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.

Cellular Connectivity: LTE Expected WiFi, Battery & Conclusions
POST A COMMENT

131 Comments

View All Comments

  • MatthiasP - Tuesday, August 28, 2012 - link

    I'm missing some wild speculation about the camera. Reply
  • Alchemy69 - Monday, August 27, 2012 - link

    So, basically it will be a tweaked 4S with a case sufficiently different that everyone knows you have the new one. I find that all too believable. Reply
  • A5 - Tuesday, August 28, 2012 - link

    Bigger screen + LTE + higher clocks are a fairly significant set of changes. Reply
  • GotThumbs - Tuesday, August 28, 2012 - link

    Exactly!

    Apple will again be able to sell yet another generation iphone to its current iphone owners....so they can be the "first on the block". Seems kids just never grow up. It's still about having ice-cream and you don't. I'd like to know what the real difference is...other than fixing the flawed antenna and LTE. Oh! a means to get every Apple owner to buy new accessories to fit the new port connection.

    While I'll Never own an Apple product, I find Apple has been very savvy in getting the general consumer market to walk freely into Apples walled garden of control and zero options. When will the DOJ file against Apple for its Itunes requirement and its anti-competitive ways? The sheep number in the millions and I just keep watching from outside the walled garden.

    Interesting enough story. Since this is all based on conjecture.

    I find it interesting that Apples playbook seems to repeat itself, but hey their making billions on each incremental generation of one phone. Whats the saying...."A fool and his money.....?

    Best wishes,
    Reply
  • jrswizzle - Tuesday, August 28, 2012 - link

    Aside from your wild generalizations about Apple users, I find the hatred for iTunes amusing. You are by no means the only person to express a deep loathing for the program but what I can't seem to figure out is why?

    With the advent of iCloud, the only time I use iTunes is as a media player through my computer or to sync up my old iPod classic. What is so awful about Mac's default media player that it would warrant a DOJ filing? There are other media players out there for music on your iPhone: pandora, spotify just to name a few and I'd argue they'd probably save the avid music fan some dough.

    My only complaint with the program is its support for legacy devices which makes it a monster in terms of computer resources, but this is being rectified with the new update this fall (as they vastly reduce the iPod line imo).

    We get that you hate Apple and love your "open source" OSes. But those of us who prefer simplicity, ease of use and stability will continue to use Apple products. We don't need your pity or your baseless, and offensive, generalizations about our CHOICES.
    Reply
  • jrswizzle - Tuesday, August 28, 2012 - link

    As for the article, it makes perfect sense. Apple has never been one to add features for the sake of adding features. If it improves the overall user experience you can bet they'll include it. It's not about doing things that are new and different, its about doing things better. And of the features iOS devices have, I can only think of 1 Android does better (Google Now vs. Siri). Reply
  • Assimilator87 - Tuesday, August 28, 2012 - link

    I hope Apple surprises us and throws in a 32nm A5X. I'll be jumping ship to iOS when my Palm Pre 2 dies. I've used Android on my tablet and the much smaller game selection, on top of the fragmentation due to all the SoCs, makes it excruciating. Reply
  • name99 - Tuesday, August 28, 2012 - link

    It's bizarre that the people who go on about "sheep" behavior seem the most clueless about human psychology.

    As I have said before, the issue is not coolness, it is delight.

    - coolness is other directed. It was what other companies ship. It is about how OTHER people view you and your device. It is about having a few gimmicks you can show others so that they ooh and ahh.
    - what Apple ships is not coolness, it is DELIGHT. Delight is SELF-DIRECTED. It is about devices that bring you joy day after day, and who cares whether they demo well, or can be shown to others.

    Samsung, right now, is a company that cares a lot about coolness, and nothing about delight. That's why, to take a recent example, they ship a Note 10.1 with two flashy features you can show your friends --- pen, and the equivalent of MacOS 1.0's desk accessories, allowing you to open multiple apps at once --- but both these features actually perform horrendously. They do the cool job fine --- show them to your friends for a few minutes and they will be impressed --- but they do the delight job abysmally.

    And one of the ways that you engender delight is what Apple is doing here, constant refinement . When you buy your next phone, it feels familiar --- just better in every way.
    Reply
  • Tegeril - Tuesday, August 28, 2012 - link

    This, exactly. Reply
  • JoshAlfie - Tuesday, August 28, 2012 - link

    This is actually a very interesting analysis. Nice one. Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now