But as others are busy rolling out their offerings, Tim Cook and Co are equally, if not more, busy behind the scenes to ensure that they’d sprint ahead despite the perceived late start.
"We’ve been working on 5G for a number of years, helping define 5G in a way to deliver a great experience," Francesca Sweet, product line manager for iPhone, told Khaleej Times in an exclusive interview.
5G had been touted to come into fruition as early as 2018 and the first 5G-capable smartphones were made available in the market last year. Its potential and contribution to society have also been key pegs — gigabyte downloads in mere seconds, for example — thus hyping itself up to both consumers and industries.
And while its rivals, one by one, offered 5G devices Apple — the most popular and closely-watched name in the smartphone industry — decided to hold off. Not one to comment on rumours or speculation, it was thought within tech circles that Apple decided that those years weren’t the right time for a 5G device.
Meanwhile, within its sprawling Apple Park campus, the foundations for the iPhone maker’s next wave of releases are brainstormed and executed.
Sweet says that Apple has tested their 5G tech with over 100 partner carriers in 30 regions, including the UAE, where it worked with telecom firms etisalat, du and Virgin Mobile.
Cook, the CEO, said that to create the best 5G experience, there must be a seamless integration of hardware and software, plus partnering closely with carriers. Sweet described the process akin to an engine wherein all parts work flawlessly to keep it humming.
"Customised fine-tuning and optimisation were done hand-in-hand."
The A14 Bionic chip — highlighted by Apple in their ‘secret labs’ during its October 13 keynote — is a big part of it: Up to 50 per cent faster performance and graphics than its peers and an improved Neural Engine that is up to 80 per cent faster performance on machine learning models and offers up to 11 trillion operations per second.
Apple has 50 anechoic chambers — rooms designed to completely absorb sound or electromagnetic waves and which also prevents waves from penetrating in — in which it develops and tests wireless technologies. In it, Apple is able to replicate signals from multiple sources and directions, the data from which is used to optimise its antennae system.
Sweet says that Apple develops its own highly-customised parts, such as 5G antennaes and radio components that allows them to aim for what’s best in the entire system, as well as to be space-efficient.
Meanwhile, on the software side, an equally-tedious endeavour was going on.
"We analysed our entire software stack, from applications down to firmware, to take advantage of 5G speeds," Sweet says, adding that frameworks have been optimised in order for them to get the benefits of 5G without compromising on power usage.
Another feature included on the new iPhones is Smart Data Mode; when an iPhone doesn’t require 5G connectivity, it automatically switches to LTE to save on battery and vice-versa.
That close collaboration within and outside of Apple also meant also ensuring user privacy — a hot-button topic for which tech giants are needled for — was one of the priorities. Apple wanted to "ensure that 5G helps protect privacy", not just offer speed, Sweet says.
The company also says that the new iPhones have the most 5G bands of any smartphone that will allow it to work in more areas worldwide.
All these led to encouraging outputs: Peak speeds were achieved, hitting up to 3.5 gigabits per second.
While we may never know when Apple ‘perfected’ their 5G tech in those years they spent developing it, it also won’t be a surprise that even if indeed it was ready to go some time back, it wouldn’t hurt to hold fire and continue tinkering with it to achieve the best possible results.
And with Apple continuing to invest more to develop its own building blocks for its products and services, it would be legitimate to think if they’re considering developing their own network infrastructure; Sweet says they will continue to work with their partners to see where else they can improve to provide the best experience for users and industries.
"We continue to test 5G with more partners every day," she says. "And this has been the fastest rollout of cellular technology that we’ve ever seen."
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