NFC, Unlikely

The most recent rumor is that this mysterious square chip (occluded by an EMI can) is an NFC combo controller and antenna, based purely on its square dimensions.

The NFC "chip" ensquared in red

Given the primarily metal backside of the new iPhone, it's highly unlikely that NFC is in the cards for this generation. In fact, given the very little space at top and bottom dedicated to those glass RF windows, you can almost entirely rule it out.

NFC operates on the 13.56MHz ISM band, which has a relatively large wavelength, at 22.1 m. Making a traditional dipole antenna that radiates at all given the constraints of a smartphone package is thus a big challenge, considering that smartphones are maybe 5-inches tall at maximum, to say nothing of the supposed upcoming iPhone's longest linear dimension.


From the NFC Forum Analog Specification

As a result almost all NFC antennas are big inductors and work using a magnetic field coupled between a host and peer device. Since we're talking about an inductor, NFC antennas use as big of a coil of wire as possible with as many wires as possible tightly wound together, and thus often use as big of an unbroken 2D plane as they can get on the device. In the smartphone space, basically all NFC antennas to date are simply flat spirals on a PCB. Whether this gets hidden on top of the battery like what Samsung has done in recent devices, or printed on the back battery cover like earlier devices, the antenna is ultimately a big square or circle with as big and dense of a coil as possible.


Galaxy Nexus Battery and NFC Antenna Coils (Courtesy iFixit)

Getting a good inductor into the device is important because how much inductance your antenna has will determine maximum coupling distance and ease of alignment. It shouldn't need saying, but having a huge ground plane (the unibody metal back case) in the way of your NFC antenna will seriously degrade performance, thus only the top or bottom windows are logical places to put it.

It's this last point which makes us very skeptical about the top or bottom RF windows being used for a relatively small NFC loop – not because such a thing is impossible – but rather because of how terrible the resulting ease of alignment and maximum coupling distance would be. Most NFC implementations at present place the inductive coils as near to the center of the device as possible, partly because this is the most optimal way to maximize the area which can be dedicated to it, partly because it makes alignment natural. With an NFC antenna at the extreme top or bottom, alignment with non-iPhones (for example, payment tokens or reader tags) becomes a much more confusing task, and that doesn't seem like the Apple-like level of polish everyone is waiting for to drive NFC adoption.

There's also a healthy number of signaling pins in the flex cable leaving the mystery chip, some of which appear to be signaling for the front facing camera which is part of the assembly, others for earpiece, proximity, and ambient light sensor. In addition this assembly also is obviously the assembled display and touch stack. When you consider the inclusion of in-cell touch sensing which has been rumored for the upcoming iPhone, and the requirement for time multiplexing of both display driving and touch sensing signals (to mitigate interference and make this possible), it's more likely that the components under that heavily shielded (and grounded with a big spring finger) EMI can are the touch and display controller combo that need to work in conjunction for in-cell to be possible.

The inclusion of Passbook in iOS 6 is the most often-cited piece of evidence for Apple including NFC, which seems a bit paradoxical since Apple hasn't disclosed at all whether it would favor NFC or a Bluetooth LE (low-energy) or even QR code based payment token through that gateway.

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  • Samus - Wednesday, August 29, 2012 - link

    This phone is going to be substantially inferior to the Galaxy S III and the HTX One, and not to pour salt on the soon to be open wound, but Apple is going to depend on this outdated device to be their flagship for the next 10-12 months. Samsung will have at least one, if not TWO, next generation Galaxy devices released by then.

    No wonder they're suing them out of business. Apple is clearly scared of fair competition, because they can't win.
    Reply
  • michael2k - Wednesday, August 29, 2012 - link

    When has copying been called fair competition?

    Anandtech's preview clearly says that the S3's performance increase is due to the bump in clock and improved software stack, both of which also apply to the iPhone Next.
    Reply
  • doobydoo - Wednesday, August 29, 2012 - link

    How can you say this phone is going to be substantially inferior to the SG3 when the 10 month old iPhone 4S has a superior GPU to the American SG3, released recently?

    It also has better battery life, along with the rest of benefits it gets via iOS and Apple's app store.
    Reply
  • utsava - Wednesday, August 29, 2012 - link

    As if hardware specs are the only thing that makes a smartphone great. Go try the quad-core 2GB RAM Galaxy Note 10.1 and let me know how fast it is to use. Reply
  • solinear - Tuesday, August 28, 2012 - link

    Like how they destroyed Microsoft, right?

    I give them 5 years before they fall apart. It's like Steve knew they were screwed, so he built up a new business plan called "Sue everyone over and over and over and over and over until the name Apple is equated with the RIAA"
    Reply
  • FalcomPSX - Tuesday, August 28, 2012 - link

    The difference between Apple and the RIAA though is that RIAA sues teenagers and grandmothers. Apple sues large corporations, not their own customer base. I dont like Apple's tactics either, but they are no where near as bad as the RIAA. Reply
  • A5 - Monday, August 27, 2012 - link

    This is all pretty much in line with what I was thinking.

    The Amazon and Samsung events the week before will also be interesting, then I guess there's the iPad Mini rumors for October - after that I guess we'll be waiting for the crazy CES stuff!
    Reply
  • faizoff - Monday, August 27, 2012 - link

    Definitely the best speculation article I've read so far. Reply
  • Dug - Monday, August 27, 2012 - link

    Agree. Finally an educated look at what can happen. Reply
  • Dekker - Tuesday, August 28, 2012 - link

    Agree. Reply

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