Pragmatic 1: Faraday's Cage

25 November, 2013


In Pragmatic’s first episode, John and Ben explore the evolution of the iPhone’s hardware from the original model to today. Looking at mechanical design tradeoffs and improvements in wireless John presents a realistic reading of the iPhone myth.

Transcript available
[MUSIC PLAYING] This is Pragmatic, a weekly discussion show contemplating the practical application of technology. Exploring the real world trade-offs, we look at how great ideas are transformed into products and services that can change our lives. Nothing is as simple as it seems. I'm Ben Alexander, and my co-host is John Chidjie. John, what's up? - What's up is, this is episode one of Pragmatic. So I'm very excited. I've been wanting to do this show for quite some time, and I'm glad it's coming together. So I guess I wanna start with our first topic, And that's about the iPhone, but the iPhone hardware. Something I don't think is really discussed as much as perhaps it could or should be. And I just want to start out by asking you, which iPhones you've personally owned? - Let me think. The first iPhone I got was an iPhone 4. I was a late adopter. I had a-- - That's okay. I had a Blackberry Q, which was a stellar piece of technology that I purchased because AT&T had terrible reception in the apartment complex I lived in when the first iPhone came out. And that bad decision just spiraled for a number of years before I finally got the 4. But I got the 4 and I bought that probably two months before the 4S came out and did to trade, did the swap thing and yeah so 4, 4s and then now the 5. I haven't upgraded from the 5. Okay so when you got a 4 did you go on Verizon with a CDMA phone or just go with AT&T? I had a Sprint phone actually. Okay so Sprint CDMA. Yeah CDMA but terribly slow at the time and still pretty bad. Okay, fair enough. So do you keep your iPhones when you're finished with them or do you tend to pawn them off to other family members or sell them or do you just keep them for posterity? Well I like to play the trade-in swap game and try to play the carriers against each other so sometimes I trade them in but actually I do still have a 4S. I don't have my original one which I'm really sad about because I felt a great emotional attachment to that phone and I felt bad the moment after I traded it in, which is silly I guess, but there it is. Yeah, so I like to keep my gear. It's got a little pack rat habit. Interesting. Yeah, it's interesting you should say that because my background now with the iPhone hardware is that it wasn't available in Australia, but my brother-in-law was on holidays over in Las Vegas at the time and I asked a favor if he could grab me an iPhone 2G, the original, and bring it back with him. I realized I'd have to jailbreak it and I'd been studying up all of the jailbreaking methods so that I could jailbreak it and unlock it and use it here in Australia. Because if you didn't do that, it would only work on AT&T. So I did that and used that for my phone for nearly two years and then I bought a 3GS and then my wife bought an iPhone 4, a GSM model and then I bought myself a 4S and recently I just got myself a 5S. So I've had most of the iterations of the hardware design, that's one of the reasons that I want to talk about this is my experiences using these phones for a long period of time. But I also want to talk a lot about because my background in radio in particular, I find the way that Apple have made their design trade-offs to be quite interesting as the design has evolved. I think we might start with at the beginning. The iPhone-- It's a good place as any. The iPhone really was very much unlike anything else that I'd ever seen. There may well have been phones out there that had a metal back with a large glass screen, but I'm reasonably sure that there weren't. It was sort of... someone can point that out if I'm wrong, but I'm reasonably sure it was unique in that respect. So it started out with... I think it's four-fifths of the back was covered by aluminium, aluminium and it was rounded at the sides and the top and there was one fifth of it or thereabouts at the bottom was a black plastic cover and it had a chrome bezel around the outside and a glass screen. And that shape has pretty much stayed the same since the beginning. It's gotten slightly taller of course since then with the 5, but essentially that sort of design to stay the same. But what's interesting is when you start to look at how Apple have evolved that. And I think that one of the issues that they had with the original iPhone was the transition between the aluminium back and the plastic at the bottom. It's very, how should I say, very pronounced. So you run your finger across it and once you start doing it, you find yourself always doing it. At least that's what I found. And apparently it was one of those things that if Apple had it their way, I'm convinced that they would have an all steel back, but you can't do that. And the problem was that is because you've got the screen on the front, there's shielding you simply have to have in the phone into inside. And if you have an all metal back, then there's no antenna. There's no way for your antenna to actually get out. So if that bottom was, if that back was entirely aluminium, then the phone would get very little reception. It'd probably get some, but very, very little. It wouldn't perform well. So that's why, like my iPad mini, I have the LTE option. That's why there's the plastic thing on the top, right? Absolutely. So the bottom line, yeah, with radio, it comes down to the idea of a Faraday cage, which is something that Mr. Michael Faraday figured out whereby if you actually kill off - because a radio signal is an electromagnetic wave - if you kill off the electric field then the magnetic field will not propagate any significant distance. It'll have near field effects but it won't have any - the radio wave, the EM wave itself will not propagate and hence if you for example put - there's a movie, DME, it It had Will Smith in it and Gene Hackman, it was Enemy of the State. And he had this room, Gene Hackman had this room, well it wasn't a room, it was literally a cage and you would walk into the cage and there was wire mesh all around him. And he said "Oh, it's completely cut off from the outside world" and he was essentially standing inside a Faraday cage. And if you put solid metal, well that's the end of it, there's no holes, there's no way it's going to get out. So without any signal getting out, you're not going to get any signal in, you're not getting any reception and your antenna is just not going to work. So the attraction for a plastic back phone is obvious and that is, well, plastic is transparent to an electric field and a magnetic field. Therefore, you're going to get very good performance out of your antenna. And that kind of pushed them down that road where they had to have a part of the original iPhone had to be RF transparent, it had to be plastic. So what do they do? They put it at the bottom. And one of the trends that you see, well, I guess I'm getting ahead of myself. We'll stick with the 2G for the moment. Is the bottom the best place to put that, considering how people are going to be using their phones and where towers are? Well, that's an interesting point. They put it at the bottom of the phone, not for signal reception reasons. They actually put it in there for radiation absorption reasons. So one of the things that mobile phones have to go through is they're given a SAR rating and the rating essentially is how much radio energy is absorbed by the tissue in the body, in the head, the hand, that sort of thing, different parts of the body. And phones are rated and they either pass the guidelines or they don't. The guidelines were brought about when there was a great concern that people were getting tumors from all the radio energy. And you would hear stories about this on current affairs programs, whereby someone has an MRI of their head and there's a strikingly mobile phone antenna shaped tumor in their head. And you know what I'm saying, whether or not that was true or not, there was a perception that it was a problem and it's shown that high amounts of RF radiation will damage living tissue. So there is no question that there could be some harm there. The issue is how much causes harm and that's what's debated. So their attempt to regulate this was well let's get this away far away from the head as possible. So the logical place is the bottom of the phone because the earpiece is at the top therefore the bottom makes the most sense. So is the shield so the shielding on the screen that you were just mentioning is that you know presumably is nothing you know we're not having radiation shoot straight out of that into our into our brain right it's coming out the the little plastic port and bouncing around yeah it's not completely it's not a completely perfect shield so that's that's that's the point is that the screen itself is will still let some radiation through it in itself will create radiation not not at cellular frequencies but it'll still create radiation due to all of the the currents passing through everything in in the screen. That's also inevitable. But in terms of the cellular signal, you're not going to get as much of the cellular signal through the screen as you are out the back. So the idea is keep it as far away from the head as possible and as far away from the body as possible. Funnily enough though, that's usually where people hold their hand. So, I mean when I hold the phone now, I try and I sort of hold it as a, I don't know how to describe it, like a pincer grip a little bit with my thumb and my middle and index finger on the other side of the phone in the center of the phone as I hold up against my ear. And maybe I'm overthinking how I should hold my phone, but it's certainly quite possible that that's what I'm doing. But alas, that's how I do it. Because I just don't like because I because I know I know, I know consciously where the antenna is. And I'm like, I'm not going to put my hand on the antenna. So but I don't think a lot of people don't think about it or don't realize it or both, I guess. So, yeah. In any case, in the original iPhone, the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth antennas were combined, as was the cellular ant- well, the cellular antenna was a separate strip. Well, called a strip, not really a strip. It's kind of like a strange hieroglyphic pattern of copper on a flexible circuit board. Underneath the black plastic, the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth is on the same physical piece of flexible circuit board, but it's a separate antenna. So the Bluetooth and the Wi-Fi share the same, essentially the same piece of copper as an antenna, which you can do, because essentially they operate on different frequencies. But back at that point, they were still using a Marvel Wi-Fi chip and a Cambridge Bluecore, which was for the Bluetooth. So they essentially had two separate chips. And when one chip wanted to use it and the other one didn't, they would signal and try and avoid interference and so on. So the original iPhone, and in fact, the 3G had that same setup. And that was, the wifi was, it was 802.11 b and g, and I think it was Bluetooth 2.0. So all of the antennas that were acquired, and I say all of them, there are only two, because the original iPhone had no GPS. So that was essentially two antennas and they were very close together and they were both hidden behind that black plastic strip at the bottom. So that was the original iPhone. - I'm tossing images into the show notes here as we go through it. And it's