Apple Sacrifices Performance for Pride in Qualcomm Chip Dispute
For better or worse, Apple has a reputation of perpetuating closed product ecosystems. It’s been that way ever since Jobs and Woz founded the company and has carried itself well into the Tim Cook era. Apple likes to maintain control over its products and the technology that goes into them in order to maintain a consumer experience that lives up to their standards—again, for better or worse.
As an iPhone, Apple Watch, iPad, and Macbook user, I clearly have no problem buying into their corporate strategy. And I’d even venture to guess that I’m more willing than not to defend their method of product development because their products consistently perform near the top of their class while maintaining their commitment to the broader consumer market.
All of that said, Apple being Apple has resulted in a situation where the iPhone may be in a worse-off position during the next few annual cycles. And I, nor any consumer, should be all too thrilled with that prospect.
More to the point, news about Apple’s chip selection for their 2018-2020 iPhones has left some analysts—and this author—scratching their collective heads. In early July, Apple notified Intel that it would pass on the company’s WiFi and Bluetooth components in its 2020 iPhones, a decision led Intel to discontinue development of the chip altogether. Fast forward to the end of July and another iPhone chip-related news story broke that Apple would permanently end its relationship with Qualcomm starting this year with its currently-in-production 2018 iPhones. The latter move was to be expected given Apple’s long-running legal disputes with Qualcomm, but the decision to abruptly end that partnership leaves the iPhone in a situation where its in a sort of connectivity limbo.
So, for the next two iPhone cycles, Apple will exclusively go with Intel LTE modems, and then once 2020 hits, we’re not sure yet which direction the company will take its most important product. The company has reportedly been working with Verizon on its 5G rollout, so we know that the next-gen wireless connectivity technology is on its radar. But how they implement it into their smartphones, and with whom, still seems up in the air.
But the more important and pressing issue here is the impact that these modem decisions will have on the next two years of iPhones. By completely ditching Qualcomm for 2018, Apple has put its smartphone in a situation where it will be forced to use technology that is widely believed to be inferior to Qualcomm’s, which means 2018 iPhones could experience significantly slower LTE speeds than their Android counterparts. And, in the words of then-Philadelphia Eagles running back Rickie Watters: For who? For what? It seems like Apple would rather offer up a weaker iPhone to their consumers in the face of a challenge to the company's ego.
In an era where speed absolutely matters to the consumer, this reality of notably slower iPhones could be enough to push smartphone users over to the Android platform. And, even if Apple does ultimately decide to go with Intel’s 5G modem, the chipmaker is already at least a year behind Qualcomm in developing a 5G-ready product. Whereas, some Android phone manufacturers are already working with Qualcomm to put its 5G technology in their phones, Apple (and Samsung and Huawei for what its worth) appears to be falling behind.
Apple developing its own connectivity technology certainly isn’t out of the realm of possibility either, given its closed ecosystem history. And that technology could, for all we know, end up being superior. But that doesn’t help with the here and the now. What can Apple do to convince consumers they should upgrade to a newer, more expensive iPhone that could potentially be slower than the one they already own? This is supposed to be the start of an enormous upgrade cycle for older iPhone users, but could that end up backfiring on Apple if this year’s phones really do struggle with worse connectivity? With September right around the corner, we should get our answers soon enough.