Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Peeking Under the Hood of the iPhone 3G S - Bits Blog - NYTimes.com

Peeking Under the Hood of the iPhone 3G S - Bits Blog - NYTimes.com

Peeking Under the Hood of the iPhone 3G S

iPhone 3GAaron Vronko An Apple iPhone 3G S separated from its back panel.

By now, we know that the “S” in the name of the new iPhone stands for speed.

But what exactly does that mean?

Aaron Vronko, co-founder of Rapid Repair, an online repair shop for portable electronics based in Kalamazoo, Mich., flew to Paris to find out. Mr. Vronko scooped up the iPhone 3G S shortly after it was released there and took the device to a nearby shop to take it apart. (You can see the step-by-step process at his Web site.)

“The construction of it is almost exactly the same as the iPhone 3G, so it feels the same in your hands,” he said. “But more than half of the actual components inside the phone have been tweaked or changed.”

Most notable, he said, was the upgrade of the main processor. Both the original iPhone 2G and the 3G used a design with a 412-megahertz central processing unit. But the iPhone 3G S is outfitted with an amped-up processor running at 600 megahertz. That and other upgrades allow the phone to work twice as fast as previous models. Applications that normally take 10 or 12 seconds to open on older phones were up and running in half the time.

Another big hardware improvement, Mr. Vronko said, is the system memory (not to be confused with the storage space for things like music files). The 3G S was upgraded from 128 megabytes to 256 megabytes, which allows the phone to manage more of everything at the same time. Previously, larger Web pages could crash the system, but with the additional memory space, those can be handled without a problem, he said.

Mr. Vronko pointed out that with the beefed-up processor and bigger memory, the iPhone 3G S rivaled the new handset developed by Palm, the Pre.

“The main processor and system memory are completely equivalent to what’s in the Palm Pre, which allows for multitasking in a robust environment,” Mr. Vronko said. “This could also potentially open the door for true multitasking on the iPhone.”

For now, Apple allows iPhone owners to have only one application open at a time. But if the company were ever to relent on that restriction and allow multiple applications to run simultaneously, the iPhone 3G S’s new hardware should be able to keep up.

Perhaps more significantly, Mr. Vronko said, was what the juiced-up capabilities would enable developers of games and other applications to do with the device.

“Right now, Apple has only added a small list of new things that you can do on the 3G S,” he said. “But the capabilities are there to do much more.”

For example, the iPhone 3G S now integrates a PowerVR SGX graphics chip that can handle 3-D rendering, opening the doors to much more complex games design, Mr. Vronko said.

But these new capabilities could potentially cause Apple to run into difficulties down the line, he said. The different generations of the iPhone and iPod Touch, equipped with varying processor speeds, mean that applications could run unevenly across the various devices. Or iPhone 3G S users might have access to a different catalog of applications than owners of the iPhone 3G or iPod Touch.

“Right now, Apple wants their developers to make apps compatible across the various processors,” Mr. Vronko said. “Developers are going to want to push the limits of the device.”

If some apps only work on some phones, that could threaten the simplicity that is an important part of the iPhone’s success, he said.


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