this very, am I looking at the right thing? It just looks like This jagged edged piece of metal. I actually have a... Yeah. Here, I'll send you a link to it. Yep. What I've done in the show notes is I've put together a list. It's predominantly... It's predominantly a... Oh, have you already done all the work? Yeah. Okay. All right. That's fine. Yeah, it's okay. I've... What basically... In preparation... I've been following this stuff for a long time. I've also disassembled my original iPhone and the 3GS and a few iPod touches. So I've seen inside of them myself. But at the same time, I absolutely love Anandtech and what I fix it do. I've got to say, I'm a bigger fan of Anandtech, but unfortunately, they don't always drill down to the deepest possible level. Sometimes they have. Some of their reviews are fantastic in that way. But more recently... My favorite Anitech review is the review, the teardown of the USB charger plug. - Yes. - I think it was the most amazing thing I've ever read. That much detail going, I'd talk about flybacks and all this stuff. I had no idea even existed. And anyways, I'm sure we'll actually discuss that at some point. - Oh, I'm sure we'll get to it. - So I gotcha. - Yeah, so bottom line is there's a lot of links in the show notes that I've put in there for you all. from iFixit and Enantech I didn't just go through and say you know here's the teardown here's the teardown I went to have a look at the ones that best illustrated because some of them are actually repair replacements for Wi-Fi GPS antennas and so on and they give you a much better view in that than the generic teardown of the specific parts that I'm talking about. So that was the original iPhone 2G. So now we move forward to the 3G. And the 3G had of course had an all plastic back. It still kept the the chrome bezel and of course the screen and everything nothing else changed really in that respect. It was just that the back was plastic and that gave them a lot more flexibility in some respects but oddly enough they didn't really need to do it because well the reality was that the antenna is still at the bottom and it's still of similar dimensions to that which was used on the 2G. Not, they were different, of course, but essentially of a similar size. So they could have, had they wanted to, stuck with the aluminium back. But they didn't because I believe that they were concerned about two things. The first one, and as I said before, I alluded to before, was the transition between the materials. So the transition between the aluminium and the plastic was very obvious once you found it. And mine sort of, I mean, it's a phone, it gets dropped occasionally, unfortunately, that's reality. And when it does happen, sometimes you'll get a very minor buckle or a dint, or it'll simply undulate slightly such that it doesn't sit flat. And I think that would have irritated the hell out of them. But the second reason that I don't I don't think they liked it is symmetry. One of the things that Apple are really big on is product symmetry. If you look at it, if you look at their products, and you draw a line down the middle, they go to reasonably decent lengths to make sure that they are as symmetrical as they can be. So when you look at an iPhone 5s, for example, and you draw a line halfway down the height, well, which I say a line across the short, the short side of it, top and the bottom, they look essentially the same. The difference, of course, okay, fine. The top's got the flash and the camera on it. Okay. But other than that, it's, it's, it's symmetrical. You have the same size on the top and the bottom. It's very symmetrical, just like the front is, front symmetrical as well. I mean, yeah, apart from, of course, the subtle differences between the FaceTime camera and the slot for the head earpiece and the home button but essentially it is symmetrical. So that sort of symmetry I think also bugged them. They went to an all-plastic back and that solved the symmetry problem. But the problem that I have with that is that it became yet another plastic phone. So there's all sorts of other reasons why that's a good or a bad thing. Obviously, the durability piece is one thing, but it also made the phone feel less expensive, I think. Yeah, I hate to say cheaper. It's a bit, I don't know, maybe this is the right word, but I don't like to say it because it wasn't a cheap phone and what it did was still amazing. And therefore, you expect that it would be a bit more classy or polished or expensive feeling. and they were in your hand. Whereas, yeah, and I think that the steel, sorry, the aluminium back of the original iPhone still felt better. But in any case, the 3G had the curved, the curves on the plastic around the edges, felt very comfortable in your hand because it was, it had a, it had a lump on the back, so it was sort of like, it would sit in the palm of your hand much more readily than an iPhone 2G that had a flat back. However, at the same time, you then put it on the table and of course, you don't put your phone face down on the table. You want to protect your screen, you'll sit it face up, which meant that it never sat flat on the table. So that was a real... Really? Yeah. So that was a bit of a pain. It was a pain on hard surfaces, obviously on soft surfaces, you know, like a towel or a cushion or a bed or a pillow or something, it didn't matter. But when you're on a desk or a bench, it was noticeable and annoying. I always really like that the sides are flat too, on the floor and up, so I can just set the phone up and it looks like a monolith out of 2001. Yeah. Or I can set it sideways and have a little movie player. It's silly, but I kind of hope they never change that because it's a useful feature. Absolutely. So, and I don't, I'm not sure if they will, I guess that's the, who knows what the future holds, but yeah. So okay, the 3G continued on with the Marvel WiFi chipset and the same Bluetooth radio as a Bluecore 6, I think it was in the 3G. And in that case, its performance was exactly the same in that respect. When they now we moved to the 3GS, the 3GS, oh sorry, one thing I've neglected to mention was the addition of GPS. So in the 3G, they added GPS and the GPS used the same antenna assembly essentially as the Wi-Fi and the Bluetooth. So they all shared the same antenna. And again, you can get away with that because GPS is essentially a receiver. And again, it's on a different set of frequencies. So you can filter out the other frequencies either side, just give it a bit of copper to pick up the signals from the satellites, and then go through a process of filtering out the adjacent frequencies and decoding it. So that was not such a, that's not so surprising, really. A lot of people sort of say, "Oh, where's the GPS antenna?" Or, "Where's the Wi-Fi? Where's the Bluetooth antenna?" So they're essentially the same piece of metal. the signals are essentially extracted by different chips. So there's a GPS chip, there's a Wi-Fi chip, which is the Marvel, and there was the Bluetooth chip, which was the Bluecore. So, and that was the way it was in the 3GS. Again, bottom of the phone, as I said, same position essentially as the iPhone 2G, the original. So 3GS, in terms of its hardware, again, it didn't change really, except for what was inside. So same antennas, same everything, except that they changed the chip to, they moved away from the Marvel chipset and the blue cores and they went to the Broadcom. So they've been with Broadcom ever since. And the Broadcom chip had one advantage and that was that, well, it included the Bluetooth and the wifi in the one chip. And it was also lower power than the other two. So it was an all-in-one solution, which is always better. Reducing chip count is always better. So at that point it got to Bluetooth 2.1, but that was pretty much it. I think it was ABNG for the Wi-Fi, but still no N. And still only 2.4 gigahertz Wi-Fi. - And at the time, so this would have been 2009? - Yes. So... - Trying to think. So people were probably complaining about that, right? At that time? - Yeah, people were saying that, "Why doesn't this have N?" 'Cause all of Apple's routers at the time had N, I believe that were available. So yeah, I think so. That's not right. That's right. But when when they rectified that with the four, of course. So I don't really have too much to say about the 3GS because it's essentially the same design as the 3G. It had a different antenna and a slightly different design of the printed circuit board again, because it was handling, I think it was an additional frequency band. But essentially, it was the same kind of design. It was printed circuit board at the bottom of the phone and nothing new to report essentially. So the GPS, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth all shared the same antenna. The only difference is a chipset behind it. So all in all, the 3GS was, from a hardware design point of view, not much of an iteration. And it was really about the apps at that point, right? That's when things were starting to take off. And I think really that's when it became more of a mass market device too. Absolutely. At least that's my perception of it. Yeah. Yeah, that's when it took off. The iPhone 2G was very much a niche product. I don't want to say a fanboy product. That's not really true. But it was an aspirational product, perhaps. Right. The 3G brought badly needed GPS in and reeled in a few more people. And the 3GS, as the App Store was taking off, that became the first real mass market and phone. And that was mass-market iPhone that really took off and since then it just never looked back it just keeps getting bigger every year and that's amazing to me but in any case trying to focus on the hardware side of it for the moment anyway we'll move on to the iPhone 4 which is I think the most interesting design development that they made along the way so I think that they wanted to go back to a more expensive feeling device. I want to get away from the plastic back. And when I first heard that they were going to use a glass back, I laughed. But then you go and hold this thing in your hand and you realise just how amazingly good that feels, how solid it felt. It did feel expensive. It felt, I think, like the 4 and the 4S, I think to me, felt like the most solid, sturdy, expensive phone I've ever owned. Whether they were or not, that's just how they felt. The glass back had a beautiful finish. And honestly, and the whole time I had a 4S and my wife had a 4, we never broke a front or a back screen. So, there you have it. But in terms of the actual radio design, the revolutionary part of that, and I say revolutionary, it's kind of... Yeah and no. They put the antenna around the outside of the band, so the band around the outside, which is stainless steel band. So very sturdy. Yeah, but before... I just want to jump in and say that. Yeah, sure. I have the 5... I'm holding my 5 and I'm holding the 4S and the 4S feels so much better. I mean, it's just... it's not even comparable. And yeah, I mean, the 5's lighter and that's nice and it has its... It's visual aesthetics, at least from the right angle. Yeah. But yeah, I mean, I just... The 4S just feels like a skyscraper to me. It's glass and steel and that's it. Yes. And anyways, yeah. Okay, so to the antennas, I'm just... Yeah, that's fine. I'm done marvelling with the aesthetics there. Yeah, it's a fascinating design choice, what they did. The thing that I found fascinating as well was when they put the antennas around the outside, the first thing I thought is, okay, they're going to have a layer of a lacquer or an insulator of some kind, but they didn't. It was exposed for the hand to