I would just tack on, "then leverage global markets to get those margins as wide as possible". Apple really loves their huge margins. Their design work plays into this by creating a brand and lifestyle for their products, increasing the price. I feel that many of Apple's business decisions come down to either ensuring margins stay high or opting for materials, parts, and designs that increase them.

I really don't think we're at the point anymore where people by iPhones because of any supposed 'brand and lifestyle' Apple projects.

Sure, iPhone "Animoji-Class-Signalling" x will definitely reach back into this level for a bit, but I think that smartphones (and iPhones) are so ubiquitous these days that there's no lifestyle to project from having an iPhone any more.

> I think that smartphones (and iPhones) are so ubiquitous these days that there's no lifestyle to project from having an iPhone any more

Lifestyle signaling never stops playing a role, for anything sold commercial, in any market in any nation.

Nike has been popular and common for three decades. If anything shouldn't be a lifestyle signal, it would be Nike, right? There's a gap between Russell Athletic or Champion and Nike. You can go further and use Gildan (generic, medium quality) vs Nike. Here, take a walk around Walmart's athletic wear department:


You'll instantly notice the lack of Nike or Under Armour, much less anything more expensive. There's a reason for that: the bottom half of the income bracket can't afford to frequently, needlessly pay a large mark-up for the swoosh logo. That below middle class, 13 year old, knows there's a lifestyle gap between Russell and Nike, and very particularly so does the Nike Corporation - it's something they monitor like a hawk.

Poorer people know there's a gap between a new iPhone model and other cheap phones that get thrown at you for $0 or $39 as part of a deal in signing up with a telecom carrier.

Great analysis.

You know what's fascinating about the iPhone ? So many people online, really smart ones, have analyzed Apple's sucsess and strategy, with great depth.

And yet rarely mentioned is the huge impact brand/luxury marketing has had on it sucsess and the methods used to get Apple there.

Almost makes you believe in conspiracies :)

For example, it's a known thing in the luxury marketing business - that if you want to create a luxury product with high margins - you need to talk about unique materials and processes, that nobody else knows how to do. And maybe that makes Apple's cpu the first brand driven processor ?

Or that's a good part of luxury marketing, is creating an image of a godlike founder genius. Who is a better example than Jobs ? and only recently we're started to see storiesi about how actually the iPhone was mostly a team effort by a group of smart people, and Jobs didn't play such a big part in it.

Or the fact that all the stars use iPhone(maybe because it was the first smartphone, and now they are locked into it), and that's the kind of advertisement money cannot buy ?

Anyway, reading the full story of Apple's marketing would be a really interesting tale .

iPhones are still have noticeable advantages over non iPhone smartphones for the same price.

Calling that lifestyle signaling completely misses the boat. Samsung could easily afford to beat Apple at the smartphone game, but they would need to improve or replace Android.

I've been an iPhone user since 3GS but I'll dispute that. Top Android phones have been first to market with too many hardware/design/UI innovations that were later copied by Apple. I think familiarity with the O/S & keeping paid apps are what keep users on their chosen platform, and lifestyle signaling is what brings new users onboard.

Innovations don't make the device.

I know at least 10 people that bought an Android phone after owning an iPhone and every single one of them switched back. Really, after years of using an Android people don't switch back because of familiarity.

PS: I am not saying Android is strictly worse, just there are meaningful positives on the iPhone side.

> and lifestyle signaling is what brings new users onboard.

For me to understand this, I need to know what lifestyle Apple is trying to convince the iPhone will give you.

The biggest thing I can think of is Instagram and Uber, two things which everyone knows happens without iPhones.

...what is this magical iPhone lifestyle that’s I’m being sold?

Saying that is like saying Xerox invented graphical computing, it’s true but misses the point. The Macintosh vastly improved graphical computing and its cost.

In phones Apple hasn’t been first with any technology, but it’s been first making the useful and usable for the mass market a lot.

It helps when you're not afraid to throw everything at the wall and see what sticks; it also helps when you have dozens of companies following that same strategy. Android makers are almost always going to be "first" with something new.

They're rarely going to get it right.

> Apple boosted VLSI design smarts in the UK

What does this mean? What is a 'design smart'?

