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iPhone clones outdo original?

Posted: 06 Sep 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:iFake teardown? fake iPhone teardown? Wi-Fi? iPhone clones?

On taking their video camera inside the first clone of the Apple iPhone, Semiconductor Insights' teardown specialists found it to be an almost laughable takeoff of Apple's latest success story. However, its analysts also noted that teardowns of subsequent clones indicate that counterfeiters are capitalizing upon existing designs and more time to bring their fakes up to a quality level that equals and will soon surpass that of not only the iPhone, but all systems they're intent on faking.

Almost simultaneous with the iPhone's launch on June 29, (see: Analysts crack open the iPhone, reveal chip suppliers for teardown), CEC Telecom in China launched the Q130, the first clone. In preparation for a special session on counterfeiting at the upcoming Embedded Systems Conference in Boston (Sept. 18-21), Semiconductor Insights bought a Q130 in Shenzhenfor $350and put it under the knife. From the start, it was clear the device was not an iPhone. Not by any stretch of the imagination.

"The logo was messed up," said Greg Quirk, marketing manager at SI. "The apple was back to front, was pink and it had a stem." Beyond that, the display was small, the MP3 player was poorly designed and there was no touchscreen, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or any of the highly functional software that made the original iPhone stand out.

"It has a 1.3Mpixel camera (though the iPhone isn't much better at 2Mpixels) and the iTunes implementation was terrible," said Allan Yogasingam, manager of strategic supply chain at SI. "They just took a basic GSM phone and slapped on an Apple logo," said Quirk. Emphasizing the irony, he pointed out that the only thing CECT got right on the device was the Apple mantra, 'Think different' on the display on boot-up.

Inside the clone
As the camera rolled, the analysts went inside to find out what the system comprised.

The first IC they saw was the single-chip GSM/GPRS baseband (SC6600D05) from Spreadtrum, a Chinese baseband processor developer. It was the first time SI had encountered a chip from that company, said Quirk. Next came the Samsung NOR flash, was a 64Mbit dual-bank memory, though SI had never seen that part number before. "Also, the packaging markings [K5J6332] were not on Samsung's website and didn't match the die markings [K8D6316]," added Quirk. The decapping process that SI uses to expose die in their teardowns will also be demonstrated at ESC.

Going further, the team uncovered a ViMicro VC0568 camera controller chip that offloads image processing from the phone's CPU. "ViMicro is also Chinese, so at least it can be said that counterfeiters like to support their local semiconductor industries," said Yogasingam.

On the front end, NXP dominates with parts that were once Silicon Labs' before NXP bought its cellular communications business. Parts included the Si4300 monolithic CMOS GSM power amplifier and Si4210 Aero II GSM/GPRS transceiver. Highly integrated, that device was designed to reduce parts count and enable more compact phones, said Quirk. (Doubleclick on the image below to view what they found.)

Surpassing originals
While the Q130 was clearly a rip-off, subsequent counterfeits have become much more sophisticated and SI predicts will soon surpass the original. "Counterfeiting will always be a problem," said Yogasingam. "China is going through an extraordinary economic boom. Items will 'slip' off assembly lines and into the hands of counterfeiters." According to Quirk, those counterfeits are getting better and better with more time. "Plus, they have the devices to copy and are incorporating more aesthetics," said Yogasingam.

For example CECT has improved greatly upon its original knock-off with the CECT P168 and Yogasingam pointed to the Meizu M8, also called the miniOne that was recently featured on the most recent cover of Popular Science. For some fans of Meizu, the miniOne is already better than the iPhoneand at a lower cost.

At the up-coming Embedded Systems Conference, SI's presentation, 'Increased sophistication of counterfeiting: iFakes to iPhones', will address the increased prevalence and sophistication of counterfeiting in the electronics industry. Incorporating a Live Teardown format the presenters will look at different fake iPhones sourced in China, including some from CECT. "Pirates are making a living copying the protected work of others and are getting better at it," said Quirk. At the event, SI will also address counterfeit components in real products including some tips on how to spot fake components in the supply chain.

Editor's Note: Semiconductor Insights will do a presentation on this teardown on Second Life at 12 noon on Sept. 14. Just go to Dr. Dobb's Island and watch from there.

- Patrick Mannion

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