directly touch. And one of the things that you learn very early on is you don't touch antennas. Yeah, why aren't we getting electrocuted? Well, okay, well, it's not- Okay, so there's RF radiation in terms of- Okay, there's two pieces to this. There's the transmit and there's the receive. So, from a receive point of view, assuming we are not transmitting any, just purely from a reception point of view, if you touch it, in theory, it should become a slightly better receiver. In the same way, if you remember the rabbit ears on television sets, where you're trying to tweak the antennas, and if you touch the antenna, it affected the reception. And what would be maddening is you would touch it and you would move it around a little bit, and it would look good, and then you'd let go of it. And as soon as you did that. Dad would always have me stand next to the TV. Yeah, that kind of thing. Yeah, good antenna. That kind of thing. So, it changes the properties of the antenna. Unfortunately, on the transmitting side, it's more of an issue because what happens is your body becomes a sink for the RF energy. So, the energy actually starts to pour into your body. Now, the reality is that there's two kinds of coupling. There's direct coupling and there's essentially capacitive inductive coupling. So with capacitance and inductance, you don't need to be physically connected in order for that to energy to be transferred. So if you put your hand near an antenna, you'll still get coupling from the capacitive and inductive effect of your hand being present being a conductive device in the presence of another conductive device with a current flowing through it. But a direct connection, a direct coupling, where you physically connected and all that's and there's no, well, there is still capacitive conductive, but it's essentially a very low resistance connection. At that point in time, it has a more profound effect. So what they were doing was though they were taking a situation whereby you accepted when you dealt with mobile phone design, that there was going to be somebody's hand near your antenna. And if your hand completely covered the antenna, because your hand is essentially a conductor, because our bodies are essentially saltwater in a bag, and saltwater is a good conductor, then well, yeah, it is, I guess. Essentially, you're killing a lot of the RF because your hand is absorbing it, it's coupling into your hand, your hand's syncing a lot of that RF, it's not getting out. So, but if you actually gave them direct connection, it would make that worse. But the interesting thing is that they'd gone from very small antennas in the back of the phone that were heavily loaded to much, much bigger antennas that presented a much, much bigger amount of metal, essentially, for the transmission and reception. I mean, there's got to be a couple of square inches, right? Oh, it's yeah, it's comparatively massive. So, the antennas themselves physically grew in size by, I'm not sure what the factor would be, but I'd say maybe five to six times in size. So, you factor that in, and that has some counteracting benefit. So, you take a few steps forward, a few steps back. Of course, the process of doing this meant that they could flatten the phone a little bit because you're getting some of that out of the phone. You could simplify some of the shielding in the phone and make the phone lighter. There are all sorts of other advantages to doing this. Unfortunately, however, that leads us to AntennaGate. Right. So, in the original design of the GSM iPhone, there were two pieces. There was a piece that essentially ran from around about the sleep/wake button all the way across the top down the right hand side across the bottom and a little ways up the left hand side. So like a backwards letter C, it's a bit lopsided. Anyway, and that was the cellular antenna, single cellular antenna. And then the other connecting piece that was more of an inverted L, that was the Wi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth antenna. Of course, the problem was that if you bridge the two together, and in so doing, of course, you're also creating a direct coupling path for all your RF, what's going to happen is you're going to get one wiping out the other and being sunk by your body, and you are going to lose a lot of signal. And that's exactly what happened. Obviously, if you put a bumper case on it, or any kind of case on it, then you can't do that. And hence, you don't see that effect as pronounced. You can't, you can no longer hold it wrong. Exactly. And I was laughing, well, not laughing, but I've chuckled perhaps when I was watching the press event that they held after that, which I still think is an amazing thing that they even did it. But it was, I think, the most perfect, you know, put up or shut up piece that I've ever seen any company do. It was like, you know what, we hear what you're saying. And yeah, here's all of our analysis. Suck on this. Oh, and you want a free case? Yeah, have a case. No problem. It was just beautifully executed. And it just shut down so many people. It was very well done. We'll have to make sure to link to that because that's. If it's still up. Oh, yeah, it's still there. I watched just a few months ago. So three of them sitting on stage, they're on little kind of stools and just chatting. And yeah. Yeah, it was it was damage control, but it was the best I've seen at a corporate level. So anyway, when the CDMA phone came out, the CDMA iPhone, because if you recall, the Verizon iPhone 4 came out after the GSM buy. I'm trying to remember how many months it was, I should have researched that, but in any case there was a time delay. When they released the CDMA phone, they introduced the idea of essentially what they call a diversity antenna. So instead of having one antenna, you've got two. And this has all sorts of advantages for multipath and fading and so on. And in CDMA, it's a lot easier for you to compensate for it than with GSM, although more modern GSM networks got better at that. In any case, not wanting to delve too much into, you know, Walsh codes and direct sequence spread spectrum and all that sort of other stuff. Suffice to say, diversity antenna from a simplistic point of view gives you an alternative path for you to receive and transmit from, such that if one's compromised, you have a backup. Let's think of it that way, it's simple enough. So there was no position you could hold it in where you could feasibly get a death grip like you could on the GSM version of the iPhone 4. At least without doing some insane contortion of both of your hands, perhaps. Or putting inside of a lead box, which would kill any phone. And that design was what persisted on the 4S. So they changed the design of the GSM phone to match that and they essentially gave it to antennas as well and that solved that problem. The preference is still given to the antenna on the bottom so if you look at the CDMA iPhone 4 or a 4s the antenna on the bottom is the primary antenna and the antenna on the top section or in the case of the CDMA phone it was I believe up part of the right hand side in the top was the alternative was the backup and again that's exactly for the same reason keep the antenna at the bottom and that keeps down your RF absorption. What's the maybe I'm getting ahead of you here but what's so I'm looking at the 4s and I along the antennas along the outer bezel it's It's split into three parts, right? You have these little black lines that are running across at the, right before the corners. - Yes. - Is that related to that? Because I remember, I don't think it was the same way on the four, was it? - Okay, so on the four, GSM model, the four, it had the lines, but one of the lines was cosmetic because they wanted it to be symmetrical. And it's like Steve Jobs said, you know, what did we do? We drew a line on it, you know? It's like, push here, push here. Disaster strikes. I mean, I can feel the... There's a good ridge there, like, and maybe it... Yeah, if you pull the phone apart, you can clearly see the ones that are there for a purpose and the ones that aren't on the four. But if you look at the photos from iFixit, you'll see how the actual chassis itself is physically broken in those places. I mean, I don't mean broken, broken. I mean, as it doesn't make it... There's no conductive path. So the black is essentially an insulator between the antennas. It's more pronounced, of course, when we move on to the 5 and the 5S, and we'll get to that. So that design, getting back to the more mundane things, used a more recent Broadcom chip on the 4, which then supported N, but N was only supported on 2.4 GHz. I believe it did support dual band, but not N. Another interesting point about those Broadcom chips as I was researching this, because I had wondered about this, is that Broadcom chips also include an FM radio decoder. Yeah, I know. It's not used. Right. I know. Why not? It's right in there. I don't know, Apple. Anyhow, never mind. So I guess, yeah, that's another one. I every time I mean, I love reading about what Broadcom is doing, because it's you're always you're getting a glimpse into the future. And, and they're, they're really just consolidating and getting well, I'm sure we'll get to it. But they're, they're putting out some incredible stuff now. I think that's definitely a good one just to hold that thought. And we'll and we'll we'll circle back to that at the end, I think. And it's not just Broadcom. But yeah. So all right. Moving on to the 4S then. So hang on. No, I haven't talked enough about the hardware design of the four. So you had a glass front, glass back, the bands around the outside, stainless steel, so very, very strong, doesn't corrode, well it does corrode, but it doesn't corrode anywhere near as quickly. Very scratch and impact resistant, well, relatively speaking, and it looks really good two years, three years, four years after you bought it. It doesn't scratch easily, it doesn't, it doesn't fade, it doesn't change anything. It's just, it's right, it looks great. Kind of like, even as long as you don't totally shatter the screen, the chips even, they add a little character. Yeah, well the funny thing is that it, I'm sure you've seen or seen photos of a DeLorean DMC-12. Right. I say a DeLorean DMC-12 because there's only one model of DeLorean, so yeah. Anyway, sorry. But the DeLorean of course had a stainless steel skin on it, brushed stainless steel, and it still looks spectacular today. There's a guy, I'm sorry, it's off topic, but there's a guy that drives around town here and his license plate is McFly. And he's got one of those, and it's fantastic. It's just the coolest car, right? I mean, how can it? It's the best. All right. I know. I am a little bit jealous, but then I read about all the problems that they had with that model. Oh, terrible car, but still incredibly cool. It is. Yeah, it's one of those. Yeah. Anyway. Okay. So, that's the four. And the thing about the four, what they did with the design around the edges is very interesting because what they did is the band itself didn't cover the full depth of the phone. So, the glass protruded beyond the extremities of the band. Right. Like a good 20-25% it looks like. It was significant. And in order to improve the the effect of how it felt in your hand, because you had to have some kind of a transition. And clearly they were still, well I'm thinking about the design trade-offs that they must have made, and obviously there was a decision made at some point whereby the stainless steel was going to be slightly larger than the actual glass piece. And in any case, that was the design choice that they made. I mean, it