by Tom Kaneshige

Inside the iPhone 4S: Is It a Work of Art?

Oct 19, 20114 mins
Consumer ElectronicsIntellectual PropertyiPhone

Apple spared no expense putting together the iPhone, even on the internal design and materials used. But don't drop it.

“When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.” -Steve Jobs

The geeks at iFixit, a Web site that provides free repair manuals and advice forums, are usually one of the first to tear apart a new gadget. It didn’t take them long to take apart the iPhone 4S and peek at the internal design that few people ever see.

Along the lines of the Jobs quote above, iFixit gets to see the back of the beautiful chest of drawers—and there’s no plywood to be found.


“I don’t think Steve Jobs sat with the iPhone 4 people and told them how to route the cables inside,” says Miroslav Djuric, director of technical communication at iFixit says. “But he provided an ideal, instilled the work ethic, and gave them a general path.”

Djuric, though, says this design ethic has found its way into all kinds of smartphones. He has seen the internal workings of practically every smartphone on the market and doesn’t think the iPhone holds exclusivity on elegant design and the use of top-notch materials.

But most impressively, the iPhone 4S sports all the high-end components needed to run Siri, the artificial intelligence engine baked into iOS 5, such as the A5 dual-core processor with 512 MB RAM and the Qualcomm MDM6610 baseband chipset.

“There was some speculation that the A5 processor might be up to 1 GB, but we were able to confirm that this was not the case,” Djuric says.

The battery, of course, takes up most of the space inside the iPhone 4S. While the iPhone 4S battery life has improved slightly from the battery life of the iPhone 4—an extra hour of talk time over 3G—the actual size of the battery remains mostly the same.

Improvements came in the form of more power-efficient chipsets, as well as a little more juice in the battery itself.

“We’re still trying to figure out if the iPhone 4S battery could fit into the iPhone 4, which would give the iPhone 4 a little extra capacity,”Djuric says.

The beefy 8-megapixel camera in the iPhone 4S has the same physical footprint as the 5-megapixel camera in the iPhone 4. Chipworks put the iPhone 4S camera under an infrared microscope to see the die markings several layers below the surface and confirmed that the camera was made by Sony.

From a repair standpoint, the iPhone 4S has the same problems as its predecessor. Tamper-resistant pentalobular screws keep most do-it-yourself repairers at bay. In fact, iFixit had to manufacture a tiny screwdriver (0.7 millimeters across) that works on the iPhone 4S screw’s five-point flowery design.

The iPhone 4S also has the same fused LCD onto the glass as the iPhone 4 does, meaning you can’t simply replace a broken glass. You have to replace the LCD, too. The upside is that dust won’t get between the LCD and the glass and mess up the display.

Unfortunately, the iPhone 4S has the same physical design as the iPhone 4, which has shown to be more susceptible to breakage than the more durable and popular iPhone 3GS.

Words of advice for beaming new iPhone 4S owners? “Don’t drop it,” Djuric says.

Tom Kaneshige covers Apple and Networking for Follow Tom on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Tom at