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In keeping with company tradition, the Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) iPhone 4 features a much more compact and super-efficient set of semiconductor chips than the now-obsolete iPhone 3GS. If smartphones didn't need a nice, big touchscreen somewhere, Apple would surely have made Derek Zoolander's minuscule handset a reality by now.
Apple repair shop iFixit has already torn an iPhone 4 apart and passed the results on to the silicon analysts of Chipworks, so we have a pretty clear idea of who the winners and losers are in this iPhone generation.
The iPhone 3GS contains a lot of Infineon chips for important functions like the GPS satellite receiver and the GSM radio chip that interfaces with the AT&T (NYSE: T ) network. Infineon still appears to have a place in the new iPhone, but Skyworks Solutions (Nasdaq: SWKS ) has edged it out for the most valuable component in the wireless radio chain, which is a major win for the chip designer.
Broadcom (Nasdaq: BRCM ) kicked more sand in Infineon's face by stealing the GPS receiver spot. That's in addition to Broadcom's Wi-Fi, FM radio, and Bluetooth chip -- the same model you'll find in the iPhone 3GS and the iPad.
Cirrus Logic (Nasdaq: CRUS ) is another holdover from previous Apple products, once again providing a high-quality and low-power audio signal processor. Cirrus will be the first to tell you that its success with Apple has opened new doors elsewhere in the electronics industry.
Another big win comes courtesy of the phone's camera, which most likely depends on Omnivision Technologies (Nasdaq: OVTI ) exclusively. iPhone 4 uses a camera technology for which Omnivision is the hands-down leader, leaving little room for Apple to turn elsewhere. This is another relatively pricey ingredient in the iPhone cocktail, and this win will most certainly make an impact on Omnivision's income statement.
Finally, the iPhone 4 has a much more compact circuit board design than the 3GS. Apple's suppliers are cramming more functionality into fewer chips; for example, Texas Instruments (NYSE: TXN ) now controls the touch screen with a single chip where the 3GS needed three and the first iPhone used five. And now that Apple designs some chips of its own, notably the A4 central processor, I wouldn't be surprised to see some functions of today's third-party chips moving aboard the next generation of Apple's A4. This could be the very peak of the golden age for some of Apple's chip suppliers if I'm right about this.
Apple moved nearly 9 million iPhone units last quarter, and the iPhone 4 is expected to roar into action with 2 million to 3 million phones shifted the opening weekend alone. With volume like that, it's a big deal for chip designers to make it onto these circuit boards.
Which chip chopper should send the biggest fruit basket to thank Apple for the iPhone 4 opportunity? My vote goes to Skyworks; discuss your picks in the comments below.