worked out okay, but the point is that the glass around the outside has a very fine, it's not a chamfer exactly, it's more of a ridge that's cut into it slightly, and that smooths and rounds off the edges of that glass. And when it sits in your hand, although you can feel the transition between the metal to the glass, it's actually not that uncomfortable. It was the first thing that I noticed when I picked one up in the store for the first time is that transition. It almost looks like it's inset just, I mean, by a micron or two, just very, very small. It's a very, very subtle ridge that's been cut into the glass. But you can feel it. You could hit it with your finger, your fingernail, right? You could feel it. Yeah. Yeah, exactly. You get grime in it too. Yeah, it's just, yeah, you do. Yeah, I remember cleaning that. So anyhow, it's coming from a 3GS going to a 4S, which is the transition I made. my wife having a four, I didn't get to hold it that much. The point is that that transition it was very, very striking at the time but I was amazed how quickly I just tuned it out and it felt natural enough and it felt because I loved how solid it felt and that glass finish was just so nice and just felt so expensive and just so precise it was just lovely and I didn't mind it quite so much. That said, if there was a way they could do it more like the original iPhone because that way you've got a beautiful steel sorry I keep saying steel, it's aluminium, an aluminium back but at the same time you've got, it's a flat back like the iPhone 4 was, so it wasn't curved like a 3G or 3GS it was made out of, because I think the aluminium finish is just as nice as the glass but they chose to go glass and that's fine That was the design decision. It improved the symmetry of the product. So you had glass front, glass back, you know, it improved symmetry in that dimension. But the bottom-- - And it was daring too. - It was very, yeah, absolutely. It was a big departure. - And, you know, probably the last smartphone or last phone we'll ever really see that was that striking, you know, that stood out that much for its time that, you know, it's just, you can only do that once. And they did it. Well, I never say never, but I will say that it was... Right. Yeah, I guess we'll see. Right. We'll see what they do with the 6. There's all sorts of other materials out there they could make it out of. And admittedly, I don't expect to see a concrete-backed phone anytime soon. But, you know... I love trolling through Apple patents and they have some patents on meteorite. So... Really? Yeah. For keyboards, actually, but who knows? OK, fair enough. Okay, so they learned a lot with the 4. It was a massive change of massive risk and for the most part, it paid off. And once Antenna Gate was dealt with and the design improvements on the CDMA, iPhone and eventually the 4S, you know, they... Apple were on top of the world. But of course, Apple being Apple, they want to keep pushing it forward. So I've got a sneaking suspicion that the people at Apple also love the metal back. So when they went to the five, it was time for them to decide, okay, what's it going to be? Are we going to persist with glass? Or are we going to go to a steel back? Or are we going to do plastic? And they said, no plastic, we're going to do a bit of both. So they did a predominantly aluminium back with two glass insets, one at the top, one at the bottom. So that sort of it was an interesting combination. It solved the problem of the back glass being prone to shattering, although it had never happened to me or my wife, I know plenty of other people that it did happen to. So when they inset the glass on the back of the 5, making it flush, they essentially solved the cracking problem of the back. And I think a lot of people were putting cases on their phone and bumpers on the phone, not just for the antenna issue but on the original 4 GSM version. But also because of the back having a tendency to smash. So they sort of killed, you know, well, they'd already killed the two birds with one stone, I guess, I suppose you could argue with the design of the 4S and the CDMA iPhone. But in any case, it's much easier now and safer to have a phone without a case these days, but with the iPhone 5 design it was anyway. But they did something interesting with the design of the aluminium that they hadn't done before, which was they put a diamond cut and I know they say diamond cut like that's some kind of big deal but you know. Right I've got half a dozen diamond cut or diamond edge saws in the business. Yeah exact same thing right so it's like yeah okay but anyway yeah it's a bit precision cut whatever it's a beautiful chamfer around the edge of it and it looks so striking against the the rest of the finish and that's all all well and good. But unfortunately, and I feel a bit weird sort of saying this, and I think I have said it before previously, but I'll say it again, is that I have soft hands. I work on a computer all day, I don't swing a pickaxe or a shovel. And you know, my hands are quite soft. They're not I don't know, it's not like I moisturize them or anything. But you know, they're just not. They're soft. And I can feel when I hold it in my hand, I can feel that sharper edge on the edge of that phone. It's sharper than the glass by a noticeable amount. And it's not curved at all like the original iPhone was, because the aluminum was curved on the sides. And of course, nothing at all like the 3G or the 3GS. And I find that very disconcerting. When I was using, because the iPhone 5S design and 5 out 5 design is essentially the same. So when I've been using it, I find myself moving the phone around in my hand unconsciously because it's just disconcerting holding it in my hand in one position for any long period of time. As complaints go, it's mild, sure. But in any case, it would have been nicer if it was rounded and not chamfered, in my opinion. but obviously that well Yeah, I'm looking at I'm looking again. You just have the both of the five in the the 4s in front I mean, I'm looking you know, very closely at the At the the band on the forest that there is a chamfer there, too but it's Significantly smaller. I mean, it's it's not as deep as all I mean, it's about It's less than half right, and and it doesn't have Maybe they used some softer diamonds. Maybe they just used like rubies. Yeah but uh, are they just sanded it down with some 200 grit, but it's and Probably because can you know the way the the for us and the four sandwiched it you don't get that as much You're not gonna get that feel but yeah, I know I can I can feel exactly what you're talking about And I don't think it's a really It never bothered me as much until I started putting a case on this. I got I My first five just kind of died on me. The screen went dead and they just gave me a new one, which was a really nice one because I didn't have AppleCare. But I got one of the 5S cases, I went with one of these product red ones. I've always been morally opposed to putting cases on phones, but I gotta say, it feels a lot better. And I wonder if that's part, you know, it's just, it's, it's much, it really makes clear how the five is, is, is less humanely designed. Right. And yeah, I mean, that's what you're talking about. You know, it's also, you know, the thinness also is, uh, maybe it's a, you know, maybe Maybe it's being overly critical of it, but as soon as I got it, I felt like, "Wow, this thing is going to fly out of my hands." It doesn't inspire confidence the way that the 4S did. I think the combination of the lightness, the thinness, its aspect ratio, and those edges and the materials that they chose. To me, it adds up to an experience that is worse. And not to look at, but to hold, right? Yeah, and exactly right. And I agree with most of what you said there. I think that the fundamental issue for me is that it doesn't feel as comfortable in my hand. And I didn't mention the weight. and that's something that I haven't really talked about through this walk down memory lane. But what it, to me, you need to have a certain amount of weight in a phone. And I do think that once you get used to a heavier phone, like a 4 or a 4S, when you move to the iPhone 5, it really does feel significant, or it is significantly lighter. And it feels... Hollow. It almost feels... I mean, everyone said it. It almost feels fake. It does. And it feels like it's going to... It feels like you have to hold it tighter. Right. Because it doesn't... You do that clutch. There's a clutch, right? Gruber even mentioned it. You know, the height of the phone and the thinness and the weight prompts this kind of strange, unnatural way of holding it. And I've got really big hands, so it's not that it's, you know, I guess I get to win there where it doesn't bother me too much, but, you know, my wife does it and I see how she holds it and it's clearly not that comfortable. And we've talked about it, that there's just, you know, and she ended up, we got her a 5C case, which will fit a 5, a 5S, it's just, you know, But the 5C is bigger slightly and has some more depth. And she really likes it because it actually adds a little bit more-- whoop, almost lost the phone there-- adds some more texture. And I mean, those cases are kind of this rubberized material, right? So it's a lot more texture. Yeah. Yeah, I think fundamentally, you have to-- when I think about this, I think about looking looking at the real world and how we deal with things and what we prefer to do and prefer to carry. And no one built a carry bag with sharp edges. No one built, you know, a door handle with sharp edges. You just don't, because the human hand does not have... It's got a lot of nerve endings, a lot of pressure, temperature, sensitivity and you want it to be a nice, smooth, comfortable thing to hold. Round racks, right? I mean, they're all about those rounded corners, but, you know, I'm looking at my MacBook in front of me and along the edges, yes, it's rounded and smooth and nice, but that insanely sharp edge on the on the front lip. It's just an odd oversight. And it's strange because I mean, nature hates straight lines. And and you're fighting against something that I mean, entropy is going to turn all of those straight lines into jagged or rounded ones sooner or later. So why fight it? Well, that's right. So I guess one of the things that I'll circle back to after I've had this discussion is to talk about which one I think is the best and why. but let's keep moving. So the iPhone 5 went to the aluminium was now not just the back plate as for the original iPhone 2G but also the antennas now. So the top and the bottom arcs of the phone, those metal sections, those are aluminium and those are now the main and the diversity antennas for cellular. And inside the phone they've moved the Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth antenna assembly inside the phone and it's actually just below the top so the the Wi-Fi and the GPS and Bluetooth is actually at the top of the phone not the bottom. Okay so in terms of the chips driving them of course they've then moved up in the 5 they now have ABGN and it's dual band and it's Bluetooth 4 and I should have added on the 4s they added Bluetooth 4 as well. However, now the 5, the 5S, the 5C all have that and that hasn't changed now. So they are now all ABGN and Bluetooth 4. Still no sign of AC on the Wi-Fi, but that's I'm sure coming at some point, which is another thing to do. Let's make, when we wrap up at the end, let's make sure we do a little rundown of Bluetooth. Okay, just for my own edification because I get confused. All right, so the 5S, so I'm not sure what else there is to really