This week, Apple launched the new iPhone 15. It’s an impressive device, with the Pro version of the product standing out as a true game changer. But one thing that was glossed over was the huge improvement in connectivity, which can largely be attributed to the fact that Apple is again using Qualcomm’s modem and radio.
I think this is a good thing for both Apple and Qualcomm, but let’s talk about why Apple’s effort to do wireless alone didn’t work and why Qualcomm remains the premier partner when it comes to creating smartphones that not only work but work well.
Interoperation and Collaboration
Apple builds high-quality products and has worked to fully vertically integrate over time to reduce costs and better control and assure the result. But Apple’s historical problem is that it doesn’t work well with others and doesn’t want to be an international carrier. This means that any solution like the iPhone that needs to work with an international carrier will be sub-optimal.
To work with the carriers, you must be able to drive standards that the carriers will then implement to assure that your products work well. But Apple’s path to standards runs through other hardware makers who clearly don’t want Apple to own a standard (given Apple doesn’t share or license its technology), and Apple tends to dictate its needs, not arrive collaboratively at a solution.
This all makes the company largely unable to drive multi-vendor strategies and means Apple needs a partner who is good at creating and driving standards, licensing, and execution. Apple needs a firm to do what it can’t do well so the result meets customer expectations.
In addition, given Qualcomm is considered both the best provider of this technology and the most reliable in terms of performance, the fact that the iPhone is a premium product means that Apple needs to use a premium solution. Otherwise, it runs the risk of customers feeling as if they’ve been cheated, which would drive competitive migrations of customers to other brands and products.
When Partnering Makes Sense
Partnering with Apple is always risky. Qualcomm knows this all too well, so Qualcomm is likely to set up agreements that take this risk into account, which is critical to both companies if they don’t want to end up in pointless litigation. Qualcomm was largely responsible for getting the initially crippled 2G iPhone to work with 5G. This was one of the aspects that allowed the phone to move from an interesting experiment to a device that changed the smartphone landscape. In short, when this partnership worked, Apple was able to achieve growth that other smartphone makers thought was impossible, showcasing the true power of an Apple/Qualcomm alliance.
Apple didn’t give Qualcomm any credit at the latest launch (Apple rarely, if ever, does that with a partner), and I think that was a mistake. People know that past Apple phones have had connectivity issues, and knowing that Qualcomm, a trusted brand in the smartphone space, was behind these new phones wouldn’t have detracted from Apple any more than admitting that Intel and IBM once supplied Apple’s processors.
In short, this partnership makes sense because Qualcomm understands the unique issues of working with Apple and can help Apple create a far better solution than if Apple were to go it alone again. I should also add that since Apple doesn’t like collaborating with others, it also removes the requirement that Apple collaborate with the carriers in terms of wireless advancements, effectively removing a task that Apple neither likes nor does well.
The new iPhone 15 is stunning, but the Pro version stands out as truly innovative and lust-worthy. While most of what you touch is tied tightly to Apple’s innovation, excellence in execution, and design, the one critical part that isn’t Apple’s is the radio and modem. Qualcomm supplies those, assuring the customer experience and resulting in a device where the quality of the modem and radio is in line with the excellence of the rest of the device.
While Apple clearly didn’t want to point this out, this is one secret it should have shared because it helped make these new phones as great inside as they are beautiful outside.