Apple’s iPhone 8 Modems Holding Up The Industry
If you didn’t know, Apple and Qualcomm have fallen out. Apple doesn’t like Qualcomm’s anti-competitive measures, which is massively rich coming from the company that demands iOS developers use a modern, expensive, Mac to publish apps to the iTunes store. It gets better: Apple is crying wolf about Qualcomm’s products with one voice whilst simultaneously ordering a stack of components with the other. Why? Because Apple sells millions of iPhones and some of these contain Qualcomm modems. Apple has been working to reduce reliance on Qualcomm’s technology and for the iPhone 7 models, we saw two variants. One used a Qualcomm modem and the other an Intel modem. Unfortunately for Apple, Intel’s modems simply aren’t as good as Qualcomm’s offerings: they’re a generation behind.
Apple release multiple variants of the one device and work hard to keep the experience the same for all customers. For the iPhone 7, Apple nerfed the Qualcomm model by limiting their maximum network speed so that they run at the same speed as the Intel modem. Customers buying the iPhone 7 with the Qualcomm modem were buying something deliberately handicapped. Now, I know, I know. It’s not like Apple to sell a product deliberately hamstrung. Oh, wait…
It’s now 2017 and Apple have announced their best ever iPhone models all over again. Yippie yoo. The iPhone 8 models are available to buy right now and the oddly designed iPhone X is arriving in November. We can ignore this model for now. Once again Apple are releasing iPhone models using both Intel and Qualcomm modems. The iFixit website opened up the iPhone 8 to discover Apple are using Intel’s latest XMM 7480 LTE modem. This modem is capable of a theoretical 600 Mbps download speed. However, for those models using a Qualcomm modem, Apple went with the newer Qualcomm Snapdragon X16 modem rather than the Qualcomm Snapdragon X12 modem. The Snapdragon X16 is capable of a 1 Gbps download rate and the older Snapdragon X12 modem is limited to 600 Mbps, so is comparable with the Intel chipset. If Apple are keeping both Intel and Qualcomm variants of the iPhone 8 running at the same modem speeds, they could have used the older Qualcomm Snapdragon X12. Nobody would have been any the wiser, performance wise. I mean, sure; we’d have pointed and laughed at the iPhone using last year’s modem technology, but we do that anyway.
It’s a sure fire bet that Apple have hobbled the Qualcomm Snapdragon X16 modem so that it has a comparable performance to the Intel modem, all in the interests of keeping the experience the same across the different models.
However, before we look at Apple iPhone customers with that mix of scolding and sympathy we Android users love to use, let’s stop for a moment and consider the real world implications of Apple throttling the LTE modem. According to industry speed tests, customers using the Samsung Galaxy S7 did show marginally higher overall average network speed results compared with Apple iPhone 7 customers, but we are talking a small difference of 1 or 2 Mbit. Unless the carrier network is very slow, people aren’t going to notice this. Where there’s great coverage, few other network users, and a compatible network we might see a 2017 flagship Android device showing considerably higher download speeds compared with the iPhone 8, but nobody’s going to care about one isolated speed result at three o’clock in the morning.
Customers, however, should care about Apple deliberately holding back their products, which does nothing to push the industry further. Is this Apple abusing their power? Or giving the carriers a chance to catch up..?