say about the 5. And in fact, honestly, even the 5S, because the 5S is essentially exactly the same design. There were ever so minor tweaks, but honestly, it was essentially the same thing as the 5. However, the 5C is where things go off the rails. And when I say off the rails, I mean they don't follow the standards and conventions that Apple had previously. So if we think back to the previous plastic back phones, the plastic back phone that was last produced of the 3GS, unlike the 3GS, this plastic back phone, the 5C, has a flat back. But it also has the curved sides that were more, I think, analogous to the original iPhone, the iPhone 2G. Not quite as rounded, mind you, but still, I have to admit, having held one for a while, the 5C actually feels very comfortable in your hand. It's also a little bit heavier than the 5S. The downside is it's plastic. The antennas inside them, just because now they're all plastic, you can hide them inside And you'd think, oh, they might put them in some different location. But the truth is they haven't. All they've done is they've taken what is essentially the 5 and the 5S design. Instead of using aluminium, they've used mild steel, which is fine because I mean, it's doesn't need to be protected now by the by the plastic case, essentially, from significant corrosion. And it's cheaper and in some respects stronger anyway. So. That's bespoke mild steel and polycarbonate. Well, yeah, I'm so sorry. It's polycarbonate, not plastic. Yeah. No kidding, huh? Can we put that to- Can we just put a bulletin in that and let everyone know that polycarbonate is just plastic? Yeah, we can. I mean, polycarbonate is a plastic. There's a hell of a lot of things that are plastics. But yeah, I just- It seemed to me quite- And the iPhone 5 and 5S is made out of Reynolds wrap. So. That's mean. Maybe. Anyway, but it felt when they do the video on that and they said, "Oh, it's made of... It's unashamedly plastic and it's polycarbonate. It's just the most beautiful polycarbonate we've ever done." It's like, it's kind of like when Steve Jobs up on stage talking about how it was the size of the aperture on it, It collected more photons. And it's like, are we back in high school, guys? I mean, what are we talking about? It's like, call it what it is. Relax. It's okay. You don't have to play it up. It's got a plastic back. Okay, it's fine. But polycarbonate sounds nicer. That's what- That's it. I mean, it's- Fingernails down the chalkboard to me, mate. That's the problem, is I listen and I'm like, oh, you didn't have to say that, but all right, that's marketing spin for you. But in any case, it feels great. I would say that the 5C feels better in my hand than a 5S does. In fact, I'd say it feels better in my hand than a 4 or a 4S does. And the only thing that its score, in my opinion, drops is because it still is just plastic and plastic will always have a feeling to it of cheapness. Now, whether that's deserved or not, I've thought about this a lot. Why is it we associate plastic with cheap? And all you got to do is look around at a, well, let's see, I'm trying to think of the equivalent, dollar plus store, loony plus stores or, you know, what's an equivalent in North America? You know, you go into a bargain store and they've got a plastic container there for two bucks and it's however many gallons, I assume it's gallons, like 20 liter container, whatever that is, whatever imperial measurement that is. But the point is, here's a plastic box, it's two bucks, throw your stuff in it and slide it under the bed and it's out of... Right. Well, yeah, exactly. Plastic has the connotation of cheap. I think one, because we have all these products that are cheap than a lot of crappy products that are made out of plastic because it's just the right material to choose for that because it can be produced cheaply and the manufacturing costs can be a lot in terms of machining and building the factories to build these things that it's a lot easier to work with. But I think also if you go back 40, 50 years, think about the graduate, right? went from being this wonder material which it is to something that's ubiquitous and thus not valued right that's you know what why you know how much I can admit that I'm sure a large part of the reason why the 4S feels better to me is that my brain knows that it's made out of glass and steel and and to my brain you know Whether it's true or not, glass and steel is harder to make and harder to work with and more expensive and better than plastic, even if plastic outperforms it in every other way. Even if it's not true, it doesn't matter. It's because it's there. It's wired into us at some level culturally. That's it. I do. Is it a recycled Coke bottle or is it a recycled glass Coke bottle? I do wonder with plastic whether or not it's been too much of a good thing because plastic has really only been around for 60 years, something like that, as a mass produced item. And I don't know, maybe people just gone nuts on it because now we know how to use it. We know how to make it. we can make it into anything or not anything, but we can make it into lots of different things. It's become so ubiquitous. We see it everywhere that we get we kind of get a bit sick of it. And the funny thing is, you think about glass and something you said about working with glass. People have been working with glass for a heck of a lot longer than they've been working with plastic. Right. So it's interesting that the metal back or the glass back phone or the metal ridge on the phone feels more modern when technically the materials in use are in fact much much older. Oh ancient yeah right well and you think about uh you know uh high performance ceramics and you know jumping to to you know the automotive industry that you know the cylinder linings in Porsches are are clay. Yeah. Right that's what they are. Crazy. It's the right material. So on the subject of materials and I guess this is where I want to sort of just quickly talk about which I think I've almost reached that conclusion about which phone I think is actually the best to hold in your hand and why is honestly in my opinion is the original iPhone because it has the metal back it's flat it feels really comfortable in your hand because the the edges the sides are rounded it has a good weight to it it does not feel cheap it feels quite expensive. And it is a beautifully designed phone. But the funny thing is, I used to think the 4S or the 4 would be the next design after that, in terms of in my opinion for comfort, but no, I actually am going to side with the 5C. And I say this because I think that the 5C is extremely comfortable. But because of my association with plastic, meaning lesser quality, I have a hard time, I suppose, what's the word swallowing it? No. Appreciating it, I think. Perhaps that's the problem. In any case, I have a 5S and I still love my 5S, don't get me wrong. But I just look at the design trade-offs and I think to myself, why did they create the 5C? And obviously they were going to have a spin on, they wanted to do an evolution of the iPhone 5 down a cheaper route than the top of the line model of the 5S. And so they went back to a plastic back which gave them flexibility to use cheaper materials like mild steel and plastic and that reduced the cost of the phone and that's fine. It wasn't a massive saving but it was a saving and I totally understand why they would want to do that. And it's just interesting because I'm going to be, well, we've done plastic, we've done aluminium and we've done stainless steel and glass. Next question is, well, what else is there? No one ever thought, oh, we'll make phones out of glass. And that's just crazy talk. We glass in the front, sure, but glass in the back. So Apple did that. One of the things that came to mind as to what else they haven't tried that could be worth trying is carbon fibre. There've been people talking about carbon fibre for quite some time, ever since it was popularised by Formula One. And hence now it's become very common in becoming more and more common, even in planes. We're getting to the point where it might start to be feasible here. Yeah, but the problem with carbon fibre is it's a rigidity problem. And I keep coming back to, well, if you're going to use carbon fibre, you're stuck with the design like the 5C, which is you have a steel subframe within it, giving it additional torsional stability. Whereas if you go to, you know, if you stick with your metal, there's no need for that because your outside case adds that structural rigidity to the phone. So it's it if they go to carbon fiber, I've got to think to myself because that'll be an additional cost. Carbon fiber is a bit of a pain to work with because you got to cook it and layer it and it's all you know, it's not like injection molding like with plastic. It's not like a milling machine. It's a very different... Your yields are not going to be as reliable. Exactly. There's a lot of precision issues as well, I think. So there tends to be a bit of-- yeah, I think it tends to be-- how should I say? Maybe it just comes back to how long the technology has existed. So carbon fiber composites are far more recent developments, whereas people have been milling aluminum and steel, and making glass, and so on, for a long time, and injection molding plastic for longer, much longer than for carbon fiber. So maybe it's a matter of the maturity of making carbon fiber. That's the first one that comes to mind. In fact, I'll be honest, that's probably the only one that really comes to mind. Well, what about the two that I'm thinking of? Well, there's the rumor of the sapphire glass, the whole thing, and I don't really know much about that other than they bought that company, right. And also liquid metal, which also is shrouded in marketing speak. So I'm not sure. Liquid metal is just a fancy name for the different composites, sorry, alloys that they're experimenting with. It still comes back to fundamentally a metal versus a plastic versus glass, which is a silicon. But it's just, or as carbon fiber is something different. Whereas, you know, Sapphire is different again, but I guess... It's a matter of... But how do you control the cost? It's just stronger glass. Yeah, I mean, Sapphire is... Well, maybe they figured it out. Maybe they got it. I mean... I don't know. Maybe. What about... Okay, so here's a crazy idea. I've thought about this. You know, you've bought a lot of Apple gear, right? I I don't know if you've ever taken apart one of their boxes and realized just how incredibly well put together these things are and- Yeah, you mean the shipping boxes, yeah? Yeah, well, yeah, you get your iPhone and you open up the box and just, it's just incredibly sturdy, amazing use of cardboard. So what about that? What about a bamboo phone? What about, right? I mean, there are, 'cause these things are approaching this point of being disposable. And how long do they really need to last for? I don't know, I've thought about that, that the box that your iPhone comes in with a little bit of added protection, some more work, I mean, it's not enough as it is, But could you make a iPhone out of cardboard? - Anything is possible. I guess my biggest, okay. There's... - I mean, whether you should or not isn't the question. I'm saying, think about the performance characteristics. - Well, it's RF transparent. - If such a thing existed, what would it be like? - I mean, I guess the examples you're giving there. So, wooden or well, essentially paper is a wood. It's a wooden, wood-based product. It's pulped wood fiber. But the interesting thing is that they are all RF transparent. So, you'd have no reception issues in that