Who makes the iPhone? If you answered 'Apple', you're wrong. The iPhone is a global effort. Tens of thousands of people at more than 30 companies on 3 continents work together to make Apple's first phone possible.
Apple, of course, designs the product, and also created the single most important 'component' – the software that gives the iPhone its unique personality.
But, while Apple gets the credit, behind the scenes there are a host of other players, each of which has to build and deliver complex parts on schedule to make the iPhone possible.
Some of them are well known names, like US-based Intel, which supplies the NOR flash chips which hold the iPhone's updatable system software; and Korea's Samsung, which makes the video processor IC. Two famous names from consumer electronics, Japan's Sharp and Sanyo Epson, are among the suppliers of the phone's bright 3.5-inch display.
Then there are the unknowns, each of which plays a small but vital role. Ever heard of Balda AG? Chinese factories owned by this German firm make the touch sensitive modules which are fixed onto the iPhone's LCD to make its innovative multi-touch control possible. It's also Balda's technology which allowed Apple to switch to a tough scratch-resistant glass screen, to avoid the complaints over scratching that tainted the iPod Nano launch.
Another low profile firm, the UK's Cambridge Silicon Radio (CSR), is the creator of the iPhone's Bluetooth module, in a deal that reportedly earns the integrated circuit design house $1.20 for each iPhone made.
You might have heard of the companies behind a few of the other iPhone chips – if you've ever wrestled with network driver installation on a PC. Marvell designs the WiFi chip, for example. Broadcom, best known for its networking chips, is the company behind the specialized interface chip that interprets the movement of your fingers on the multitouch screen.
While these chips are designed in Europe or the US, most of them aren't made there. Instead they are rolling off production lines in Asia, from companies like Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC), undoubtedly the world's biggest unknown chip maker, or its slightly smaller rival, United Microelectronic Corp (UMC) – both companies are based in Taiwan.
The distinctive aluminum and stainless steel iPhone case is also made by a Taiwanese firm, Catcher Technology, according to analysts in Taiwan.
Final assembly mystery
No matter where the iPhone's myriad components are made, they all end up in one place: the factories of a lead contractor whose identity is now something of a mystery. Apple's iPod manufacturing partner, Taiwan's Foxconn, was long rumored to be the company that assembled the hundreds of components into a sleek iPhone. However, Foxconn's CEO recently surprised investors by telling them that these reports were incorrect, according to Reuters. Another likely Taiwanese candidate, Quanta, is rumored to be working on the iPhone, but only on the next generation, so-called 'iPhone 2.0'.
Analysts in Foxconn's home base of Taipei however, still confidently list Foxconn International Holdings as the iPhone's assembler, despite the company CEO's apparent denial. Whoever the assembler is, it is there that the chips are planted onto printed circuit boards supplied by Taiwan's Unimicron Technology Corp. Then all the components are fitted into the metal and plastic case to make a completed iPhone, ready for shipment to the US.
A second 3G iPhone?
During recent months, sources at a few of the component manufacturers named in this article have told regional media that Apple appears to be working on two different iPhone designs. The key feature attributed to 'iPhone 2.0' is 3G, as well as the GSM standard supported by the original iPhone. At least one of the smaller components suppliers has reportedly already delivered parts for this forthcoming product.
|Software and design||Apple||USA|
|Assembly||Foxconn?, Quanta, Unknown||Taiwan|
|TFT-LCD Screen||Sanyo Epson, Sharp, TMD||Japan|
|Video processor chip||Samsung||Korea|
|Touch screen overlay||Balda||Germany|
|Bluetooth chip||Cambridge Silicon Radio||UK|
|Chip manufacture||TSMC, UMC||Taiwan|
|Baseband IC||Infineon Technology||Germany|
|Touch screen control chip||Broadcom||USA|
|NOR Flash ICs||Intel, SST||USA|
|Display Driver chip||National Semi, Novatek||US, TW|
|Case, Mechanical parts||Catcher, Foxconn Tech||Taiwan|
|Camera lens||Largan Precision||Taiwan|
|Camera module||Altus-Tech, Primax, Lite On||Taiwan|
|Battery Charger||Delta Electronics||Taiwan|
|Connector and cables||Cheng Uei, Entery||Taiwan|
Note: This article is based on information supplied by KGI Securities, CLSA Asia-Pacific, published media reports, and other sources in Asia.
Update June 30: Some of the first iPhones sold have been dismantled, and more information about components is emerging. For example, iFixit identifies Samsung as the manufacturer of the main NAND flash chips, and SkyWorks as the designer of the mobile radio amplifier. Think Secret has also carried out an iPhone teardown - in the linked photo the large chip at the bottom of the shot is the Samsung flash chip.