Verizon Wireless’ Apple iPhone 4 may appear to be essentially AT&T’s smartphone with its GSM technology replaced by Verizon’s preferred CDMA, but not so, say iFixit and IHS iSuppli, two companies that on Feb. 7 revealed the initial findings of their teardowns of the smartphone.
The two iPhones feature different batteries, vibrators, baseband processor chips and GPS chips. But most likely to grab attention is the redesign of the antenna-a component that, following the launch of the AT&T iPhone 4, instigated a public-relations nightmare for Apple, dubbed “Antennagate,” after some users found that holding the phone a certain way (known as the “death grip”) caused signal interference. That a change had been made was known-the exteriors of the two models are ever-so-slightly different-though not to what degree.
“This isn’t just a case where Apple took a CDMA chip and slapped it into the iPhone and called it Verizon. They actually redesigned the entire logic board, including the electromagnetic shields,” iFixit’s M.J. explains in a video for the repair site. “Apple’s RF engineering team did a great job at restructuring the antenna, so hopefully we don’t have the same death-grip problem that saddled its AT&T brother.”
In early reviews, the Verizon iPhone 4 was found to drop significantly fewer calls than the AT&T version, which the Wall Street Journal’s Walter Mossberg and The New York Times’ David Pogue attributed to Verizon’s network. It’s possible, though, that the new design-instigated by the phone’s CDMA technology-was also a contributor. Reviews of the device have pointed out that several performance-related differences, such as the Verizon model’s inability to simultaneously accept calls and surf the Web, are also attributable to the phone’s switch to CDMA, a technology used by Verizon and Sprint but one that’s less common around the world than GSM.
“While Apple kept the fundamental integrated antenna and enclosure design, provisions were made to improve reception quality,” iSuppli Senior Analyst Wayne Lam wrote in his report. “The new CDMA version employs a dual-antenna design that takes advantage of antenna diversity to improve reception.”
iFixit’s Kyle Wiens adds in his report, however, that “only time will tell if this new design helps combat the reception problems plaguing the GSM iPhone 4.”
Other major changes-and major design wins for Qualcomm-include Apple’s decision to use a Qualcomm baseband processor chip instead of the Infineon chip it has used for the last four years. Also, while it was thought that Apple had eliminated the iPhone 4’s discrete GPS chip, it turns out that it instead replaced its Broadcom GPS chip with “the integrated GPS functionality of the Qualcomm MDM600,” wrote iSuppli’s Lam.
While (according Lam) the chip offers cost savings for Apple, it’s more interesting for supporting (according to iFixit) both CDMA and GSM technologies-which might point to Apple’s next move: a single iPhone 5 that could run on both networks. The Motorola Droid Pro world phone, for example, runs the same MDM chip and offers voice coverage just about all around the world.
“Can it be that Apple’s thinking of using this chip in iPad 2? Or maybe when iPhone 5 is released there will be just one phone for both Verizon and AT&T? That would be great,” said M.J. “We can’t tell just yet, but what we can tell is that while the chip supports both GSM and CDMA, there’s no modding this phone to work on AT&T.”
Still other changes to the Verizon iPhone 4 include a lighter battery-25.6 grams, down from 26.9 grams, says iFixit-as well as a “complete makeover” of its vibrator.
“Rather than using a rotational electric motor with a counterweight,” wrote Wiens, “the Verizon iPhone appears to utilize a linear oscillating vibrator for call/message alerts.”
Translation? “Probably the biggest difference is that it’s three or four times bigger than the previous vibrator,” said iFixit’s M.J. in her video. “And in testing it, it actually felt a bit softer, and it was quieter. I don’t really know that I would notice it, if it were going off in my pocket.”
With the Verizon iPhone 4’s components laid bare, iFixit gave it a “repairability” score of 6 out of 10, noting that, despite its “pesky pentalobe screws,” the battery can be removed fairly easily and most other components are connected with most regular screws and limited tabs and adhesives.
In conclusion, iFixit’s Wiens marveled that Apple had made so many changes to a phone that, in a matter of months, is “already set to antiquated by the [introduction of] the iPhone 5.”