respect. But rigidity, I guess you make it think it's strong enough, weave it together the right way maybe. And well, I guess it could have similar strength. I guess the issue then is now I have to coat it to make it water resistant. Otherwise, if it's a carbon, sorry, not carbon, if it's paper or cardboard, that gets wet, that's going to swell and buckle and fall apart. And if it's bamboo, I guess more resistant to that, more wooden, be more resistant to that. But it's going to pick up potentially, you know, moisture and dirt and that'll change the coloration of it. So, you'd have to stain it first and seal it. Mind you, a wooden-backed iPhone could be kind of cool. I don't know how big a market is for it. But, yeah. Interesting ideas. This is a thought experiment. It's an interesting... Yeah, I hadn't thought of those. like we're probably stuck with aluminum and plastic for the foreseeable future. I think so and and that's fine. And aluminum is is a wonder metal. Oh sure oh yeah. Aluminum is incredibly versatile and it really didn't take off so much until recently but in the last maybe 10 years I think and it's just it is really amazing because it's so highly recyclable. Once you've taken the bauxite and you've got the alumina out of it and you smelt it into aluminium, at that point, all of that energy put into converted aluminium, you're at a point where it now becomes much easier to recycle, you can melt it down and reforge it, essentially. Right. And that's to me, that's the biggest argument against what I just suggested is that, you know, apples, you know, famously cornered the market on aluminium and why mess with a good thing? I think yeah, we're stuck with aluminium for quite a while. And Obviously, it's also a lot cheaper than something else fancy like the Microsoft Surface is made out of magnesium alloy, and it's more expensive. Yeah, it echoes of the Nextcube, right? Yeah, a little bit. It seems unnecessary. I wonder if you can light surfaces on fire. You know what it looks like when it burns, right? So it's pretty intense. But in any case, so I guess that's a little bit about looking at the future of where some of this stuff is going. But yeah, so I wanted to circle back to, and this is the part where we need to pause and you need to refresh my memory, what we're going to circle back to again. We wanted to talk about, well, we just did, we talked about, You think the, let me see, you ranked the order of which ones you like for feel. We want to talk about antennas a little more just in general, particularly Bluetooth. Do we want to make any discussion of the actual chips, the processors themselves? That was the other thing. Or is that getting too close? Okay. Okay. So we'll start with that. Okay. So earlier, we said we wanted to circle back to talk about the Broadcom chips and the way that chips are going and the future of electronics and how it's going. One of the things when I was working at Nortel was we had circuit boards in the RF module that had 12,000 components on them. And they were everything from very small chip capacitors and chip resistors, inductors, and so on that to large ball grid arrays, you know, up to four 500 pin ball grid arrays. you know, 128 pin quad flat packs and so on and so forth. These were 10 layered circuit boards with parts populated on both sides. They were insane. One of the things that I learned when I was over there when I was doing some of the design over there was that the way everything was going was towards application specific integrated circuits or ASICs, whereby you take all the functionality, all the pieces of all the different components and support components surrounding a chip. And the next generation of chip you release, you bring all of that into the chip. So you essentially make it easier. It's more focused and more specific. But you can enable and disable certain functionality if you do or you don't want it, you know, kind of like the FM radio that's been stuck in the iPhone for a few years now that but never gets used. Well, you just have a generic chip, you don't need the FM radio fine, just don't wire it up. And that's that's where it's going is here's a compact, high density, all in one solution. You plunk it down on your circuit board, configure it how you like and away you go. We've done all the hard work for you. We were having all sorts of design issues regarding with mixed mode cards. So where you have RF and you have digital on the same card, it's always a problem when you're doing that. In so in the design process that they're going down these days, they're actually separating the RF and the digital, in some cases within the same die package, the same ASIC die. And that means that the chip designers and the fabricators have already figured all this out for you. So all you have to do is put it down on a board, give it some controlled impedance tracks and take it out to the antenna and let it do the rest. So the way it's going is companies like Broadcom are moving down that road. And frankly, so is Intel with systems on a chip and so on. For their CPUs and their GPUs and shared memory and everything on the same die, it's all going to shrinking down to a handful of chips. I mean, we'll never reach a point where it's one chip does everything. That's ridiculous. But we will get to all of these fields of expertise that previously where I was involved in this, where you would do a lot of RF design, a lot of that has now been essentially killed, because what people are doing is they are consolidating the design, and they're pulling it into ASICs, and you no longer need to worry so much about it. I mean, from a fundamentals point of view, it helps to have a grasp on it. But there's a hell of a lot, you know, a hell of a lot less S matching going on right now, when you're trying to do RF design than they used to be 10 years ago. - So, S matching? S matching? - It's yeah, S11, S21, it's forward reverse power when you're dealing with RF. So it's, I should probably give you a link for that. It's, I'll just make a note, but yeah, it's sort of hard to explain. You need a network analyzer and you look at the amount of energy that's being transferred. So it's about matching the impedances correctly using an inductor match or a capacitive inductor or capacitive match. And I did some of that on the one of the projects at Nortel that unfortunately was canned. So never saw the light of day, but alas, that happens in R&D. So, which always sucks, but that's life. Anyway, yeah, so the Broadcom chips are a perfect example of where this industry is going. And if you look at the each of the circuit boards that they extracted from the original iPhone 2G up to the 5S, then you can see it, there's less chips, it's the boards are becoming smaller, there's less layers in the stack, they are essentially becoming lower, and as a result, becoming lower power. All of this stuff also reduces the amount of design time that you need to have for the hardware side, which is of course a massive time saver. So you've got less interactions to figure out between the different ICs. If you have a look at some of the early designs, I think the 3G and the 3GS, they had this series of RF gaskets. And you'll see that on the iFixit teardown, they separate all the chips into separate sections to separate the RF and the digital components of this of the circuit. Sort of thing that we were doing 10 years ago on the RF modules and the more recent models barely have that at all because a lot of it's now been contained within individual chips. So, and this is sort of one of the epiphanies that I had was the area of design I wanted to get involved with RF design, I decided when I left Nortel not to continue pursuing that as a career simply because it was becoming a handful of places around the world that would now actually do that. And they were all the the chip fabs and chip designers. It was no longer the Nortels of the world or the Ericssons of the world. It was now a handful of chip manufacturers. Broadcom is one example, Qualcomm's another. Texas Instruments and... TI do more fab than they do design, but they do do some design. Lucent, I think Lucent is still kicking around designs. There's quite a few different brands, but seriously, it's a significantly smaller market than it was. So, and I never did any ASIC layout myself, although I did, I did start down that road, but I just decided that no, I didn't want to continue doing that. But anyway, so yeah, interesting stuff, more integration as we go forward, less and less chips, less complex hardware design in many respects. But then I suppose that the additional space of that frees up the power, that it takes less power, there'll be room for new features, new hardware, like Touch ID, for example, and other things. - Right, yeah, well, that's what I was gonna ask, is so is where, you know, as these systems get, I mean, I'm comparing the teardown of the 3GS to the 5S, and the most striking thing is it's all battery, right? - Yeah, no kidding. - And so the power required to run these devices is dropping generally, right? - Yeah, the problem is that there's so many things driving that people tend to fixate on certain things and not others, which is, it's just, I guess it's just a depth of understanding, but everyone knows that the retina screens require a more intense backlight simply because, well, there's a more higher dense grid of pixels for which the light has to pass through. So, and that's that is more of a power drain. How significant that is, I haven't crunched the numbers, but it is a component. The other thing that's now is better than is an improvement, though, is the dyes are getting smaller. So the processors are getting smaller. So they've gone from, oh dear, 45 nanometer. I'm not sure how far they've gone now on the A6. I haven't... Yeah, 20 something, right? 20 nanometers. 28. 28. Something like that. And then Intel are talking about fabbing at 14, I think. 