Qualcomm just shot over a brief note this morning, announcing that the company has signed an extended agreement with Apple to supply 5G modem-RF chips for their smartphones and other products that will be released in 2024, 2025, and 2026. The unusual Apple-related announcement, notably coming from a vendor rather than the tech juggernaut itself, underscores the cold-but-necessary relationship between Apple and Qualcomm: Apple has made it no secret that the company wants to develop their own modems and end their reliance on Qualcomm. But with this latest deal, they are clearly not there yet. Which means that, at least for the next few years, Qualcomm's Snapdragon modems are going to remain a core part of Apple’s mobile product lineup.

The timing of this announcement comes a day before Apple’s annual fall iPhone event – this year’s titled “Wonderlust” – where the iPhone 15 family of phones is widely expected to be introduced. Qualcomm and Apple’s most recent agreement, prior to today’s announcement, runs through the end of 2023, and the iPhone 15 generation of phones is widely expected to use some version of Qualcomm’s 5G modem and RF front-end.

Past that, Apple has been hard at work on development their own 5G modem, based in large part on the cellular modem technology they purchased from Intel back in 2019. With their own modem, Apple would no longer need to rely on Qualcomm for a critical component of their phones, a significant point of friction for the company given the costs and royalties involved.

Today’s announcement of a new deal with Qualcomm, however, throws some cold water on those expectations. As always, the devil is in the details – Qualcomm’s agreement is not an exclusive agreement – but it means that Apple has, at a minimum, determined that they need to hedge their bets and have a deal in place with Qualcomm to purchase modems for the next few years should they are needed. As with the previous deal, Qualcomm’s public expectation is that Apple will do a phased roll-out rather than a hard switch – leaving Qualcomm with possibly as little as a 20% share of Apple’s phones in 2026 – but at 3 years out, plans can and do change, as we’ve since seen with the original Apple-Qualcomm deal.

Ultimately, as Apple’s modem development project is an internal project for a specific component, it’s likely the notoriously tight-lipped company will have anything else to say on the matter until they’re ready to ship a modem in volume. But by letting Qualcomm speak about their future together for the next three years, it makes it clear that Apple isn’t going to be setting off on their own – at least, not quite yet.

Source: Qualcomm

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  • NextGen_Gamer - Monday, September 11, 2023 - link

    This leads a bit of legitimacy to the rumor of Apple's own 5G modem releasing with an iPhone SE refresh in early 2025. That would be a great way for Apple to "test the waters" and work out kinks in their own modem, both with manufacturing and actual end-use, before having to produce a 100 million of them for a high-end iPhone refresh in September 2025. Then in Sep 2026, those '25 iPhones go down in price, new iPhones take their place, and suddenly Apple has a nearly top-to-bottom lineup using their inhouse 5G modem.
  • Doug_S - Monday, September 11, 2023 - link

    Qualcomm's quote was listed elsewhere as implying it would be 20% after the 2026 iPhones launch. So that is when the iPhone would get Apple's modem, and the 2025 iPhones sold for $100 off would be using Qualcomm's.

    I think you're right about iPhone SE getting it first to give Apple time to address any issues (which will be baseband software related...the hardware is the easy part) but it would be the 2026 SE. There won't be a 2025 SE, given that a new one is expected next spring and they aren't released yearly.
  • name99 - Monday, September 11, 2023 - link

    It's hard to believe that Apple would release their own modem as the low-end phone option! That's kinda saying "well, we tried, but we know it sucks".

    More likely, I think, is that, if there's a need for a year or so of real-world testing, they'll use it in a product that so far hasn't had a modem; for example they could put one in every macbook (and kinda sorta argue, not completely ridiculously, that they are making macbooks more useful in a way that was less economically feasible at Qualcomm prices).
  • Doug_S - Monday, September 11, 2023 - link

    They can't put them in Macs or iPads for that testing, because people don't make calls with them. People still make phone calls, and that needs real world worldwide testing you can't get by having Apple employees dogfooding them for a few months.

    Putting them in iPhone SE first isn't saying "we know it sucks" when everyone will know they are going into the iPhone 18 six months later. If they put it in iPhone SE next spring but waited until fall 2026 to put it regular iPhones then they'd be doing because "we know it sucks".
  • dontlistentome - Tuesday, September 12, 2023 - link

    Why are people bothered about a mythical/rumoured midrange product supposedly to launch in more than a year and a half from now?
    Are we actually meant to care?

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