No the OP but I think it translates as "Apple increased the breadth and depth of knowledge among people and companies in the UK around Very Large Scale Integration chip design"

Fascinating that the battery of the original was the biggest until the 4 landed - it speaks for the power optimisation that they pursued for those first 4 iterations. Also amusing how it's literally a completely different purpose battery cobbled into a phone case to prove the concept before purpose-designed parts came into fruition.

Sometimes, you just gotta work with what you got.

Like today. What is the ubiquitous Energy Unit? There are flat batteries out to like 2500mAh, but for most applications, it's gotta be the 18650 cell.

And accordingly, ho-lee shit. 2600mAh is around what you can rely on a factory-fresh authorized 3.7V cell having. But let's look at Amazon. 3000mAh abound. 5800mAh and above are available as well! And ebay? 6,800-9,900Mah! Ten fucking amp-hours! 'Optimistic' is one word...'Advertising' is another.


Yes, it would be interesting to see a graph of states versus actual capacity for the eBay batteries. I’d guess there would be an inverse correlation between stated and actual capacity.

Well, it turns out there is. Mooch has done some amazing testing and research in numerous form factors and chemistries. If you're interested you should check them out:


Can someone explain to me what one would use 1800 mAh LiPOs for in an e-cigarrette? Or is it just a collection of battery tests unrelated to e-cigarettes?

The LiPO packs were quite popular for some time in regulated mods and in some cases still are. You can do a lot of reading on the subject if you desire, but generally the 18650 is still king due to availability, performance, and easier hotswap/battery sled charging.

Lots of laser pointers and even LED flashlights from Walmart support 18650s (they also have a 'cartridge' that can use 3 AAA batteries in place of the 18650).

However, the 18650s have no internal electronics to prevent any charging mishaps.

That is a good point. What's a good LiPo protection circuit look like? Some googling led me to some basics that a protection circuit should have, does this look about right?

- Overcharge protection (prevent charging past the max voltage, probably ~4.2V but intentionally shrinking this window might prolong cell life)

- Short circuit protection (Like, a fuse? Would a PTC one work?)

- Limit charge current (0.5-1C for LiPos, 5-10C for LiCaps, etc)

- Undercharge protection; prevent discharge past a 'low voltage' value and (ideally) permanently disable cell or severely limit charge rate if voltage drops below the minimum safe value.

- (Ideally) Balance voltage between individual cells.

Oh, sweet - thanks!

> However, the 18650s have no internal electronics to prevent any charging mishaps.

I believe you can get ones which do have this - e.g. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Canwelum-Protected-Lithium-Battery-...

"Reliable 18650 Battery: Integrated with protective board, avoiding overcharge and discharge, protecting your led torches or head torches. "

Says 2250mAh, but do not use in e-cigs.

There was also this project on hackaday to make a "topper", but it would not work w/ leaf spring battery connects because of the increase in height.


For some reason they seem to be very interested in the peak current.

I guess the higher the current the better you vaporize the material?

Actually the most important figure is not just the peak current amp limit, but the actual continuous discharge amperage limit. While batteries are capable of higher peak discharge rates in very short bursts, you really do not want to push this and instead should stay below the continuous discharge amperage limit.

The higher this limit generally the "safer" the battery performs in high drain operations like actually vaping the ecig, and this means that not only can you go to higher power levels, but that lower ones will also generally not heat the battery as much, and reduce the risk of thermal runaway or venting.

Take a variable power mod using power regulation set at 50w (a relatively common power setting for enthusiast/higher end vapers but that can be a daily driver), with an atomizer at 0.18ohms resistance and a Sony VTC5 18650 as the battery with 2600mAh capacity and a sustained safe current amperage limit of 30A.

To get 50w you will need to apply 3.00V / 0.18ohms or 16.67 amps. If you for instance choose a poor battery re-wrap, like this Cylaid 3500mAh advertised at 10amp continuous discharge, which is actually just a "re-wrapped" battery which can only sustain 8 amps, you would be in dangerous territory where the battery would likely get much hotter than a quality one and have higher potential for thermal runaway/venting.


The most interesting thing you'll notice is an inverse relationship with capacity in mAh and continuous discharge in amperage. You can either have a higher capacity battery with lower continuous discharge current, or a lower capacity battery with higher continuous discharge current, not both.

On a regulated device, the coil resistance is irrelevant to battery amp draw. 50W will consume the same amount of current regardless of what it is being used for. The right way to figure it is 50W/3.7V = 13.5A. Add a bit more on that to account for regulator inefficiency. It also rises as the battery discharges down to cutoff voltage, which is usually 3.0 or 3.2V.

