Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Hardware Capabilities of the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch

Last updated: March 2, 2011 after the introduction of the iPad 2.  The updated spreadsheet of hardware capabilities can be accessed here.

Apple introduced the next generation of iPhone (iPhone 4) on June 5, 2010 and of the iPad (iPad 2) on March 2, 2011.  These announcements provide a timely opportunity to review the hardware capabilities of Apple's older and current models of mobile devices -- the four generations of the iPhone, the three generations of the iPod Touch, and the two generations of the iPad -- hereinafter referred to as Apple's iOS devices.

This posting presents three innovative ways at looking at the hardware capabilities of the iOS devices. This information will be valuable to anyone interested in mobile devices:  buyers and users of these devices, developers, industry analysts, and other mobile device manufacturers and resellers.

This posting presents:
  • The reason why this posting focuses on hardware.
  • A view of the hardware components, capabilities, and example uses. This answers questions such as “What capabilities do these hardware components provide and what are some examples of applications that use that capability?”
  • A view of the hardware components and capabilities by iOS device. This answers questions such as “Why can’t my iPod Touch do the same thing as an iPhone 3GS?”
  • A view of example applications and the hardware they exploit. This answers questions such as “What are some examples of applications and the hardware components they leverage?”
  • An opportunity to contribute to a list of future hardware components and capabilities
  • How you can help improve the information in this posting.

This is also a “Your Input” posting.  I have taken the first cut at collecting and organizing this information.  I need your expertise to make it:
  • More accurate
  • More complete
  • More valuable, such as contributing more information, suggesting additional views, and perhaps extending beyond the Apple iOS devices to other smartphones and tablets for comparisons and broader insights on the future direction of these mobile devices from a hardware perspective.
Based on your input, I will update this information on a regular basis.  The links to the views in this document will always point to the latest version.


In many respects, the mobile device I own (an Apple iPhone 3G) is better than my laptop.  The 3G not only has better portability (I carry it everywhere I go and in my pocket), it includes a GPS chip, an accelerometer, a touch screen, and cellular technology.  My laptop has none of these hardware components built-in.

If the iOS devices were simply miniature versions of a laptop, they would not be successful.  They would run the same types of applications we run on our desktops today, and they would not be very good at it.  It is the hardware capabilities unique to these iOS devices, combined with portability, that have opened up new possibilities and innovations in applications for the broader population.

This is not to downplay several other very important elements for a successful mobile device beyond hardware.  These include a powerful and elegant operating system, useful and affordable applications, good development tools and a vibrant developer community to create applications, smart marketing, innovative retailing, non-frustrating end-user support, an underlying long-term vision and roadmap, and a robust ecosystem.  Therefore, choosing a smartphone, tablet, or other mobile device is not a matter of looking at the hardware feature list alone.

I have picked the Apple hardware as a baseline for the following reasons:
  • There are a limited number of mobile devices to examine (nine in total: iPhone, iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPod Touch, iPod Touch 2nd generation, iPod Touch 3rd generation, iPad Wi-Fi and iPad Wi-Fi + 3G)
  • They are designed and manufactured by the same company, so there is more uniformity and evolution to the hardware components and capabilities to make categorizations and comparisons simpler
  • They run an iOS operating system, leverage the same development platform and APIs, and utilize the same App Store, so the example applications ("apps") are available for most or all of the different Apple iOS devices.
  • The same iOS devices are available globally
  • It is the current standard by which other smartphones are compared against.


This view depicts the hardware components contained in one or more of the various Apple mobile devices, the capability of each component, and some examples of how that capability is exploited.

This information is depicted graphically in a mind map, a diagramming technique to show the hierarchical relationships among this information.  The mind map was created in open source software called FreeMind.  Here is an example from a portion of the mind map:

(Click image to enlarge)

This view can help answer the following types of questions:
  • What are all of the hardware components that are used for input to iOS devices?
  • What are the capabilities of each hardware component?
  • How can each of these capabilities be used?
  • What are some examples of applications that use that capability?

The legend describes the types of information captured and displayed in the mind map:

(Click image to enlarge)

The following categories are used to group the hardware components:

Category Description
Input (IN) Components used to capture information from outside mobile device, such as a touch screen or a microphone
Output (OU) Components used to deliver information outside of the mobile device, such as a display or a speaker
Connectivity (CO) Components that serve as both output to other devices and input from other devices, such as Bluetooth and cellular
Storage (ST) Components that store information within the mobile device, such as flash memory or a SIM card
Processor (PR) Components that serve as the main processors within the mobile device
Enclosure (EN) Components that encase the mobile device
Power (PO) Components that provide power to the device, such as a battery
Other (OT) Other components that may not be accessible, exploitable, or relevant, such as the moisture indicator
Limitations (LI) A category to capture constraints on the components that may limit their utility, such as temperature or altitude

Over thirty hardware components have been documented.  Here is an example in the mind map of the components documented within the Input category.

