iPhone 6 rumour rollup for the week ending February 28

Sapphire cover glass continued to bedazzle bloggers; Mobile World Congress announcements were instantly mined for nuggets of iPhone 6 features

The iOSphere's imagination was fired up this week by the prospect that iPhone 6 will plunge users into the exciting world of both nano crystals and quantum stuff.

Rumors that Apple might consider a new LCD display technology, called quantum dots, went viral after one blogger speculated, without a great deal of foundation.

Sapphire cover glass continued to bedazzle bloggers as they read the tea leaves of the latest financial results from Apple's sapphire materials partner, GT Advanced Technologies.

And Mobile World Congress announcements were instantly mined for nuggets of iPhone 6 features, including a whizbang new GPU and a still faster Wi-Fi.

You read it here second.

iPhone 6 will have an LCD display using quantum dots

This rumor seems to have been launched, or relaunched, by a blogger at Forbes, Haydn Shaughnessy, who in a Feb. 22 post speculated that the big change for iPhone 6 will not be a larger screen size or the use of synthetic sapphire as the cover glass.

Instead, he claims that Apple may be preparing to dramatically improve the underlying display assembly by using something called "quantum dots." The leading company in this area is Nanosys, and you can read in more detail about QD at its website. Essentially, quantum dots are tiny man-made crystals, each acting as a semiconductor to convert incoming energy. These crystals vary in size and shape: the variations can finely control the bandwidth emitted, allowing a display to create colors that are more intense (more saturated), more accurate, and that cover a greater range of the colors than the eye can see.

An Apple patent application, first filed in September 2012, surfaced in December 2013 and was widely interpreted as showing that Apple was "inventing" Quantum Dot displays. Yet according to Shaughnessy, Nanosys holds some 300 QD-related patents. And a close, or at least a closer, reading of the Apple patent "Quantum Dot-Enhanced Display Having Dichroic Filter" shows that it's actually about adding the dichroic filter (DCF), which "helps reduce the density of quantum dots and thus may reduce toxic content, such as Cd [cadmium] content. The DCF also improves color and luminance uniformity. The DCF may also reduce quenching and thus manufacturing cost."

The significance of the patent lies in the fact that Apple has been eyeing Quantum Dots since at least early 2012 and likely one or two years earlier than that.

The end result of a Quantum Dot display, as Shaughnessy notes, is a wider range (gamut) of colors, purer (more saturated) colors, and less power demand. And we already have evidence of how well it works: Nanosys Quantum Dots are already being used in Amazon's Kindle Fire HDX 7 tablet.

That tablet, along with the Apple iPad mini with Retina display and the 2013 Google Nexus 7, were evaluated in a "shoot-out" by DisplayMate Technologies. The results were impressive, with Quantum Dots creating "highly saturated primary colors for LCDs that are similar to those produced by OLED displays." They increased the color gamut by 40-50 percent; and improved power efficiency by an additional 15-20 percent."

QD technology lets a display maker replace white LEDs (which generate the light that drives the display) with blue LEDs. That's important because white LEDs have yellow phosphors that create "a broad light spectrum that makes it hard to efficiently produce saturated colors," according to DisplayMate. "Quantum Dots directly convert the light from blue LEDs into highly saturated primary colors for LCDs."

But perhaps the most important aspect of Quantum Dots is that Nanosys designed them so that they could be integrated easily into the existing LCD display manufacturing and assembly process. And that would mean that Apple and its supply chain partners can create a significant improvement in the user experience rivaling the best qualities of still-developing OLED displays -- while continuing to use the high quality Low Temperature Poly Silicon (LTPS) LCD display currently in the iPhone, and the manufacturing/assembly process that creates it.

iPhone 6 will have a sapphire cover glass for sure

So the iOSphere is still obsessing over sapphire. The latest obsessee is Mark Rogowsky, a contributing blogger to Forbes, where he describes himself as a "multiple-time entrepreneur, living and working in the heart of Silicon Valley for the past quarter century" where he is currently spending "most of my time working on a new startup in the online education arena."

This past week, GTAT, which manufacturers furnaces to create synthetic sapphire as well as other materials, announced its Q4 results. In his Forbes blog, Rogowsky treats these as tea leaves to be read for clues as to what Apple is doing, because Apple signed a $578 million dollar deal with GTAT late last year to equip and run a Mesa, Ariz., plant to produce sapphire.

"By carefully examining GT's statements surrounding its earnings report, however, we can clearly understand (1) that it's definitely making sapphire crystal for the iPhone and (2) the iPhone won't be out till the second half of 2014, as is normal," Rogowsky writes. "This should bury the many rumors of the iPhone arriving in May."