This holds true even if the coil is 0.5Ω

The max you could get in an 18650 form factor right now is right around 3000mAh, but good luck actually getting them! It is pretty easy to get legit cells that are around 2600-2800mAh though.

The ones that are advertised above that are 100% lies and are generally pretty crappy batteries.

It always amused me how hobbyists and IIRC even some commercially released products reused Nokia phone batteries for projects that needed Li-ion simply due to their ubiquity

It's worth a look, actually.

At first, I was thinking, "Surely they mean "current" and not "every." So, I clicked the link and, sure enough, they do actually mean every iPhone.

It's a bit more in-depth than I'd expect from Bloomberg and that's a pleasant surprise. Nice find, OP.

Except the short-lived plastic one (5C) and the SE (the 5 with upgraded guts).

Edit: and others that I missed as noted in other comments: 4S, 5S, and the Plus sizes.

It's crazy how the first iPhone is just ten ICs crammed together, vs now when they fab their own parts on one tiny board. Really shows how ahead of its time the first iPhone was.

Cramming ICs together was ahead of time? I don't understand your logical transition here.

If you look at what Apple could achieve by cramming ICs together Vs what anyone else could achieve with the same resources, the first iPhone is pretty remarkable.

I remember reading articles where folks from Blackberry were reminiscing on the iPhone being unveiled and there were a lot of people who just couldn't believe what Apple had done was actually possible, I think the line was, "it must just be a battery with a screen'.

Blackberry thought Apple was lying about battery life. It wasn't until they bought one and opened it that they discovered it was a battery with a screen.

When the iPad was announced, I read on some display-oriented tech site an analyst who was convinced Jobs was lying about its battery life and would have to retract the claims before it shipped. "I'm an expert, and no LED display that size can be powered that long" yada yada.

The iPhone combined already existing ICs -- and still got all the "wow" factor and industry-changing impact that competitors before it, which had the same ICs available couldn't achieve.

So what the parent means is that since the iPhone achieved such impact without extraordinary/novel components (e.g. without ICs being a differentiating factor), it means that its concept/software/combination/form etc was ahead of its time.

I think the OP means that the first iPhone really was a quick-to-market release and iterate later. In that sense they were ahead of it's time because the tailored components weren't available yet.

Are there any similar teardowns of Palm Pilots and Blackberry's from the same era? What did they do differently and held them back from similar leapfrogs?

Am I reading this correctly? The battery for the iPhone 7 costs 3.3USD only? Isn't it possible to have higher performance batteries which are more expensive? (like 5 times more expensive which is still cheap, around 15 bucks)

The major problem with batteries is size, you can't really make them that much smaller at the moment which means that a 5 times as expensive battery will take up 5 times the space.

I've read somewhere (HN or Reddit)that larger capacity batteries also degrade faster than smaller ones.

Might that be the case as well?

You can get more capacity out of them at the price of faster degradation. The Apple tech is pretty good at managing that, they have chips which monitor all kinds of aspects of the battery.

Apple charges $79 for an out-of-warranty battery replacement, fwiw. That includes the labor and risk of damage to the phone, but still seems a little high.

I've had such bad luck with knock-off batteries in general that I really don't want to risk one in my phone.

My iPhone 6 is down to about 83% max capacity (1500/1810 mAh) after 3 years of daily 1-3 full discharges: ~2200 cycles (total guess, I don't know if the phone tracks this, but I can't find it). Seems like a pretty robust part.

On macOS coconutBattery (http://coconut-flavour.com/coconutbattery/) will show your iOS device battery status, including cycle count. (No affiliation.)

Same question i have asked everybody. ( In non tech circle )

Let say these tech for sure it wont be 5 times, but more like 10 times the cost. So for $30 battery, which offer double the energy capacity of the $3.3 unit at the same volume, an extra $26.7 BOM cost, which translate to roughly $70-$80 extra in Retail price. ( You have to add all the patents cost % etc, and then Apple's margin, this calculation is similar range to BOM cost and Final RSP )

Are you willing to paid extra $80 if the iPhone offer double the battery?

What was I expecting? I was expecting some crazy yes! For only $80, you dont have to buy an $30 battery pack anymore with cable lying around. And it will surely last you the whole day.

