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The next iPhone might not be all it's cracked up to be. But that's not a problem to Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) at all. Instead, a missing feature looks like a threat to the chip designer that would have enabled it.
On Tuesday, shares of NXP Semiconductors (Nasdaq: NXPI ) fell as much as 5.5% on a generally stable market day. The culprit? The tech enthusiasts at Anandtech sat down to analyze photos of purported iPhone 5 parts and came to the inescapable conclusion that there'd be no place for NXP's near-field communication chips in this handset.
Anandtech delves deeply into the physics of the NFC standard's radio signals, pairs this up with the all-metal backside of the new iPhone, and notes that there's no space for an NFC antenna outside the inner metal casing. For example, the NFC antenna in my own Samsung Galaxy S2 phone is encased in the rather large battery. This works because the Galaxy's backside is made of lightweight plastic, which may look a bit cheap but certainly helps passing weak radio signals through the outer shell. And the new iPhone won't have that luxury.
It's not that Apple absolutely can't stick an NFC solution inside the proposed casing, but the resulting product would be very cumbersome to use when compared with existing NFC-equipped Android handsets. As Anandtech notes: "With an NFC antenna at the extreme top or bottom, alignment with non-iPhones (for example, payment tokens or reader tags) becomes a much more confusing task, and that doesn't seem like the Apple-like level of polish everyone is waiting for to drive NFC adoption."
Apple could still include retail payment services using a different communications standard. Anandtech proposes a solution based on Bluetooth radio signals or those snappy two-dimensional bar codes, though many retail points of sale would have to add new equipment to support these ideas. If anybody has the heft to force retailers into hardware upgrades, Apple would be it. Nothing is impossible.
Take note that Anandtech based this analysis on photos of replacement parts, leaked by iPhone repair shops in Taiwan. I'm assuming that it's the real deal, but feel free to treat it as a rumor until Apple actually announces the handset.
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