Saturday, 17 March 2018

The Stealth Winners in iPhone X

MADISON, Wis. — You might think the world has already seen enough Apple iPhone X teardowns. But there are grunts in the trenches who just can’t seem to get enough. 

Romain Fraux

Romain Fraux

Certainly, iPhone X teardowns focused on logic ICs have been there, done that. But the untrodden ground Apple has really broken is in areas such as optical modules, components, MEMS, packaging and PCB technologies, according to Romain Fraux, chief technology officer at System Plus Consulting, Yole Développement’s reverse-engineering partner.
Last week, EE Times sat down with analysts at both Yole (Lyon, France) and System Plus Consulting (Nante, France). 
Asked about Apple’s most significant advancement in its iPhone X, Jean-Christophe Eloy, Yole’s CEO and president, nominated “the optical system Apple has brought to mobile devices.” He said Apple’s big milestone is that 3D sensing — an ability to recognize faces much more accurately than any existing Android phone — is now “poised to spread to everything from tablets to cars and door bells.”
EE Times asked both Eloy and Fraux to lay out highlights of their discoveries from in-depth teardowns. We also asked them to identify lesser known players who got iPhone X design wins.
AT&S, Austria-based PCB manufacturer, wins big
The analysts named, among others, AT&S (Leoben, Austria), a European PCB manufacturer, as a significant contributor to the highly integrated iPhone X.
While teardown experts such as TechInsights and iFixit also marveled at the PCB sandwich they saw in iPhone X, Fraux noted that AT&S, so far, “has been the only one capable of offering such an unprecedented level of high-density interconnect” on PCB boards.
By stacking two PCB boards together, Fraux estimates that Apple saved 15 percent of the iPhone X’s floor space. That gave Apple room for extra batteries, he added.

(Source: System Plus Consulting)
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Two stacked boards with via frame: Cross section view (Source: System Plus Consulting)
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There’s no question that modified semi-additive processes (mSAP) and advanced manufacturing techniques are enabling high-density interconnects in smartphones at lower cost and faster production speeds.
Yole’s Eloy pointed out the substantial contribution that AT&S’ mSAP technology made to the company’s recent financial results. AT&S last week reported a revenue jump of 24.5 percent to 765.9 million euros in the first three quarters (April 1 to Dec. 31, 2017) compared to the same three quarters in 2016.

(Source: Yole Developpement)
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As Fraux explained, mSAP is “used for manufacturing of laminate or build-up substrates, with a premade dielectric sheet and a thin Cu (copper) layer serving as the seed layer prior to further patterning and Cu plating.” The advantage of mSAP is that a much thinner copper layer coats the laminate and plates areas where the resist isn’t applied. mSAP allows trace geometries to be defined via photolithography. The traces are therefore formed more precisely, maximizing circuit density and enabling accurate impedance control with lower signal loss.

Next page: Bosch develops custom IMU for Apple

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