If you want to build an iPhone from scratch, you have a lot of tiny parts to deal with


Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2017/04/20/if-you-want-to-build-an-iphone.html


If you want to build an iPhone from scratch, you must first create the universe.


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You are 58 minutes more clever than me, damnit.


Now this is the kind of intricate puzzle that scratches my itch. Bring it on!


I assume that not all of the parts that you buy in the back alleys are genuine Apple parts, but some of them must be, because the circuit board, for example, would be really really hard to clone.

Any idea how many parts are Apple parts, and how many are copies?


The way manufacturing is run in China, I don’t think even Apple could give a fair answer to that question.


News flash: Miniaturized devices contain tiny parts. Film at 11.


Sometimes miniaturized devices contain a few medium sized parts. Theoretically all the semiconductors for a consumer could be packed into a single package, it’s just a matter of cost and lead time. I guess Apple changes things too frequently to make a 1-chip iPhone a viable business.


I have one word for you: Patents. One huge factor keeping phones from bringing more functionality onto the SOC and shrinking the logic board is patents. Just about every phone in the world uses separate radio and CPU chips, because the radio chip tech is owned by companies (mostly qualcomm, I assume there’s one or two others) that will not allow you to integrate their tech into your SOC, because they can make a lot more money selling chips than they can by selling IP. The same applies to many other peripheral functions in a smartphone - the touch layer of the screen usually has its own dedicated chip, for instance.

I have another word for you: fab yields. The more you cram onto a chip, the bigger it gets and the more chips you have to throw out due to defects. At a certain point, it just becomes cheaper to not cram all the functionality onto a single SOC.


None of the consumer devices I’ve developed have patented logic boards. Not Kindle, not SHIELD, not Cisco CUE. Maybe Apple does what you suggest, but I am extremely skeptical.

Apple produces their own ASICs and CPUs already. And the dream has always been to pack a high level of integration at the lowest possible cost. Some SoCs have PMU integrated (power management unit, in charge of regulators and sometimes battery charger), but most have a separate PMU because the time to market suffers when you do mixed signal designs.

As for fab yields, it’s all manageable. I currently work on a very large ASICs. 350 mm^2


So this is the IKEA model?


Dude, you’re confusing me, that’s at least three and I didn’t even count the rest!


Not the boards, the chips. Qualcomm doesn’t want anyone else to have access to its radio tech, so everyone making phones is forced to have a SOC and a separate modem chip. And so on.


Never mind the number of chips on the PCB, I am always amused by the number of mechanical parts in a modern phone. There are dozens of screws holding together all the fiddly bits that make it usable: the buttons and slide switch, the camera and speakers and the connectors, and so on. All these brackets exist because the mechanical parts can’t be integrated into a PC board. Well, they could be, but then they wouldn’t fit in exactly the right spot on the case.

I’m sure that Apple wishes that they could integrate all these items into a machine-built assembly, but they just haven’t found a way to do it well yet.


The chips are produced with lots of licensed patents. The one I work on licenses patents from several other companies in order to manufacture them legally. Basic IP rights. You might license from ARM Holdings for your CPU, and Synopsys for your USB controller, and the list goes on and on.
Qualcomm is the annoying one because they won’t license key parts of their IP, but there are alternatives.
The chips designs themselves are not patented. They can’t be (in the US at least). They are not copyright either. Chips are protected as a Mask work, kinda-sorta similar to copyright law but it is limited to a 10 year duration.
That’s right, I can go dig up the mask art for the Intel Pentium II and start manufacturing it immediately. I don’t know why I would want to, it would be expensive and obsolete, but it is legal.


well YMMV - but essentially the big chips (or even whole logic boards) are recycled - the place Scotty is going to is essentially a block long building full of tiny booths, recycled scrap goes in one end, people buy stuff break it down, it’s sold booth to booth, other people put it back together again on new PCBs, with new or recycled cases or screens etc etc at the other end of the building is a bunch of retail booths where you can buy the result (if you’re brave)


It’d be a lot easier (and cooler) if you gave up on the modern pocketable form factor and put the guts in something like this:



Miniature $760,000 watches contain tiny parts, but most of an AMD system’s going to be soldered together, plus 10 socketed bits (plus universe.) This one has enough parts to, if you drill where there ought to be a headphone jack, blow its explosive bolts, burrow into your leg and make your hair grow triple-worsted. Watch an ad to change your plait? etc.


Much of it is reported to be “gray” runs. Legit factory making parts off the books and selling it on the street. Or rejects from testing sold off to be repaired by these industrious vendors.