ABI Research: Apple reinforces Qualcomm's modem design leadership with the Apple Watch Series 3

ABI Research's Teardown Service has uncovered that Apple is using a Qualcomm modem in the Apple Watch Series 3, “reinforcing Qualcomm's leadership in modem design.”

At first glance, only using a Qualcomm modem in the Watch 3 seems at odds with the modem selection used in the iPhone 7 and iPhone 8. For those, Apple chose to use Qualcomm modems to support CDMA networks and Intel modems to support most UMTS networks. 

Apple Watch 3.jpeg

In contrast, the cellular version of the Watch 3 doesn’t support CDMA networks, which would seemingly make Intel the potential main supplier of the modem. However, it is the smaller form factor of the Watch that effectively makes Qualcomm the obvious modem choice, says Jim Mielke, vice president at ABI Research. The high levels of integration found in the Qualcomm chip, notably for GPS and transceivers, provide significant advantages over other competing modem offerings, he adds.

"Apple's latest Watch 3 has set new standards for integration density” Mielke says. “Our Teardown analysis has revealed that the board area in the Watch 3 compared to the Watch 2 has barely changed, yet a multiband LTE modem has been added.  Aiding in tight integration were increase substrate layers on the PCB, and compact modules from Skyworks, Avago, and Qualcomm.”

Additionally, this teardown analysis found that the Watch 3 has a smaller capacity battery, but longer life compared to its predecessor. This also suggests far more efficient components in the device as extra power consumption is needed to handle support for the cellular integration. These findings are from ABI Research's Teardown Analysis which includes high-resolution photos and x-rays, pinpoint power measurements, detailed parts lists, and block diagrams.