Kyle Wiens of iFixit, a Web site that provides free repair manuals and advice forums, tore apart an iPad 2 just to see what makes it tick. Of course, his team has been among the first non-Apple engineers to peek inside Macs, iPhones, iPods and now iPads.
They are a pretty savvy group. iFixit first reported Apple’s screwy behavior to put tamper-resistant “Pentalobular” screws into its products that stymie do-it-yourselfers from making repairs. Wiens was a featured speaker at this year’s Macworld 2011 in San Francisco. He predicted the iPad 2 will have more RAM (512MB, to be exact) and a multi-core chip but not higher resolution, all of which came true.
iFixit began its teardown of the iPad 2 on Friday, and found that the front glass panel was glued in place. The original iPad’s glass panel was held by tabs that allowed the glass to be easily removed. “It’s nearly impossible to open the iPad 2 without shattering the glass,” says Miroslav Djuric, director of technical communication at iFixit.
iFixit technicians applied a lot of force to remove the glass in order to examine the iPad 2’s contents. Among the components were a similar-sized battery to that of the original iPad, a 1GHz Apple A5 dual-core processor appearing to have come from Samsung, and a Toshiba NAND Flash memory chip. More importantly, iFixit was able to confirm that the iPad 2 has 512MB of RAM.
CIO.com talked with Wiens about what he learned during his iPad 2 teardown:
You must have been shocked when trying to pry off the iPad 2 glass.
Wiens: We’ve never seen so much glue inside of something before. As a repair company, we’re disheartened. It’s a concern when, say, replacing a battery. The iPad 2 battery is going to wear out in 500 uses. (For more on this, see How to Know if Your iPhone Battery is on Death Row.)
But repairability isn’t a concern (for Apple), and so designers aren’t going to design that in. When you’re designing a device like this, there are a thousand tradeoffs.
We’re going to have to be better at our jobs. We’re already looking at replacement adhesives, a heat gun to remove the glue. Remember, the original iPhone might have been harder to work on than the iPad 2, but we still had hundreds of thousands of people that did it.
What surprised you most about the iPad 2?
Wiens: The magnets are certainly innovative. It’s the oldest technology in the world, which Apple has applied in a very interesting way. I was not expecting 31 magnets. (Apple’s new Smart Cover has 21 embedded magnets and the iPad 2 has 10 magnets, which are used to protect the iPad 2 glass as well as create a stand.)
I was impressed by how thin the iPad 2 was (0.35 inches), but not surprised that the glass was thinner(.62 mm) compared to the original iPad glass (.85 mm). We’re going to be paying very close attention to what the impact—pun intended—will be. If I were Apple, I would have done the exact same thing in reducing the glass thickness, but it does mean it’s going to break more.
Apple’s design goals were battery life, durability, and cost. We know they nailed the battery life and cost on the iPad 2, but I’m not sure if they sacrificed durability or not. The original iPad was extremely durable. Apple used so much glue on the iPad 2, this should help with durability. Glue is flexible and can handle a lot of stress.
You were right about the iPad 2 having 512MB of RAM. But some tablet competitors are promising 1GB. What does this mean for the iPad down the road?
Wiens: We were concerned that the iPad 2 might have only 256MB. The original iPad has 256MB of RAM and is not efficient. We were able to confirm 512MB in the iPad 2. But the difference between 512MB and 1GB isn’t a big deal.
The iOS has very sophisticated memory management, and Apple actually pushes a lot of the memory management work off on developers. I think having the standard same amount of RAM in the iPhone 4 as in the iPad 2 will help them.
As an app developer myself, I would love to have the extra 1GB of RAM. It would make my life easier. But with 512MB, I’ll just work harder and make the app function the same in less footprint. (For more on iPad apps, check out 15 Best iPad Apps for Newbies.)
If Apple wants to go to 1GB, they can do so in the iPad 3. It’s about saving features for the future yet keeping costs down now.
What about lack of support for 4G?
Wiens: 4G has only been rolled out in a few markets. It completely destroys battery life. Apple never jumps on new network technology first, because new network technology sucks so much battery. They waited for the 3G chipsets to get more mature and power efficient before rolling them out. That’s what we’re going to see Apple do with the 4G.
You mentioned that the iPad 2 uses NAND Flash memory chips from Toshiba. I heard the Japan quake hit the Toshiba chip plant. How do you think this will affect iPad 2 supply?
Wiens: It’s a commodity component. You can buy an iPad 2, pull the Toshiba Flash off, put the Samsung Flash on, and it will work. I think Apple will find a way around it and get alternate supplies. It will probably spike memory prices, but Apple has such huge contracts that it usually gets first dibs on these things.
Then again, trying to ramp up production at the same time as the destruction of one of the primary components does make things harder.
Tom Kaneshige has been covering business and technology in Silicon Valley for two decades. As senior online writer at CIO.com, Tom covers Silicon Valley culture, BYOD and consumer tech in the enterprise.