But the results were a surprise, lots of No. These people think the battery are fine, it could do a little longer battery, but it is not worth $80.

My guess is that lots of geeks and tech enthusiast wanted bigger battery, but the majority are simply doing good with what is on offer.

10x price won't get you 2x capacity in the same form factor.

Maybe you'll get some additional capacity, but probably not a lot. Quite possibly there isn't a higher capacity option that is acceptable for other reasons.

And with the Note 4 fiasco, I'd guess there's tremendous reputational value in playing it well on the safe side for a couple more years at least.

That is assuming a new technology comes along, like solid state battery.

I asked this as well, but about having a 2mm thicker phone. The response was "I don't need a bigger battery, I have a charger in my car, at my desk, and lots at home."

I was flabbergasted. He'd rather sacrifice wirelessness to have a 2mm thinner phone.

I think it largely depends on what you get in return. If I get to charge the device once every two days instead of once a day, sure, but if I get to attach my device at night with 10% of battery left instead of 3%, no: the increased battery on regular basis it doesn't give me any value (I still have to charge it every night), but on the other hand, the increased size does give me a drawback on regular basis (the phone is larger and heavier).

I, personally, would have loved to have a larger battery and no camera bulge, BUT, when I tried a cover that would even out the back of the phone (just like a larger battery might have done), I found the phone noticeably larger and, finally, went back to the non-covered phone.

I'm pretty sure at Apple people have carefully decided how large a battery had to be to reach 1 day (say 18 hours) of regular usage and they designed the device size around it.

Missing the best model created. Where is the 4S?

I would contribute to a Kickstarter for 4S replacement boards a la the Nokia N900 'upgrade' project.

Replace the 30-pin connector with microUSB, upgrade the processor, modem, add more storage. Also, use a battery that can be easily acquired (and not just pulled from other phones).

Use the existing screen/digitizer, speakers, microphones, cameras, and antennas?

No forced reliance on iOS 11.

Anybody else?

This is an insanely difficult project. If you want to replace any part from the logic board, your best bet is to replace everything.

Changing any one thing (SoC, connector, etc) isn't possible because you'd have to be really good as OS hacking to add support for it, especially when it is closed sourced.

I think the idea was to get away from iOS.

The digitizer(not the LCD screen) was the first thing to break on my 4S. Maybe it was a fluke. Not to say it is a bad idea but just interesting.

I never had a case on mine and have dropped it countless times, never had an issue.

The chassis on the sides has some pretty bad gouges, but I have never had a crack on the screen or digitizer.

I did have to replace the 30-pin connector interface (it would charge and transfer data fine, but had some weird short-circuit where it thought an external speaker was plugged in, and there would be no sound for videos).

Was yours an OEM digitizer?

The 5S I have is on its third battery and the digitizer is starting to separate. The lightning port will only work with cables in a specific orientation, and slight jiggling causes a momentary disconnect (using actual Apple cable and charger).

Yes OEM. The original iPhone 2G had 30-pin connector issues first. It was quite finicky.

Missing several others: 5S, 5C, 6S. Not to forget, the 'Plus' models will have more expensive parts.

And my little SE!

They said that they’re in the process of acquiring those models.

4.5G LTE or 3GPP Rel 13/14 along with 802.11ax WiFi + Bluetooth 5 Chip will likely be Apple's next target to bring them in house.

Reading into the Qualcomm dispute, I suspect it's not for performance reasons but instead shaving off features/paying licenses for hardware that they don't use.

Plus you probably don't want to be handing over large wads of cash to a SoC/baseband chip manufacturer that serves your competition in the phone space.

Yes, Qualcomm doesn't care where you buy your baseband, you still have to paid them LTE patents tax. And once anyone doing calculation that making baseband themselves is not worth the hassle when the resulting chips is inferior to Qualcomm offering.

So Apple wanted to make, my guess a LTE only 4G Baseband, no 2G, 3G attached, hence Apple wanted a better deal.

Are the costs adjusted dollars? What I mean is with each iteration of, say phone camera, the older one's cost will way less than what it might cost back in 2008/2010. So a camera might cost $5 but might have cost $15 back then.

iPhone 8's modem:

> MDM9655 or XMM 7480 modem1 Likely Countries of Origin: U.S., Taiwan 2 Cost: $11.50 3 Designers: Qualcomm, Intel

Bloomberg says iPhone 7's modem had a similar price.

