What are the supply chain differences between a US designed $100 BoM phone from BLU and the latest iPhone ? – Smartphone Design Win Monitor: BLU and Apple comparison

System Plus Consulting, part of Yole’s Group of Companies, has conducted a teardown and analysed two smartphones from two US companies with two strategies for meeting market trends. Both models are featured in its Quarterly Smartphone Design Win Monitor, Q2 2021. The deep dive teardown data was analysed to see how BLU Products and Apple are addressing different consumer trends and market demands with very different supply chains.

In the latest Quarterly Smartphone Design Win Monitor, System Plus Consulting (June 2021) has once again selected representing today’s smartphones, according to shipment market share. The Monitor uses data from System Plus Consulting’s detailed analyses from teardowns Tracks, an examination at the semiconductor and component levels, and a look at the supply chain to indicate some trends in the smartphone market.

The two highlighted US companies are designing totally different phones, with totally different supply chains, here is the explanation as to why this is:

  • BLU Products’ strategy is to integrate mostly mid-end and low-end components from Chinese and Taiwanese suppliers (Mediatek, Lansus, Awinic, Richtek, Sensortek, Maxscend, Yatelian, Willsemi, Sensortek…)
  • Apple chooses to integrate its own high-end custom components with those from US-based semiconductor compagnies (Qorvo, Broadcom, Skyworks, Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, Cirrus Logic…)

At a time when the US government is banning all the key players of the Chinese semiconductor industry, it is quite surprising that a US phone OEM is able to release good smartphones with its key devices coming from China.

Two of the selected phones in this quarter’s Monitor are by phone makers from the USA. The G90 is by BLU Products. The company is based in Miami, Florida and was introduced in this quarter’s Monitor. It has a very different strategy to that adopted by California’s Apple for its iPhone 12.

Romain Fraux System Plus Consulting

Both phones were introduced last year. They have very different supply chain strategies“, said Romain Fraux, CEO of System Plus Consulting, “Which conducts the teardown and analysis for the Quarterly Smartphone Design Win Monitor. Although both are sold by American companies, the BLU smartphone is more of a product of China. It is specified in the US but designed and manufactured in China. Apple’s iPhone 12 is also fabricated in China but the specification and the design takes place in the US”.

The markets for the two smartphones are also very different. BLU is mostly sold in the US, South America and Canada as an affordable smartphone, designed to appeal for its fashionable design. The iPhone 12 is sold worldwide and builds on Apple’s reputation for innovative design through the implementation of high-performance technology, for example in the phone’s camera and biometric system.

BLU has a large catalog smartphones, the company produces around 20 a year, with an estimated bill of materials (BoM) cost of $100 per phone, compared with Apple’s output of three smartphone introductions annually, with an estimated BoM of $350 per phone.

“The most significant parts of a smartphone are the applications processor and the RF component”, says Romain Fraux. Both are critical key market trends in smartphones, reflected by the technology choices of the two companies. BLU selected MediaTek’s Helio A25 as its application processor. It is based on 12nm technology, whereas Apple uses its own A14 chipset on the more advanced 5nm process, in the iPhone 12.

The RF segments of the two smartphones are also very different and show a significant divergence in approaches to meeting market trends. The BLU G90 is defined by affordability, whereas high performance is the driver for the iPhone 12. Apple complements its in-house A14 with a new design win for Qualcomm, integrating the SnapDragon X55, which is a specific modem for 5G mmWave performance.

The BLU G90 does not offer the same RF capabilities; it is 4G compatible, as opposed to the iPhone 12’s 5G compatibility. Apple has also integrated a higher degree of connectivity than BLU, with NFC and UWB which are not offered by the G90. The iPhone 12 is WiFi 6-enabled, whereas the G90 has WiFi 5 capability. The difference in the RF technology is highlighted by Apple’s estimated bill of materials (BoM) of $61 compared with $7 for the G90.

Both smartphones have a memory capacity of 4GB RAM / 64GB Flash, although BLU uses a combination memory component from SpecTek, which is a subsidiary of Micron specialising in cost-effective memory solutions. This combo memory is one of the only US component with a microphone from Knowles and an image sensor from OmniVision.

Other functions in smartphones, such as the camera and fingerprint/biometrics rely on sensors and again BLU focuses on affordability with an estimated spend of $15 on sensors compared with $25 in the iPhone 12, allowing Apple to offer a superior camera and to introduce facial ID. Comparing the audio and power management in the two smartphones highlights the increased functionality and capability in the Apple phone, with widely different BoMs and components in the iPhone 12 having an estimated value of $15 and just $2 in the G90.

The form factor of both smartphones is similar; the iPhone 12 measure 6.1”, compared with the G90’s 6.5”. The larger G90 is also a little heavier at 185g than the iPhone 12 (164g).

Apple spends approximately $180 on the total electronic BoM costs for its iPhone 12, compared with less than $60 for the G90. There are nearly twice as many components in the Apple model (104) than in the BLU smartphone (57), with around 60% of components supplied by US companies whereas BLU populates its G90 with components produced in Asia.

Inside the smartphones, the iPhone 12 has 104 components from leading US and European suppliers, such as Qorvo, Broadcom, Skyworks, Murata, TI, STMicroelectronics, Cirrus Logic and Qualcomm. These components occupy a total area of 2,114mm2. In the G90, there are less components, and these are from mostly Asian suppliers, for example South Korea’s WISOL, Taiwan’s MediaTek, China’s Awinic, Lansus and Maxscend as well as British RF company, ACT. Together these components occupy an area of 882mm2, illustrating the increased level of integration used by Apple.

In terms of die or chip count, the estimated total value of die from North American suppliers in the iPhone 12 is more than the total content of die in the G90. In the iPhone 12, leading edge players such as Qualcomm, Micron, Apple, Kioxia, Sony, Broadcom, STMicroelectronics, Skyworks and Cirrus Logic supply 233 chips to account for a total die area of 1,234mm2. In comparison, Micron, MediaTek, Samsung, OmniVision, Focaltech and Lansus supply a total of 89 chips, occupying a total die area of 714mm2 in BLU’s G90 smartphone.

The two phones selected for this tear down and analysis are both from US companies but there is a significant difference in supply chain strategies and technology drivers. The connectivity and processing capabilities are radically different, as a result of the different supplier choices based on BLU’s quest for affordability and Apple’s emphasis on leading edge performance. The differences are reflected in the price points and functionality. The consumer is left to balance the price-performance in terms of what they need in a smartphone.

About the author

Romain Fraux System Plus Consulting

Romain Fraux is the CEO of System Plus Consulting, part of Yole Group.  System Plus Consulting focuses on Reverse Costing analysis of electronics, from semiconductor devices to electronic systems. Supporting industrial companies in their development, Romain and his team are offering a complete range of services, costing tools and reports. They deliver in-depth production cost studies and estimate objective selling price of a product, all based on a detailed physical analysis of each component in System Plus Consulting laboratory.

Romain has been working for System Plus Consulting for more than 15 years and was previously the company’s CTO.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from Heriot-Watt University of Edinburgh (Scotland), a master’s degree in Microelectronics from the University of Nantes (France), and a Master of Business Administration.

Smartphone Design Win Quarterly Monitor

The first-ever smartphone technology monitor covering the latest components, packaging, and silicon chip choices of smartphone makers.

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