Future all-Apple iPhone? Apple may make the modem in-house eventually

iPhone XS Max

Future iPhone components may be more Apple, and less partners and rivals, with a new report indicating the company will invest in making cellular modems in-house.

The latest tip comes from Apple itself, which states in a job ad that it's looking for 'a cellular modem systems architect to work in its San Diego office', as first reported by The Information. That's the same city as semiconductor firm Qualcomm, which has made previous iPhone and iPad modems. 

An Apple-made modem in iOS devices would give it more direct oversight into the internal specs of its hardware. Plus, it would cut out a long-time supplier who has recently become a courtroom foe.

Sorry, Qualcomm and Intel

Apple has taken increasing control of the components that go into its hardware. Notably, it decided to design the iPhone and iPad graphics chip in-house last year, which subsequently sank PowerVR GPU maker Imagination Technologies.

The Cupertino company is also reportedly planning to start making its own ARM-based CPUs for Macs in 2020, which will replace current Intel-made chips. Apple hasn't publicly confirmed this.

Now Apple seems to be internalizing cellular modem design duties at the expense of Intel and Qualcomm, and the two semiconductor firms may be the reason it's going in-house.

Apple is in a legal dispute with Qualcomm, which supplied a majority of the modems in the iPhone and iPad, from the iPhone X on back. In 2018, Apple started to use Intel modems exclusively in the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max, though the speed and performance hasn't matched Qualcomm's modems in our experience.

Qualcomm makes the most widely-used Android phone chips, and it just unveiled a new one: the forthcoming Snapdragon 855 chipset, which has a 5G-ready cellular modem embedded on it. 

Apple may outfit its future A-series chipsets with its own modems, but today's report hints that Apple cellular modems take another three years. That all-Apple iPhone with nothing but Cupertino-designed internals may end up being a few iPhone cycles away. 

Matt Swider