Whenever Apple selects a major chip for a new iPod or iPhone, two things are established: first, the nearly complete potential of that device, and second, the fact that some of that potential will not be realized in the actual Apple product. Having peeked into the most recent beta version of the iPhone 2.0 software, hackers think that they’ve discovered the chipset that will power the next-generation iPhone, and if history’s any guide, they’re right: Apple’s software tends to contain little clues to new features (iTunes movie rentals, for instance) in advance. So what does Infineon’s S-GOLD3H processor offer that isn’t included in the current-generation iPhone’s S-GOLD2 processor? Here’s the breakdown of new features, and what they mean.
Enhanced Data Networks and Rates: Arguably the most important new features of S-GOLD3H are also semi-obvious ones. The new chip supports the 3G network standards picked by leading domestic and foreign mobile phone companies, including HSDPA category 8 (7.2Mbit/second) data transfers, as well as WCDMA with 384kbit/second simultaneous upload and downloads, or 640kbit/second independent uploading or downloading. It also adds support for third-generation GRPS, versus the second-generation GPRS in the current iPhone. Together, these standards could allow the new iPhone to work in virtually any country on the planet, and deliver tremendous improvements in web page, e-mail, and other data delivery: four to eight times faster with WCDMA, and potentially ten times that with the right HSDPA network. Real world speeds are likely to fall short of the theoretical maximums, but they’ll still be a lot better, and iPhone will be more compatible, too.
Video Capabilities: While the prior generation chip included MPEG-4 and H.263/H.264 playback, encoding and streaming features, the new generation appears to be improved, and can handle 30fps, full screen resolution video telephony and, though a separate module, digital video broadcast reception as well. Dedicated 2G graphic hardware is also included.
Improved Display Interface: Though still capable of supporting a 480×320 display at maximum—the same as the current iPhone’s—S-GOLD3H has a high-speed interface that permits “cost effective clamshell mechanics” for a screen of this resolution. What this most likely means is that the display needn’t be right next to the motherboard; affordable wiring can separate the screen from the chipset without compromising performance. Our gut feeling is that a 3G clamshell design of this sort is not in iPhone’s immediate future, but is a generation or two off in 3G iPhone nano land.
Audio: The iPhone’s S-GOLD2 included three bi-directional digital audio interfaces for audio chips and Bluetooth modules; S-GOLD3H only includes two. This is unlikely to matter at all for iPhone.
Card Slots: While the prior version included a single MMC/SD card interface; S-GOLD2 has twin MMC/SD card interfaces. Again, this is unlikely to be used by iPhone.
Multitasking: Infineon notes that the S-GOLD3H can run multiple applications at once, such as surfing the Internet, downloading e-mails, and listening to music over a stereo Bluetooth headset at once. While not surprising given the iPhone’s multitasking features, the company’s suggestion is that the data speeds of HSDPA and the system’s ability to work with separate chips (Bluetooth, connected SD cards) at once are the distinguishing factor here; S-GOLD3H can quickly route different types of data from the cell network and its own memory to different destinations, such as the screen, wireless earphones, and memory cards all at the same time.
Camera: S-GOLD3H now supports higher-resolution 5-Megapixel camera hardware, versus the prior-generation’s 2-Megapixel limit. Unlikely to see its full potential reached with whatever add-on camera Apple chooses to use, but we could see better still or video imaging as a benefit.
Memory: S-GOLD3H now supports faster DDR-SDRAM, which will likely help make applications and the interface just that much smoother.
Encryption Technology: S-GOLD3H adds hardware encryption technology to protect media files, the SIM card, and the boot code.
As previously noted, Apple may or may not use some of these new features in the next-generation iPhone, and it’s also possible given the iPhone beta software’s generic reference to “S-GOLD3” rather than “S-GOLD3H” that Infineon will sell Apple another version of the chip for the company with slightly different features—typically fewer, for a lower price point—but in any case, it’s interesting to see what’s there. A number of factors in the new iPhone’s performance will be affected as much by the support chips Apple chooses to couple with the S-GOLD3, as well—Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, sound quality, and other features will depend on these chips. We’ll need to wait for the actual release to see what the 3G iPhone can really do, and how well it does it.