Did Apple seriously consider building a 5G-enabled iPhone? The answer appears to be yes if you went by the testimony of a senior executive from Apple at the US Federal Trade Commission’s hearings going on in the Silicon Valley. According to this executive, Apple had sought out chip makers Samsung and MediaTek to explore the possibility of developing the processor for a possible 5G phone.
This Changes the Narrative a Bit
The general impression among observers ever since Samsung made its announcement of a 5G phone next month has been that Apple is not keen on introducing a 5G phone and that if at all it does, it won’t be before 2020. But the testimony by Tony Blevins, who handles the supply chain function at Apple, that the company was indeed trying to procure a chipset for 5G phones puts the issue in a different perspective. The reality on the ground may be that only Qualcomm has been able to showcase its Snapdragon 855 SoC that will run 5G phones. Samsung makes its Exynos chipsets and so far, there is no official confirmation that the company has succeeded in making a 5G capable processor.
Qualcomm in the Middle of it All
The reason this deposition by the Apple executive was heard is the dispute Qualcomm and Apple are having. While Qualcomm has sued Apple for certain IP violations, the chipmaker is in the dock for having agreed to pay $1 billion as an incentive to Apple Inc if it desisted from using any other chip on its devices, mainly the iPhones. The deal is as old as 2011 and the CEO of Qualcomm Steve Mollenkopf also testified in the same trial before the FTC. It is an antitrust case and Qualcomm is the accused before the regulator. Those who have complained to the FTC have claimed Qualcomm has been doing this as a practice to create a dominant position in the industry and not permitting any competition to grow.
Qualcomm CEO was trying to make a defensive argument that though such a huge sum was being committed by it there was no reciprocal commitment from Apple on the volume of products it would buy from Qualcomm, implying it was taking a risk and not damaging any competitor’s interests.
The Apple executive’s statement was that as a matter of internal policy, Apple believes in having not one or two, but up to six vendors for each of the components that go into the production of the iPhones. There are over a thousand components.
It is in this context that he said Apple had been trying to source the 5G chipsets.
The last is definitely not heard on the 5G phone from Apple.