But they've just written a story on how Apple is battling Qualcomm over an $18 modem [1]. So I wonder if $11 is what Qualcomm was charging everyone else for the modem - like those who also bought its Snapdragon platform - but charged Apple $18, and that's why Apple sued them. Basically, kind of like how Intel was charging OEMs more for the laptop CPU itself than they would for the CPU+GPU bundle (until they actually put them on the same die at least).

[1] - https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2017-10-04/apple-and...

> So I wonder if $11 is what Qualcomm was charging everyone else for the modem - like those who also bought its Snapdragon platform - but charged Apple $18, and that's why Apple sued them.

The article you've linked is clear: Apple's claim is that they have to pay Qualcomm royalties (independent of the price of the part itself) proportionally to the selling price of the device. When Apple sells a 500 USD and 1000 USD phones with the identical Qualcomm modem, Qualcomm gets twice as much royalties for the later, and Apple claims it's unfair, given that the modem is identical.

Tim Cook, January: "so we were in a situation where the more we innovated with unique features ... the more money Qualcomm would collect for no reason."

Qualcomm would of course say that the 1000 USD phone without their modem wouldn't sell at all. But the patents for the standards are supposed to be fair. Is the deal fair? That's what the courts will decide... or as Qualcomm hopes, Apple will settle before.

I don't know about the article because I cannot stand these "scroll a whole page down for 3 more words" style websites. Please make it easy to consume information.

Looking at the article, I can't understand what your complaint is.

There are three paragraphs of introductory information, and literally 100% of the remaining content is images of completely disassembled and knolled iPhone components, with a brief description next to the parts.

I'm not actually certain how you could represent this information any better than they already have.

Anyone have an idea why they would spend resources to do this? I have a feeling this has to do with the recent $18 modem article, but this is every iPhone.

IHS tries to track market trends by looking at what devices are made of, how much they think items cost, etc. A large reason for this is for the financial world so investors can say "ok, the if the last iPhone sold x devices, the new one will sell y devices. It has a Bosch sensor that we think costs 10 cents so Bosch will effectively sell z million dollars of those sensors."

They don't do this with just iPhones fyi, they do it with a ton of different things.

Yes, and then they list the Modem here as being $11 part. And some of the modem prices changed since they last estimated.

Posted this same article 11 hours prior to this post, https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15459028 somehow HN didn't prevent it from repost it again, hmm.


The cost section is Interesting.

I see the iPhone 7 cost of materials is $237. No wonder Apple makes so much money!

The materials price isn't indicative of cost unless you know what assembly, shipping, replacements, 3rd party retail margins, R&D etc costs. Given Apple have designed their own chips since the A5 (with the A4 optimised by Intrinsity and Samsung, the former acquired by Apple) and their own GPUs since 2017 I'd say the R&D cost isn't trivial. Unlike manufacturers like Samsung etc, they make their own OS top to toe.

I think it's more useful to look at their financials as the iPhone is their highest grossing product, with guidance of a ~35-40% margin.

Tim Cook says he's never read a bill of materials that was anywhere close to accurate. I believe it- the last time I got an iPhone replaced, I asked what they were doing with the old unit and the person said they were probably going to reuse the touch id sensor since that was one of the most valuable parts.

The Touch ID sensor value in the second hand market is not reflective of the cost to Apple... it’s expensive because there are no third party replacements, so the supply is restricted to parts taken from broken phones.

...Or newly manufactured ones.

Besides even other costs like r&d, marketing, and the retail margin, buyers are getting more than hardware - how much is the cost of OS development and the included apps?

Wow... just materials? That much? Honestly I think even better of Apple, considering what they must invest beyond materials in each phone.

The scale lets them amortize the cost of all the rest over so many units, the economics are beautiful to behold.

Excluding Shipping, Marketing, R&D, Operation Cost, and the recent most expensive and inflated one, Patents.

Seeing how Apple's marketing is ubiquitous, I wonder if it is not the most expensive cost.

That is why I mention Patents, and R&D likely to be the most expensive expense here. When you divide those Marketing, Operation and whatever cost over 300M unit / year. The number will be rather small.

Does that include labor, shipping, design work, getting the fab set up, programming, etc.?

Support; several OS upgrades; iCloud access for the life(?) of the phone. The list goes on. Apple does make a lot of money though.

Because they sell things for a higher price than it costs to make them?

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