Apple Mulling Dropping Qualcomm Parts in Next iPhones, iPads: Report

Apple considers the potential move as it and Qualcomm battle over patent claims relating to iPhone components, according to a report.

iPhone X

Apple is considering options to drop Qualcomm modem parts in its next iPhones and iPads, weeks after Qualcomm filed lawsuits in China that seek to ban sales of the latest iPhones due to alleged patent infringement in the newly released devices.

The potential move, in which Apple would instead buy modem parts from Intel or MediaTek for future iPhones and iPads, was reported in an Oct. 31 story by The Wall Street Journal, based on information from unnamed sources who are familiar with the situation. About half of today's iPhones use Qualcomm modem chips, while the other half use chips from Intel. The sources said Apple is considering the action because "Qualcomm has withheld software critical to testing its chips in iPhone and iPad prototypes," the story continued.

The flap expands ongoing disagreements between the two companies that date back to January, when Apple filed a $1 billion lawsuit against Qualcomm over its patent licensing practices, claiming that the chip maker is using its "monopoly" position in baseband chips—a key component in mobile phones and other wireless devices—to charge costly fees and royalties and practicing "exclusionary tactics" in the market.

In response, Qualcomm in July asked the International Trade Commission (ITC) to ban imports of some Apple iPhones that officials said infringe on multiple Qualcomm patents that drive performance and battery life of the devices.

A Qualcomm spokesperson declined to discuss the matter in detail with eWEEK, but issued a statement about the status of its modem designs for future iPhones.

"The Qualcomm modem that could be used in the next generation iPhone has already been fully tested and released to Apple," the spokesperson said. "We are committed to supporting Apple's new devices consistent with our support of all others in the industry. Qualcomm's wireless solutions remain the gold standard for premium tier smartphones."

Apple did not reply to an eWEEK inquiry about the latest wrinkle in the dispute.

The potential plans to use alternative modems in Apple's next iPhones could still change, the Journal story reported.

"People familiar with Apple's manufacturing process said the company could change modem-chip suppliers as late as June, three months before the next iPhone is expected to ship," the report continued. "Still, some of the people said Apple hasn't previously designed iPhones and iPads to exclude Qualcomm chips at a similar stage of the process."

Qualcomm's recently filed patent lawsuits in China against Apple are seeking licensing fees for several mobile technologies that the chip producer claims are built into iPhones. The lawsuit asks China's courts to ban iPhone sales in that nation as it pursues compensation from Apple for the alleged patent infringement. The lawsuit alleges that Apple is infringing on three Qualcomm patents related to power management and the Force Touch touch-screen technologies used in the phones. 

The Qualcomm lawsuits seek to "ban the sale and manufacture of iPhones" in China, which could have huge implications for Apple because most of the devices are manufactured there. A majority of Apple's revenue comes from the global sales of its iconic iPhones.

Both companies have a lot at stake in this legal battle. Apple just launched its latest iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X models in mid-September and counts on iPhone revenue around the world for a huge percentage of its revenue.

For Qualcomm, the battles have been affecting its corporate earnings, which have been falling. The earnings decline came after Apple sued Qualcomm in January, while also cutting off $2 billion in annual licensing payments it had previously been making to the chipmaker.