Good luck with that.

The Rollup sat in on that earnings call and GTAT CEO Tom Gutierrez was extremely circumspect in his comments, repeatedly declining to answer analysts' questions seeking more detail. There was nothing, according to our notes, that revealed or even hinted that GTAT's sapphire is aimed at the 2014 iPhone. Rogowsky infers that because GTAT says its 2014 revenues will hit $600-$800 million with most of that ramping up in the latter half of this year, when the 2014 iPhone is expected to be released.

But Gutierrez was also clear that that revenue is coming from more than sapphire materials production or furnace sales. "We have five or six major new technologies being introduced this year," he said. "That's going to generate some significant order flows in latter half of 2014...New products and polysilicon [still the bulk of GTAT's business] will dominate. Our focus is really delivering the [order] backlog in 2014."

Rogowsky's reasoning seems more like reading backward from the desired outcome iPhone with indestructible sapphire screen!! than a realistic assessment of what GTAT and Apple are actually doing.

There's no doubt that Apple is making a huge bet on becoming a major producer of synthetic sapphire. Yet it still seems premature to conclude that the 2014 iPhone will replace the Gorilla Glass cover with a sapphire cover.

iPhone 6 will have a 192-core mobile graphics processing unit

It makes one giddy just to type that.

This rumor is based on the fact that Imagination Technologies this week announced at Mobile World Congress a 192-core mobile GPU that is "potentially bound for future Apple iPhones, iPads," according to a post at AppleInsider.

People care about Imagination because its PowerVR graphics processors have handled imagery and stuff for iPhones and iPads for years.

Anand Lal Shimpi had a brief post at AnandTech with a comparison diagram showing relative performance of NVIDIA's mobile Kepler/Tegra K1 (Imagination's chief rival in the mobile space), as well as the existing PowerVR G6430, which is the GPU in the iPad Air, iPad mini with Retina Display, and iPhone 5s. "If Apple decides to go all out with a GPU upgrade on its next-generation iPad Air (A8/A8X silicon perhaps?), the GX6650 would likely be the IP to use," he speculates.

For a deep dive into the PowerVR architecture, check out the lengthy AnandTech post by Ryan Smith.

iPhone 6 will have dual stream 802.11ac Wi-Fi, up to 876Mbps

Another Mobile World Congress announcement, this one by chipmaker Broadcom, has been transformed into next generation Wi-Fi for iPhone 6.

Broadcom announced an 802.11ac chip, the BCM4354, that will support two spatial streams for smartphones and other devices. Multiple spatial streams are what give both 11ac and the far more widespread 802.11n their high data rates. Until now, 11n smartphone Wi-Fi chips and the very few mobile devices incorporating 11ac chips, could use only one spatial stream. By adding a second, Broadcom says, a client device connecting to an 11ac access point or hotspot would achieve a maximum data rate of up to 867Mbps, though useable throughput would be less than that.

"Broadcom today announced a first of its kind 5G WiFi system-on-a-chip that will bring faster 802.11ac WiFi and improved performance to smartphones," writes 9to5Mac's optimistic Jordan Kahn. "Apple currently uses a WiFi chip based on the Broadcom technology in the iPhone, iPad and Mac products making the new 5G chip a likely successor for next-generation iOS devices."

The "5G" is pure marketing hype by Broadcom and it does no one any good when bloggers uncritically accept it as being a term with any agreed-upon meaning.

Broadcom claims that the new chip will improve "system power efficiency up to 25 percent when using wireless applications."

Samsung's Galaxy Note 3 includes an 11ac chip but it's a single stream implementation, notes MacRumors, Juli Clover. 

Currently, Apple offers 11ac in its MacBook line of notebooks and some other products but not in the iPhone or the iPad. Both the latter in 2013 for the first time were equipped with 11n chips that supported the 5-GHz band, allowing both devices access to much cleaner and much less cluttered spectrum.

Users face a chicken-and-egg problem: even with 11ac in the iPhone, there are relatively few home, business, or public Wi-Fi networks what support 11ac today.

John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.Twitter: http://twitter.com/johnwcoxnwwEmail: john_cox@nww.com

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Tags Appleconsumer electronicsNetworkingsmartphoneswirelessanti-malwareGT

More about Amazon Web ServicesAppleBroadcomDisplayMate TechnologiesGalaxyGoogleImagination TechnologiesQuantumSamsungSapphire

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