14. That's the Sophia, right? That's what they just announced, exactly. So I mean, they're heading down towards sizes that we just thought were science fiction. the lower you go, the less power you need to switch the transistors, which means the less power it's going to consume, which is amazing and fantastic. It also means that your leakage between junctions unintentionally is worse, much worse. So it's not as simple as you might think. But what you've got inside any integrated circuit is a bunch of transistors, not in two dimensions, but in three dimensions. And each of these transistors has a base, an emitter, and a collector. and what you're doing is you're turning them on and off, you're turning them on and off. And as you do so, you are essentially allowing electrons to pass through the gate. And that's how you arrange them in different flip flops, as NAND gates, whatever. And as you do that, that's how you control the passage of logic through the CPU or the device, whatever the hell it's doing. But the problem is that as you pack them closer and closer together, you will get accidental leakage from one transistor to its partnering transistor, just the other side right next to adjacent to it. So you have one logical operation going on can cause another one to screw up basically. So that sort of problem. So you need more error correction and... In order to get the fab right, you need to look at the insulating materials that you're using and it's also about impurities. So. Oh, so it's something that a chip itself may be made. Is that everything so that you actually your yield will be more inconsistent? Yeah, exactly. So you've got to have tight control of your impurities. You've got to have extremely precise etching. You've got to have all of these things need to improve. and going down several microns is actually quite a massive step. And that's why it takes taking them so long to get down to some insane number like 14. It's just unbelievable to me. Just knowing where they started. It's just unbelievable. It still blows my mind. But in any case, the point is that the less power you need, then that's a battery saving. So you can get away with that. But now you're adding more technology. So the other piece that's driving the battery size as well is the cellular usage. One of the things that people really don't seem to have as much of a grip on is the fact that cellular radio usage these days is reducing as well. So it comes down to the fact that if you have... But okay, rewind back to the beginning of the analog mobile phone era where you had one massive tower, and that would transmit for a 30 mile radius, and you would have a handful of people calling in. Now, when you're so far away from the antenna, then you need to have a longer antenna yourself. So, you have the- Usually, they had extendable antennas, and you just like you pull the extended antenna out. Yeah. Plug- Have your Star Trek plugged into your- Yep. Your BMW and that sort of thing. Exactly. You have the antenna in the center of the roof or wherever. Anyway, and you would be pumping out five watts maybe of those where maximum power fair bit of reasonable amount of juice, maybe one watt. But when digital came in, they started to reduce the power because analog, the signal noise ratio you can get on digital is a lot better because digital signal you can eliminate noise through signal regeneration and noise cancelling, which is more difficult to do with analogue. And not just that, they also were becoming more popular. So instead of having one cell cell phone tower covering a 30 mile radius, you could now have, say 10 in the same amount of area, at which point, you don't need anywhere near that amount of power in your phone in order to commute, communicate with the nearest tower, because the nearest tower is only, you know, three miles away now. Yeah, it's funny that, right, the exit, right, you know, getting off the highway to come home, there's this huge tower. And I mean, it can't be more than half a mile from here. And I live in rural Ohio. I mean, it's not high density here, but obviously, it's got to the point where I think I was reading a white paper by... It's one of the new Chinese companies. I can't think of it, but the capex for one of these towers is about $30,000 and the opex is about the same. And so, you just kind of do the math and figure out how many people need to have an account before that makes sense. And it's not that many now. - No, it isn't. The economies of scale are really getting to a point where it's a lot better than, a heck of a lot better than it was 10 years ago. But in any case, that's also counteracted by the shortage, quote unquote shortage of RF spectrum, where they're now charging more and more for it. So when Sprint or Verizon or AT&T bid for a bit of spectrum and say, I can fit six wideband CDMA channels or whatever I'm transmitting on this frequency, and everyone else says, well, yeah, but we wanna do the same thing. And then they can do a bidding war and they end up charging millions and millions of dollars for just the rights to use that spectrum for five years. Yeah, the cost just went up. So it used to be a lot cheaper. And now when they start doing spectrum auctioning, it's no longer so in that respect. But anyway, so the idea is that the more and more cell towers you have, the less power that you need. So you can get away with a smaller battery and in the smartphones that's meant that you can also get away with smaller antennas, hence why the antenna sizes were shrinking. So they used to have the extendable antenna and the last phone I had that had an extendable antenna was a StarTAC X and that was about 12 years ago. And it was a beautiful phone, I love my phone. But in the end, Nokia had led the charge and essentially they went to these little nub antennas that were no more than an inch long that would stick out of the top of the Nokia's like a 5110 or a 3210 and so on. And then within a few years, they disappeared inside the phone. And at that point, you know, plastic back, So there was RF transparent, no problem. And then people sort of thought, well, this is a lot better. You know, I don't have to worry about, you know, knocking the little knobby antenna off. I mean, replacement antennas were an item that we used to sell when I worked at Dick Smith Electronics. You know, we used to, oh, we've got a broken antenna here. Come on, we got one of those. Not anymore. It was all hidden inside the phone. And because of the increased number and hence the density of coverage for your radio, you were able to get away with that. But for short periods of time, still need to transmit those sorts of power levels. And that's one of the things you'll find if you're in a fringe level, sorry, a fringe area, and you're a long way from the nearest tower, you'll still be able to talk to it, but it sucks your battery dry faster than you can blink. And the phone runs really hot. And it's obvious that something's wrong. For example, I just did I did a site inspection just two days ago, actually out at city, city township, the town called Kingaroy. And this place is just outside of town, I had one bar of reception, I had 3G, yay, so I could still, you know, send and receive data, which was good, because I was still trying to answer emails when I was out there. And my battery went from 98% to about 50% in the space of an hour and a half. And that was with very light usage. And that's the problem, because the battery is assuming that you're in a built up area, and you've got much lower power requirements in order to to get your signals to and from a radio tower. So the batteries have been shrinking. Now we move to smartphones and suddenly we have big screens we need to power. And it's like, oh, okay, well I need to have a bigger battery again. And so now we've seen the reverse trend whereby batteries and phones are getting smaller and smaller, antennas getting smaller and smaller. Now we have the reverse effect. Now we've got batteries getting bigger and bigger and smartphone screens getting bigger and brighter. And it's funny to watch it working in the other direction. Yeah, it's-- I'm thinking about my Kyocera 6035, probably 2003, 2004, something like that. And I'll have to crack it open and see what it looks like on the inside. Because that would-- the thing would just go and go and go. And that was at the time when-- what we're talking about, where there were very few towers. There was no high-speed data to speak of at all. But then fast forward 10 years, I barely use any cell connection at all, just because I'm not driving around a lot, and I just don't get on the phone that much. And I wonder, also, how does Wi-Fi play into that then? Because isn't the-- with the 5S now, with the-- oh, what is it? Multi-path TCP? Is that what it's called? Yep. Where it's splitting-- it's using the best available option, right? I mean, I assume that Wi-Fi is generally lower power. Absolutely. Significantly. And typically going to be connected to some sort of high-speed landline, which is just going to be cheaper, more performant, whatever, than 3G, 4G. But is that something you think is going to have an appreciable impact, or is it just too much of a-- I guess it just depends, right? Depends on if you're in an area that's bathed in Wi-Fi. Okay, the issue with radio power is it's a question of bandwidth versus distance and the bandwidth that you need in order to transmit your data is based on the rate of the data you're intending to send. So if, for example, it's just a voice, you're just trying to send voice data, then there's 8 kilobit per second or 13 kilobit per second vocoders that turn your voice into a bit stream it's then encoded and sent over the cellular network. However, if you're sending talking about chunks of data and you want to send data, just at raw data rates of like LTE speeds, 20, 20, it's like, I still blows my mind on LTE. I think I've, I've heard of 20 megabits per second over cellular, which is mind blowing to me. Oh, when I got the five, it was, you know, just as Verizon was rolling out LTE in where I live in 5060. I'm just wow. I mean, higher than they claimed was possible. Yeah, right. Wow. Yeah, it was not as nuts. And more more than more than the, it was more than the phone could, could actually pass through and deal with it. Right? It just couldn't handle it. So there's, there's a there's a there's a formula they used to calculate what they refer to as power spectral density. And what you're trying to do is determine the effective amount of power that you got to try. You're transferring based on the bandwidth of the signal as well the amount of data you're transferring. So when you've got Wi-Fi, where you've got the advantage is distance. The range of Wi-Fi is such that it all falls apart beyond, you know, a hundred meters or so or, you know, how many yards. Or a couple of walls. Yeah, exactly. The signals are extremely low power and they're designed to be that way because the devices that were originally designed with Wi-Fi, they didn't want to use much power. Bluetooth used to be similar, but they've taken Bluetooth to a whole new level with, you know, Yeah, let's talk about that. Yeah. Well, it's not really too much to say, but the point is that it's even lower power than Wi-Fi, which is why it's become attractive. But the difference between Bluetooth and with Wi-Fi is that the amount of bandwidth available on Bluetooth, and the amount of range on Bluetooth is even less, which has allowed it to drop to this point, where it's now become such a low power connection, that it's looking like it may finally replace something like an infrared controller, which honestly, I hate infrared. Because if you're not pointing it in the right direction, and in some rooms, even if you're pointing it in the wrong direction, sometimes it'll bounce off the walls, you know, and you might get lucky. But, you know, seriously, it's such a, it's a, it's a terrible technology, infrared. I've played around with it for years and, and just always problems. Whereas something that's done over radio doesn't have those sorts of issues. Like, for example, infrared sometimes doesn't work in a bright room. You open the front window, sometimes infrared will get interference. Yeah. If you have direct sunlight in certain parts of the room, it can scramble infrared signals. It's just, you know, depending on the quality of the receiver and the sender and all that other stuff, you know. I think it's funny that when we're watching our Apple TV, I will have that I have a better experience and a faster experience and you know and faster interaction with it by using my phone to jump on the Wi-Fi and you're using the iPhone remote rather than you know and so it's it's bouncing you know 50 feet over to the Wi-Fi and then back again rather than using the the purpose built you know has to do one thing remote that's five feet away from the TV. Yeah. It just, I think that kind of nails it right there is not a good technology. No. And the funny thing is though, that it's taking us this, taking us this long to get to a point and we're still really not there to be honest. I mean, what, where's the generic all in one Bluetooth remote control? I mean, it's not there because most products, TVs and so on, still don't support low power Bluetooth. And so maybe the Apple TV does and maybe our Apple devices, some of them do, most of them do now, but it's