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New Apple Leak Reveals iPhone 15 Release Shock

11/05 Update below. This post was originally published on November 3rd

Hot-tipped iPhone 15 upgrades are dropping like flies, and now one of the biggest looks is sure to miss the cut.

Apple’s much-hyped 5G internal modem will no longer debut with the release of the iPhone 15 series in 2023, and it represents a major setback for Apple’s modem division. The news came after comments from Apple modem supplier Qualcomm in its earnings report yesterday.

Picked up by Bloomberg, Qualcomm told investors it will continue to supply the “vast majority” of modem chips for Apple’s iPhone 15 series in 2023. The company said it previously expected to ship just 20% of iPhone 5G modems by then, given Apple’s ambitious roadmap for its own 5G modems.

Update of 11/04: I can now confirm the Qualcomm comments reported by Bloomberg, which in turn confirm that Apple’s modem ambitions are being delayed for at least a new iPhone generation.

Update 11/05: The same source has now added more details to Qualcomm’s comments, claiming that the company expects to continue to supply Apple with modems for iPhone models for at least the next three generations.

The source also says Qualcomm doesn’t expect Apple to replace Qualcomm modems all at once, instead rolling out in increasing percentages with each successive iPhone generation. It makes perfect sense. The company has also tried this model before.

Apple was already looking to diversify its modem suppliers when it started integrating Intel modems into iPhones with the iPhone 11. Performance issues cut the experiment short, but Apple was motivated enough to buy Intel’s smartphone modem division in 2019 to start using the chips itself.

Since then, the lack of a commercial product has shown that competing with Qualcomm is no small feat. That said, the potential gains for Apple are twofold. First, it gains more control over its supply chain. Second, it can integrate internal modems earlier in the design process, potentially unlocking better performance and battery efficiency.

As such, although delayed, I don’t see Apple dropping its modem ambitions anytime soon.

Despite work on the chip since 2020, Bloomberg reveals that Apple has suffered significant setbacks, which caused the delay. In July, it reported that prototypes had “overheated” for the past year.

Respected industry analyst Ming-Chi Kuo went even further, saying that the modem’s development “may have failed”, claiming that Apple may need to rely on Qualcomm in the near future. Last month, Haitong International Securities analyst Jeff Pu agreed, stating that Apple’s modem may miss the iPhone launch in both 2023 and 2024.

But this is the first time we’ve heard from an Apple partner, and Qualcomm’s announcement adds significant weight to these pessimistic projections. Such a slowdown would have been unimaginable when Apple bought Intel’s 5G modem business for $1 billion in 2019. Intel already supplied smartphone modems and Apple used them in the iPhone 11 series.

As such, it is difficult to understand why the project has proved so challenging. Apple is known for its tight integration of components, so if I were to take a guess, I’m guessing problems started here.

On the other hand, Qualcomm’s next-gen 5G modems are extremely impressive, and early leaks suggest there’s still a lot to like about Apple’s iPhone 15 plans. Includes redesigned standard models and an all-new iPhone 15 Ultra with titanium chassis and dual-facing front cameras. USB-C is also hotly tipped, but far from certain.

Regardless, Apple seems determined to make a splash in 2023 after disappointing sales of the iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Plus.

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