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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  • macs - Tuesday, August 28, 2012 - link

    There goes my hope for Cortex A15... Sad Reply
  • tipoo - Monday, September 10, 2012 - link

    Well A15 just wasn't ready yet, but I hope they do something in between like Krait. Reply
  • Frallan - Tuesday, August 28, 2012 - link


    I understand that the focus of the writers shift and the pieces that are produced regardless of area are of the highest quality. I also understand that the site has to go where the consumers money goes.

    But [RANT] I find it sad that Anandtech has become an iSite. looking back there are more and more iArticles and less and less of everything else. if this trend continues another year you will have to rebrand the site iAnandtech - allthough you probably get sued to hell and back if you did. [/RANT]

    Pleas bring back the computer related articles. More GPU/CPU/SSD/HDD/SERVER and less iDevices.

    BR
    /F
    Reply
  • hlovatt - Tuesday, August 28, 2012 - link

    I just looked on AnandTech front page; there is exactly one Apple article, this one! That count includes the pipeline articles. For such a major player this does not seem excessive.

    Add to that, that Apple is a major innovator, produces original designs, introduces new technology, and retires older technology much more aggressively than other manufacturers.

    Why wouldn't a tech site that looks to the future cover Apple? Would you really rather them cover Dell? We would all die of boredom!
    Reply
  • jwcalla - Tuesday, August 28, 2012 - link

    "Add to that, that Apple is a major innovator, produces original designs, introduces new technology, and retires older technology much more aggressively than other manufacturers."

    Were you able to write that with a straight face? If this article is anywhere near accurate, it barely brings the iPhone up to spec with year-old Android phones.

    The guy has a good point: Apple rides on so much media hype that they could literally smear a turd on the touchscreen and the reviews would be glowing. Which smartphone out there has garnered a five-page article here just to cover the rumored specs?

    Yeah, I get it -- "it's the iPhone". But being "the iPhone" shouldn't automatically grant it unwarranted hype, especially for a site where technical merits should be one of the highest considerations. Look at the thing objectively: spec'd out it's a rather mediocre smartphone. Would Apple's products truly be relevant without all the hype?
    Reply
  • observerr - Tuesday, August 28, 2012 - link

    I don't think you know what literally means. Reply
  • swb311 - Tuesday, August 28, 2012 - link

    Don't get caught up by marketing. A 1GHz dual-core A5 can be every bit as fast as a newer quad core processor. A lot more goes into processor speed than pure specs. Apple custom makes their operating system AND chips so that they work together MUCH better than an off-the-shelf component like the Exynos or Krait. Just like their laptops, Apple software does more with less. So just because it doesn't look like it matches an Android phone on paper doesn't mean that it won't feel (be) faster in your hand. The fact of the matter is, as has been stated in these comments and on this blog, quad core processors are relatively useless unless software is threaded properly. Trust me, if Apple needed a quad-core processor it would put one in its phone. Android phones must distinguish themselves from EACH OTHER, hence the spec war which means almost nothing these days. Reply
  • alxx - Tuesday, August 28, 2012 - link

    A5 (not A15) is designed to run at slower clocks and much lower power than A9 Reply
  • KoolAidMan1 - Tuesday, August 28, 2012 - link

    "it barely brings the iPhone up to spec with year-old Android phones"

    A new Galaxy S3 is just now competitive with an iPhone 4S, and there are still new Tegra 3 Android tablets that are outperformed by a 2011 iPad 2.

    How were YOU able to write that with a straight face?
    Reply
  • doobydoo - Wednesday, August 29, 2012 - link

    Um, actually, in America, no Android manufacturers have caught up with the iPhone 4S - which still has the fastest GPU in any American smartphone. 10 months on.

    You're evidently simplistic method of comparing performance makes me cringe.
    Reply

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