not ubiquitous yet. It's still a fringe. Well, fringe, is it fringe? Is that fair? Maybe it is, but it's still not popular enough. It's not ubiquitous enough. So it's one of those things that is a feature, not a product. Right. So you can't just... How do you put that on the shelf at Best Buy or I don't know. What do you have in, what's in Australia? What's your big box retailer there? It's Harvey Norman, I guess. But, you know, they- Harvey Norman. But, you know, it just, a remote control is a product, but a, what kind of technology it uses is, it's hard to- Yeah, absolutely. I mean, yeah, sure. I mean, there are technologies that are essentially enabling technologies, and there are technologies that are immediately useful in and of themselves with no other supporting infrastructure. And it's funny how much in a relationship there really is when you think about the original iPhone, for example, and it was on 2G, it was on edge, didn't even have 3G data on it. And it needed to go to 3G with a GPS really for it to take off, that plus the app store, I guess. But the point being that it was still dependent upon the cellular networks to be built out with high data rates. It was still dependent upon an external ecosystem to become more powerful and more usable. But when that happened, it took off. And I feel like Bluetooth, low power Bluetooth is gonna be very similar. Is that once we reach a critical mass of devices, there will be certain technologies like the TV remote is just a simple example, where it becomes, oh, you know, finally we can do away with this infrared thing and we can have a truly intelligent remote with bidirectional communication and remote set up on a website and all these other features that, you know, you currently can't really do. and that will then become a possibility. So that's, you know, and iBeacon is another one of those things that's, and what is it eBay is doing with their Bluetooth, low power Bluetooth payment solution. That's all very, very cool stuff. So it's like, it's a taste of what's coming. Is that there's more coming. So in any case, I don't wanna go too far off the rails at this point, but I think we've, I think we've covered all the different iPhones and so on. And yeah, I think we might wrap it up. Any thoughts about what might be coming next that isn't getting a lot of attention or just your take on it? I mean, it's, you know, not asking for rumour mongering, but I like to, you know, I think it's worth thinking about. Because you're right, we're at this point again, I think. where the next steps aren't clear. And it was, you know, as this iPhone comes out and then like, well, here are these things it clearly needs. And then, and really, you know, when we got to like the 4 4s, like, okay, this thing is getting, you know, hardware wise, this is becoming feature complete, right? And now the software and now, you know, and look at the 5s, look at the A7 chip and that, you know, the M7 and Touch ID, right? It's like, okay, this thing is really there. Like it's harder and harder to see what the next step is for me. And I think about, you know, uh, that I, you know, the, the, when is it good enough? And the fact that, you know, we're having, you know, real geeks are starting to look at, and maybe not buying yet, but are starting to look at the cheaper, you know, plastic phone and recommending it, even though we all go and buy the, the expense, you know, the fancy one. I mean, that doesn't last forever, right? It doesn't. Apple have had their first mover advantage, but they do continue to outsell a lot of other phones and it's a very good product. But the problem I think is once you use a phone for a significant period of time, you tend to, well, there's two ways you can go. You can either be really hypercritical about it and say like, you know, I get, Oh, I really don't like the sharp edge of the chamfer, it's picking up scratches and so on. And, you know, the glass gets hot or this section gets hot or it's too light or it's too heavy or the color is fading with time, whatever it is. Or you can simply say, "Well, you look at this product and it works really well. It does what I need it to do. I enjoy using it. I love having it." And yeah, you tend to tune out all of the things. A lot of people, I think, and even people that do get all hypercritical about stuff, they'll say, "Well, does it really I mean, how can they really fix this? And that's where you end up inevitably is like, well, what would I do? How can they make it better? I mean, the perfect example is Touch ID. Forget that they bought Authentech a year and a half or they're about to go, forget about that. Did anyone seriously say before that, I think, sorry, before they acquired Authentech that Apple would say, well, we need a better way to do password unlocking on our phone? And most people would not have come up with that, despite the fact that... No, we're talking about 3D displays and holograms. That's what people do. They think, "Oh, well, you know, it'd be so good if it had like a built-in projector or it had a laser keyboard that it projected on a desk." Something like out there and cool, rather than thinking about it from the point of view of, "What is it day to day that annoys me about this device that can be made better?" and that's well and that's think about it right and that's the yeah we're ending on a good note here right because that that's what this this show is about and it's I'm glad you you know used the word being hypercritical and it's you know the healthy way to do that is it's not about tearing you know when we're complaining we're not even complaining we're talking about the the relative demerits of the five 5S's chamfered edge. It's not all this thing sucks, I just want to trash it. It's an exercise, it's us thinking the way that a product designer thinks. 'Cause I mean, what we think doesn't matter. I mean, it's what the Apple industrial design team, you know, those are the guys that get to make those decisions, but we can learn from it And we can examine things like that are minute, that edge, that chamfer there, for you, it has an outsized effect on your experience of the phone. And interrogating that is the same process that leads you to come up with an idea like Touch ID. So rather than, I mean, sure the fantasy product videos are fun And I'm sure a lot of visual design and film school students get a kick out of it. But it's ultimately just fantasy. It's not-- it isn't pragmatic. It has nothing to do with the actual process of designing something. Exactly. And it may be fun, and fantasy is fun. But actually, what's, I think, a lot more rewarding is really getting into the nitty gritty and trying to figure out what makes a product actually useful. - Exactly. And when you have a design problem that you're trying to solve, the focus has to be always, how does this help? How is what I'm changing make this better? How am I addressing this problem in a way that gives me a better solution? And if you lose sight of that, then your eye is on the wrong prize. It's not about, it's about focusing on what matters. And what you're trying to do is improve and solve, or prove upon a situation and solve a problem. And honestly, it's all, it is, as you say, it's fun to sort of fantasize a bit and say, oh, it'd be so great if we did this futuristic thing that they did in, what's the one they often quote, minority report with the whole visual interface and the holographic thing with the hands in the air. And then you think about ergonomically, that would be an absolute nightmare. It's a terrible idea. Yeah. Yeah. Right. It's the worst idea ever for an interface that you should make sure that you never have full contrast, that you're always going to be distracted. You're always- I mean, come on. Yeah, exactly. You know, so- And you should always have to have your arm held out at a 90 degree angle. Do that for 15 minutes and give me a call. Let me know how it's going. Because they see a person at the end of the day and they're like taking painkillers because of the pain in their arms and shoulders and lower back. Right. Yeah. Meanwhile, we're all getting, you know, a weird hunch from walking around with, you know, staring at a screen that's two feet below us. That's another good point. Yeah. Yeah. So, okay. One of the things to I want to do with this with Pragmatic is every episode that we have a discussion on a topic, there'll be a matching post on Tech Distortion that will be published. It'll be provided as a link in the show notes for listeners to have a look at and review. The idea is to listen to the episode and go read the article if you'd like to see any more depth. And it'll become available on the main feed on the main Tech Distortion site once the following episode is out. So that's why I'd like to run it. And it also gives people a chance to, if they don't listen to the show, to still read the discussion regarding, in this case, the iPhone hardware evolution or whatever it is we're talking about each week. - Right, yeah, and give you a chance to refer back to a canonical document without, I'm sure are random mistakes or my mispronunciation of aluminum. Remembering, of course, that aluminum was the name of a product, whereas aluminum is the name of the actual metal. Oh, is that it? So the patent in North America for aluminum foil was referred to as aluminum foil, and Hence, the name "aluminium" stuck in everyone's minds because it started out being aluminium foil before it was used for aluminium cans. And I've just said it now twice. Aluminium. Sorry. Gets into your head. That's the plastic polycarbonate thing. Yeah, but the problem is the words sound so similar. So, plastic, polycarbonate, different number of syllables, different pronunciation. But aluminium, aluminium, so similar. It's just one of those little annoying ones, but anyway, that's okay. You know what we're talking about. That's the main thing. Right. That's the thing. It's clear. Clarity is what counts. That's it. If you want to talk more about this, you can find John on Twitter @johnchidgy. That's J-O-H-N-C-H-I-D-G-E-Y. It's the same on If you'd like to send an email, send it to [email protected], and he'll respond and may read out your feedback on the next show. Be sure to let us know if he has permission to do that and how to pronounce your name. I'm Ben Alexander and you can reach me on Twitter at @FiatLuxFM. You can see show announcements and related materials by following the show account @PragmaticShow on Twitter. Thanks for listening, everyone. Thanks, John. - No worries. (upbeat music) (dramatic music) ♪ ♪ [Music] [MUSIC] [BLANK_AUDIO]
Duration 1 hour, 46 minutes and 10 seconds Direct Download

Show Notes

TechDistortion Companion Article: iPhone Hardware Evolution: Trade-offs and Refinements

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Ben Alexander

Ben Alexander

Ben created and runs and Fiat Lux

John Chidgey

John Chidgey

John is an Electrical, Instrumentation and Control Systems Engineer, software developer, podcaster, vocal actor and runs TechDistortion and the Engineered Network. John is a Chartered Professional Engineer in both Electrical Engineering and Information, Telecommunications and Electronics Engineering (ITEE) and a semi-regular conference speaker.

John has produced and appeared on many podcasts including Pragmatic and Causality and is available for hire for Vocal Acting or advertising. He has experience and interest in HMI Design, Alarm Management, Cyber-security and Root Cause Analysis.

Described as the David Attenborough of disasters, and a Dreamy Narrator with Great Pipes by the Podfather Adam Curry.

You can find him on the Fediverse and on Twitter.