Anatomy of a Smartphone: What Makes a Smart Phone Smart?

Anatomy of a Smartphone: What Makes a Smart Phone Smart?
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By Jawaaz Ahmad

If there is one thing I have learnt in my life on this planet, it would be that it is human nature to staunchly choose sides. Whether it is Nokia or Samsung, people love to rally behind the products they love and disparage the ones they don’t. In the case of the mobile phone industry, this product battle between a feature phone and smart phone was an evolution, albeit a slower one. But , at last, smart phones ruled the world. But, today as everybody uses smart phones, people know very little about these. How a smart phone actually is smart? Let’s get into the cosmos of a smart phone. Following are the key components that makes a smart phone smart:
Inside a Smartphone:
SoC: SoC is the brain of the smart phone. It is an integrated circuit that integrates all components of a computer or other electronic systems. It may contain digital, analog, mixed-signal, and often radio-frequency functions—all on a single substrate. SoC’s are very common in the mobile computing market because of their low power-consumption. SoC integrates a micro-controller with advanced peripherals like graphics processing unit (GPU), Wi-Fi module, or coprocessor. If the definition of a microcontroller is a system that integrates a microprocessor with peripheral circuits and memory, the SoC is to a microcontroller what a microcontroller is to processors, remembering that the SoC does not necessarily contain built-in memory.
Memory Unit: Smart phones use memory called as RAM, which is short for random access memory. It is one of the critical components of the smart phone along with the processing cores and dedicated graphics. Without RAM in any sort of computing system like this, your smart phone would fail to perform basic tasks because accessing files would be ridiculously slow. If you are wondering where the RAM usually can be found, you’ll find it in most cases directly on top of the SoC in what is known as a package-on-package (PoP) set-up. This allows the SoC direct access to the RAM and the close proximity means less heat output and power consumption. If there is not enough space on top of the SoC, often you can find the remaining RAM in neighbouring chips.
Baseband Processor IC: Smart phones have a baseband processor too. A baseband processor is a chip in a network interface that manages all functions that require an antenna however, this term is generally not used in reference to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radios. A baseband processor typically uses its own RAM and firmware.
Memory Controller IC: A memory controller is also a very important part of a smart phone.The memory controller is a digital circuit that manages the flow of data going to and from the computer’s main memory. A memory controller can be a separate chip or integrated into another chip, such as being placed on the same die or as an integral part of a microprocessor; in the latter case, it is usually called an integrated memory controller.
Power Management IC: Power management integrated circuits are integrated circuits for managing power requirements of the smart phone. A PMIC is always included in battery-operated smart phones. Due to Power Management IC only, your smart phone is able to have power for a long time.
Audio Hub Codec with Voice Processor DSP IC: A Voice Processor DSP is an integrated circuit designed to produce sound. It might do this through digital, analog or mixed-mode electronics. Voice Processor DSP is also called as a Sound chip. Sound chips normally contain things like oscillators, envelope controllers, samplers, filters and amplifiers.
Microcon troller: A microcontroller is a small computer on a single integrated circuit. A microcontroller contains one or more CPUs (processor cores) along with memory and programmable input/output peripherals. Program memory in the form of Ferroelectric RAM, NOR flash or OTP ROM is also often included on chip, as well as a small amount of RAM.
WIFI IC:This IC is used to control various wireless technologies in your smart phone like the WIFI. It also integrates a complete set of wireless technologies like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, FM radio and its software on a single chip.
RF Trans-receiver IC: A transceiver IC in a smart phone is used to establish connection with your network provider. This IC is responsible for showing up your signal strength and other signal details like signal gain, losses, etc.
NFC Controller IC:NFC is a must in all smart phones nowadays. Near-field communication (NFC) is a set of communication protocols that enable two electronic devices, one of which is usually a portable device such as a smartphone, to establish communication by bringing them within 4 cm (1.6 in) of each other. NFC devices are used in contactless payment systems, similar to those used in credit cards and electronic ticket smartcards and allow mobile payment to replace/supplement these systems.
Multimode Multiband Power Amplifier Module IC: A power amplifier IC is an amplifier designed primarily to increase the power available to your smart phone. In practice, amplifier power gain depends on the source and load impedances, as well as the inherent voltage and current gain.
Antenna Switch Module IC: Every smart phone contains an Antenna Switch Module IC which is a small package module which integrates High power capable Switch and passive function circuit such as GSM using LTCC technology. It basically switches between GSM, LTE, 3G signals on a same antenna on time division basis.
Battery Unit: A smart phone is powered by a portable battery. A lithium polymer battery, or more correctly lithium-ion polymer is a rechargeable battery of lithium-ion technology using a polymer electrolyte instead of the more common liquid electrolyte. High conductivity semisolid (gel) polymers form the electrolyte for LiPo cells are being used in smart phones. A typical Lithium polymer battery provides a voltage of 3.7volts.
Camera Module: Without a camera, a smart phone is never smart. A camera module is an image sensor integrated with a lens, control electronics, and an interface like CSI, Ethernet or plain raw low-voltage differential signaling. Camera module is responsible for capturing images in a smart phone.
Flash Module: Nowadays all smart phones use a flash module which is present just besides a camera module. A flash is a device used in smart phone producing a flash of artificial light (typically 1/1000 to 1/200 of a second) at a color temperature of about 5500K to help illuminate a scene. A major purpose of a flash is to illuminate a dark scene. Other uses are capturing quickly moving objects or changing the quality of light.

—The author, from Srinagar, is currently perusing in VLSI Design and Embedded Systems from Visveswaraya Technological University. He can be reached at:


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