Apple reportedly testing next year's iPhones without Qualcomm's chips

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Apple and Qualcomm are currently locked in a nasty legal dispute over patent royalties, but Qualcomm’s tech is still a key component for the newest iPhones. Certain configurations of the iPhone 8 and iPhone X still use the company’s modem chips, while the rest use Intel’s tech. 

That might change next year. Apple is currently testing out new iPhone and iPad prototypes without any of Qualcomm’s modem chips, according to people familiar with the development process who spoke to the Wall Street Journal. The prototypes are slated to become the next generation of devices to be released in 2018, reports Reuters, which also spoke to anonymous sources with similar information.  

Qualcomm is reportedly forcing Apple’s hand to make the major shift in its component sourcing. The chipmaker didn’t share the software Apple needs to test out the new prototypes, according to the anonymous sources, which makes using the chips essentially impossible. The move came as a direct response to the billion dollar lawsuit Apple brought against Qualcomm back in January.   

Apple is instead reportedly testing with chips from Intel — which began supplying chips for Apple devices with 2016’s iPhone 7 — and MediaTek, a company based in Taiwan. Using two suppliers fits in Apple’s typical strategy to diversify its supply chain and avoid depending on just one company for components — but losing Qualcomm’s chips could be a blow to future iPhones.  

Qualcomm’s chips are renowned to be the best on the market, and proved to be capable of significantly higher download speeds than Intel chips in iPhone 7s last year. Apple even appeared to curtail the capabilities of the Qualcomm-powered 7s to match those with Intel’s tech, so it’s clear which chipmaker has the superior setup. 

But the relationship between Qualcomm and Apple continues to deteriorate amidst the legal dispute. Qualcomm attempted to block iPhone imports to the U.S. from the Apple’s manufacturing hubs in China in May. The chipmaker took its beef a step further with patent lawsuits against Apple in China itself earlier this month, looking to ban the manufacturing and sale of iPhones entirely. 

A Qualcomm spokesperson told us that the company couldn’t comment on Apple’s decisions, but stated that Qualcomm provided Apple “fully tested” chips that could be used for 2018 devices. “We are committed to supporting Apple’s new devices consistent with our support of all others in the industry,” the spokesperson wrote in an emailed statement. 

An Apple representative declined to comment on the report.

The tech titan drama might not be the most exciting news, while the iPhone X is primed to hit the streets later this week, but it’s an important story for next year’s devices. If the two companies don’t make up, 2018’s iPhones could be the worse for it.