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Apple packs latest iPhones with Asian technologies

Taking a look inside US giant's latest smartphones

At first glance, the internals of the iPhone XS and XS Max as well as those of last year's iPhone X look quite similar. (Photo by NIKKEI xTECH teardown team)

TOKYO -- A breakdown of Apple's new iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max reveals some new, more powerful components than in previous models, and highlights the degree to which many crucial parts are made in China and Taiwan.

Chinese companies such as Huizhou Desay Battery and Sunwoda Electronic are producing key components such as batteries, having for some time played a part in Apple's supply chain.

However, some suppliers are changing. Japan's Murata Manufacturing used to be the iPhone's sole supplier of Wi-Fi/Bluetooth modules. The teardowns show Shanghai-based Universal Scientific Industrial, an affiliate of ASE Industrial Holding, the world's biggest chip packaging and testing company based in southern Taiwanese city of Kaohsiung, is now providing this part for at least some iPhones.

A look inside the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max also reveals how much the tech has (or has not) advanced from last year. The two new phones' features and capabilities are said to be identical, and many reviewers have said the latest iPhones lack notable technological progress.

At first glance, when an open XS Max is put beside an open 2017 iPhone X, the internals look quite similar. In both devices, the camera module is located at the top of the case. The Taptic Engine, which produces vibrating feedback, and the speakers are located at the bottom of the device.

In between sits the logic board and around that fits an L-shaped battery.

One major change from last year's iPhone X is that the new phones sport a more powerful microprocessor, one capable of performing image- and video-processing tasks at speeds of up to 50% faster than last year's chip. These iPhone core processors have been solely produced by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. since 2016.

The batteries are also more powerful. The XS Max is equipped with a lithium-ion battery rated at 3,174 milliampere hours -- a measure that helps techies determine how long a battery will last between charges. Apple says the Max will give up to 13 hours of internet use.

The supplier, Huizhou Desay Battery, also makes battery modules for Huawei, Oppo, Vivo smartphones and consumer gadgets like Xiaomi MiJia robot vacuum cleaners. But most iPhones' core lithium-ion battery cells are still provided by companies such as LG Chem of South Korea.

The XS Max, like last year's iPhone X, relies on a dual-cell battery configuration -- two rectangular Li-ion units placed perpendicular to each other. The XS, however, uses a single-cell version made by Sunwoda Electronic, another battery module maker, that is rated at 2,658-Mah.

The XS uses a single-cell L-shaped battery exactly as NIKKEI xTECH teardown team had expected.(Photo by  NIKKEI xTECH teardown team)

But the XS's battery actually has less capacity than the iPhone X's 2,716-mAh brick. Apple might have gone this way for the sake of production efficiency -- a chance to shave some costs from the unique, L-shaped batteries. The XS Max also uses that two-cell configuration.

The teardowns, performed at hardware co-working space DMM.make AKIBA, revealed far more structural similarities than differences between the XS and XS Max.

Looking more deeply inside, the new iPhones' logic board connectors all sit in one area of the board as was the case with last year's iPhone X.

The battery is also attached to the frame with adhesive strips, a familiar Apple approach.

Compared with the XS Max's two cells, the single-L battery of the XS is harder to remove. What appear to be Qi wireless power charging coils fit under the battery and motherboard.

At the bottom end of the cases, where the speakers and Taptic Engine reside, the XS and XS Max parts differ in size and shape.

The front camera module, attached to the back of the face case at the top, contains, from left to right, an infrared camera, an infrared light source (flood illuminator), a proximity sensor, an ambient light sensor, a speaker, a microphone, a front camera and a dot projector. The configuration is the same as in last year's iPhone X.

The main camera module fits into the upper-right corner of the logic board. Once it is removed, the teardown can proceed to Apple's unique stacked motherboard, first adopted by last year's iPhone X.

The XS's logic board is similar in size to that of last year's model, but the XS Max's board is larger and has an added area adjacent to the SIM card slot.

Next, a flexible printed circuit board that seems to serve as an antenna and the lightning cable connector were removed from the rear frame. After that, the copper-color Qi wireless charging coils were removed from behind a sheet meant to prevent electromagnetic interference.

The double-deck logic board is amazingly space efficient with an incredible density of components.

The XS Max's board extends about 11 mm to the right of the SIM card slot. It sports a "UMT" logo and is apparently supplied by Unimicron Technology, a Taiwanese maker of printed circuit boards.

On the back of the logic board was a sheet to prevent electromagnetic noise, the same that is found in the iPhone X.

On the two-deck logic board, components are embedded only on three of the four surfaces.

There was speculation that the remaining surface would be used for the added components that fifth-generation wireless communications technology will bring. But this is not the case.

When the EMF shielding sheet was removed, a metal sheet was found attached to the back of the board. This is not found in the iPhone X. It is probably a component for preventing electromagnetic interference or overheating.

On the back of the XS Max's logic board, space corresponding to the location of the SIM card slot and areas around it, as well as the right-side connectors, were covered by a metal sheet. There was also a Compeq Manufacturing logo.

Separating the board's two layers is difficult, but achieved. The metal case was detached from the front side of the upper half. The components, mainly connectors and flash memory, were exactly the same in the two phones.

The only notable difference here is the flash memory supplier. The 256-gigabyte XS Max uses a brand of SanDisk flash storage, SDMPEGF, made by Western Digital, while the 64-gigabyte XS has Toshiba Memory's flash.

The XS also contains a USB charging integrated circuit supplied by Dutch maker NXP Semiconductors. Its flash memory and the USB charging IC are the same as those used in the iPhone X and iPhone 8.

Some attachments to the iPhone XS logic board: 1) 64-gigabyte flash memory module from Toshiba Memory. 2) The audio codec IC, a module shared by the iPhone X and iPhone 8. 3) A USB charging IC supplied by Dutch maker NXP Semiconductors, also shared by the iPhone X and iPhone 8. (Photo by NIKKEI xTECH teardown team)

Even more components were found between the two halves. Last year's iPhone X and its replacements all use a Broadcom power amplifier module.

But the biggest change from the iPhone X concerning the motherboard is the adoption of Intel products for three kinds of integrated circuits for mobile communications, replacing Qualcomm chips.

Qualcomm's CFO confirmed in an earnings call that this year's that the new iPhone range only uses Intel's modem chips.

Yet Apple has a habit of dual sourcing certain components. It may be that, one day, these chips could be dual sourced as well.

Ting-Fang Cheng contributed to this story.

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