For those of you who don't know what the tinkerphones/OpenPhoenux GTA04 is: It is a 'professional hobbyist' hardware project (with at least public schematics, even if not open hardware in the sense that editable schematics and PCB design files are published) creating updated mainboards that can be used to upgrade Openmoko phones. They fit into the same enclosure and can use the same display/speaker/microphone.
What the GTA04 guys have been doing for many years is close to a miracle anyway: Trying to build a modern-day smartphone in low quantities, using off-the-shelf components available in those low quantities, and without a large company with its associated financial backing.
Smartphones are complex because they are highly integrated devices. A seemingly unlimited amount of components is squeezed in the tiniest form-factors. This leads to complex circuit boards with many layers that take a lot of effort to design, and are expensive to build in low quantities. The fine-pitch components mandated by the integration density is another issue.
Building the original GTA01 (Neo1937) and GTA02 (FreeRunner) devices at Openmoko, Inc. must seem like a piece of cake compared to what the GTA04 guys are up to. We had a team of engineers that were familiar at last with feature phone design before, and we had the backing of a consumer electronics company with all its manufacturing resources and expertise.
Nevertheless, a small group of people around Dr. Nikolaus Schaller has been pushing the limits of what you can do in a small for fun project, and the have my utmost respect. Well done!
Unfortunately, there are bad news. Manufacturing of their latest generation of phones (GTA04A5) has been stopped due to massive soldering problems with the TI OMAP3 package-on-package (PoP). Those PoPs are basically "RAM chip soldered onto the CPU, and the stack of both soldered to the PCB". This is used to save PCB footprint and to avoid having to route tons of extra (sensitive, matched) traces between the SDRAM and the CPU.
According to the mailing list posts, it seems to be incredibly difficult to solder the PoP stack due to the way TI has designed the packaging of the DM3730. If you want more gory details, see this post and yet another post.
It is very sad to see that what appears to be bad design choices at TI are going to bring the GTA04 project to a halt. The financial hit by having only 33% yield is already more than the small community can take, let alone unused parts that are now in stock or even thinking about further experiments related to the manufacturability of those chips.
If there's anyone with hands-on manufacturing experience on the DM3730 (or similar) TI PoP reading this: Please reach out to the GTA04 guys and see if there's anything that can be done to help them.
- UPDATE (March 8, 2017)
In an earlier post I was asserting that the GTA04 is open hardware (which I actually believed up to that point) until some readers have pointed out to me that it isn't. It's sad it isn't, but still it has my sympathies.