(Click image to enlarge)

Here is the complete list of hardware components documented in the mind map:
IN-01 - Touch screen
IN-02A - Home
IN-02B - Volume up
IN-02C - Volume down
IN-02D - Mute (ring/silent) switch
IN-02E - Sleep/wake button
IN-02F - Screen rotation switch
IN-02G - Combination push
IN-03 - Back Camera
IN-04 - Built-in microphone
IN-05 - Headphone jack
IN-06 - Ambient light sensor
IN-07 - 3-channel Accelerometer
IN-08 - Proximity sensor
IN-09 - Assisted GPS
IN-10 - Magnetometer (Digital Compass)
IN-11 - 3-axis Gyroscope
IN-12 - Front camera
IN-13 - Second microphone
OU-01 - Screen
OU-02 - Speaker
OU-03 - 3.5mm stereo headphone jack
OU-04 - Receiver
OU-05 - Vibration
OU-06 - LED Flash
CO-01 - Bluetooth
CO-02A - Cellular-EDGE
CO-02B - Cellular-3G
CO-03 - Wi-Fi
CO-04 - 30 pin connector
ST-01 - Flash memory
ST-02 - SIM card/Micro SIM card
PR-01 - Main processor
EN-01 - Plastic
EN-02 - Aluminosilicate glass
EN-03 - Stainless steel band
PO-01 - Lithium-ion battery
OT-01 - Moisture indicator

Capabilities are associated with each of the hardware components.   Here is an example of the capabilities for one of the components:

(Click image to enlarge)

Uses and/or example uses are also provided for each capability.  The name of the application is included if you wanted to test out the use in the app.  I picked free apps (as of June 8, 2010) for most examples; paid apps are noted.  Here is an example of uses of a capability:

(Click image to enlarge)

I am providing the mind map in three different versions.  The first two contain interactive mind maps, that is, you can expand and collapse the nodes of information.

I will be updating these mind maps as I receive corrections, updates, and enhancements from readers like you.  These links below will always point to the latest version.  The date of the latest version will be noted in the legend of the mind map.

Format Features
Java applet Graphical mind map view.  Can expand and collapse nodes by clicking a node.  A right mouse click displays options, including search.
Flash version Graphical, can expand and collapse nodes with a mouse click on a node.  Upper left corner displays icons to access a search box and a thumbnail to quickly move to another portion of the mind map.
XHTML version Textual outline of the contents.  Supports expanding and collapsing of outline.

Here is a thumbnail of the original mind map.  Use the links above to access the latest version.
(Click image to enlarge)


This view presents in a tabular format the list of components and capabilities by category and notes which iOS devices contain that component/capability. 

This information is contained in a spreadsheet.  It mirrors the higher-level taxonomy of the mind map in View 1, listing the categories, hardware components, capabilities, and uses.  For each capability the spreadsheet notes if the iOS device supports it (designated by an 'X') or does not support it (designated by a dash).  The iOS devices tracked are:  iPhone, iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPad Wi-Fi, iPad Wi-Fi + 3G, iPod Touch, iPod Touch 2nd gen, and iPod Touch 3rd gen.

(Click image to enlarge)

This view can help answer the following types of questions:
  • Which iOS devices have a certain hardware component or capability?
  • What hardware components and capabilities does a certain iOS have?
  • If I develop an app exploiting a hardware capability, which iOS devices will it not function on?
  • What are the hardware differences between two iOS devices?
The list focuses on the hardware components at a certain level and does not distinguish differences that do not materially affect a capability.  For example, the different processors among the iOS devices are not broken out even though the speeds have gotten faster -- the iOS devices can still execute apps albeit as different speeds.  Apple has limited certain software features and operating system upgrades due to the processor speed, however.

Click here to view the spreadsheet in Google Documents.  I will be updating this document as I receive corrections, updates, and enhancements from readers like you.  This link will always point to the latest version.  The date of the latest version will be noted in the legend of the mind map.

There may be blanks and question marks in the spreadsheet when you view it as I do not have access to all of the iOS devices to validate the information collected.  Please help me update it to make it more accurate and complete.

This view could be expanded to include non-Apple smartphone and tablet devices.  If you want to help, please contact me through the Feedback page on this website or daniel at


This view lists some of the iOS apps and the hardware components they exploit.  Since there are over 200,000 apps in the App Store, it would be impossible to document all of them.  Even a dozen is a lot to document.  I have gone ahead and documented a few apps I thought did a good job of exploiting the hardware capabilities.

The list leverages the hardware component taxonomy used in View 1 (the mind map) and in View 2.  For each app, all major hardware components used by that app are noted along with a description of how the hardware is leveraged by the app in interesting or unique ways.

This view can help answer the following questions:
  • What are some example apps that leverage several hardware capabilities?
  • If I have an iOS device that does not have a certain hardware capability, which apps will I not be able to run fully featured?
This second question can only be properly answered if the information in this view is extensive.  If you would like to contribute to extend the examples, I have created a form you may use to enter in this information.  Click here if you have good knowledge of an app and how it leverages the hardware.


Apple has included a few new hardware components in the iPhone 4, including an LED Flash, a front-facing camera, and a gyroscope.  The first two could have been anticipated as they exist on some other smartphones, but a gyroscope?  It will be exciting to see how some of the developers leverage the capabilities of this new hardware component.

This is your chance to suggest what new hardware components we could see in the future.  Be as visionary as you would like.  If you know of a hardware component that exists on another mobile device that is not currently in an iOS device, please suggest it as well.

Click here to enter in your favorite ideas.

And click here to see what other people have entered.


I have prepared the first iteration of this information.  You can help improve this information by noting inaccuracies, filling in incomplete information, and enhancing the taxonomy and examples.

If you would like to do so, please do one of the following:
For those who are experts and want to provide more substantial help to this effort, please make that comment in your communication.

Thanks in advance for your help in making this information better.

Happy mobiling!

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Hardware Capabilities of the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch ~ DANIEL SKLAR