[Column] What Surprised Me Most About iPhone 3G Design

Jul 17, 2008
Shinya Saeki, Nikkei Electronics

The iPhone 3G, a third-generation (3G) mobile phone by Apple Inc, was released on July 11, 2008, in 22 countries including Japan. I guess many Japanese Apple fans were waiting for the release because the iPhone 2G was not released in Japan. Nikkei Electronics obtained an iPhone 3G on the release date and broke it down with the help of engineers from a Japanese parts manufacturer.

In the process of the disassembly, we found some similarities to as well as differences from mobile phones manufactured in Japan. The main board of the iPhone 3G, which is the heart of the mobile phone, seemed to be laid out in a manner similar to the main boards of handsets designed by Japanese manufacturers. The engineers who helped us in breaking down the phone said, "It has been drastically refined compared with the main board of the iPhone 2G."

However, in respect to the Li-polymer secondary battery, an engineer from a Japanese mobile phone manufacturer said, "You would never see this kind of design in a Japanese mobile phone." It cannot be replaced by users.

In addition, the surface of the secondary battery was not covered with resin parts. The engineer looked puzzled and said "Secondary batteries of this structure are not acceptable to communications carriers."

Among the many features of the iPhone 3G, including the two points mentioned above, what surprised me most was the composition of the display area. In the iPhone 2G, visibility was improved by unifying the liquid crystal panel and the touch panel with an adhesive film. Accordingly, the display quality of the iPhone 3G must be to be inferior to that of the iPhone 2G, which did not use this method.

Every time I see Apple products, I feel the company is "very particular about the appearance." The display area that covers the entire surface of the chassis is the "face" of the device. Therefore, it was unexpected that Apple discontinued the unification of a liquid crystal panel and a touch panel.

It seems that the unification of the panels by adhesive film has a substantial impact on production yield. An engineer from a mobile phone manufacturer said, "We considered adopting the method, only to reach the conclusion that the unification not only lowers production yield but also prevents easy reworking." I guess even Apple had to place priority on cost, as other companies do.