Waiting is part of the Apple experience. This week, patient consumers got an iPhone7 with a new wireless audio controller chip that eliminated the earphone jack, among other things.
Wireless earphones are nothing new, but what is a big deal for users – and for iPhone’s very patient semiconductor engineering team – is the W1 chip, Apple’s first ever designed in-house wireless semiconductor device.
Which begs the question: What took Apple so long to build its own wireless controller?
Apparently, Apple designers had issues with standard Bluetooth technology. So much so, that the “B” word didn’t even get an honorable mention at this week’s iPhone7 gala event.
But according to Apple’s website, the iPhone7’s ‘AirPods’ W1 audio controller chip does in fact use Bluetooth of some kind to communicate with the Pod’s ear bud speakers, two onboard accelerometers, two microphones, optical sensors, antennas and a tiny battery.
Apple is no stranger to semiconductor design, heretofore known best for it’s processor architectures. Its new wireless chip, long in the pipeline, is expected to play a key role in future Apple and iPhone initiatives in areas like the smart car, the smart home and the Internet of Things.
According to the Forbes article below, the W1 is based on technology created by Passif Semiconductor, a company Apple acquired in 2013. This chip is the latest addition to Apple’s in-house semiconductor portfolio, complementing the A-series SoCs which debuted with the original iPad and iPhone 4, and M series motion co-processors which were first used in the iPhone 5s, and S-series processors for the Apple Watch.
Apple Creates Its First Wireless Chip For New Wireless Headphones, AirPods | Forbes
Aaron Tilley, FORBES STAFF
Apple has a long history of trying to do everything itself, which includes making its own processor chips. Now, Apple is taking that sentiment to another level and making its first big step into wireless. At the iPhone 7 launch event on Wednesday afternoon, Apple announced its new wireless headphones, AirPods. Inside the new headphones is what Apple is calling the W1 chip, its first wireless chip ever.
Wireless headphones generally use Bluetooth radios, and it’s likely the W1 chip is a derivative of the Bluetooth standard. Apple has yet to share any details about the radio technology, except that it is ”ultra-low power,” having one-third the power demand of other wireless chips. This allows the headphones to run up to five hours of listening time.
Analyst Patrick Moorhead said it’s likely Apple removed a lot of the interference and clutter associated with the Bluetooth standard. Standard Bluetooth is plagued with connectivity and pairing problems. ”Bluetooth is trying to do too many things at once,” said Moorhead.
At the launch event, Apple said that new wireless headphones from Beats, the Solo3, will also include the W1 chip, for 40 hours of listening time.
As I first reported last month, Apple has been working on this wireless technology since at least 2013 when it acquired small Bluetooth startup Passif Semiconductor. Someone familiar with the project told FORBES that Apple originally wanted to launch the headphones in 2015, but the team hit performance and reliability issues
Historically, Apple has used third-party chip providers for its wireless technology. Its cellular modems have come from Qualcomm and its Bluetooth and WiFi chips from Broadcom. Now, this cuts out some potential business from Broadcom, and it’s likely we’ll see Apple push Broadcom Bluetooth chips out of its future product lines.
Apple’s big push into making its own chips came in 2010 with the A4 processor in the first-generation iPad. The company has been pushing the entire chip industry forward ever since. In 2013, for example, Apple’s A7 chip that came in the iPhone 5s was the first 64-bit processor in a smartphone. Maybe Apple can now push the industry forward in wireless too.