iPad Teardown Shows iPod Roots

Chipworks breaks down the iPad, revealing where Apple saves money and leverages its earlier designs.

Curiosity about just what makes the iPad tick reached a fever pitch following Apple's release of the new device this past Saturday. And now, the curious can get a closer look at Apple's handiwork.

While tablets have been around for years, the iPad is considered a category-setting breakthrough that promises to spawn much broader user adoption than has been seen to date. Based on initial sales numbers, the iPad is already moving in big numbers. Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) reported it sold over 300,000 iPads the first day of availability, including pre-orders. "iPad users, on average, downloaded more than three apps and close to one book within hours of unpacking their new iPad," Apple CEO Steve Jobs said in a statement.

However, Apple typically keeps its mouth shut regarding its products' internals or the component suppliers that it works with. One surprising source of information about the iPad was the FCC, which posted a detailed report based on a pre-production version of the device prior to its release -- including photos. Also included is a letter from Apple (in PDF format) asking the government agency to withhold "business-sensitive" details about the iPad until Aug. 17, but the FCC apparently declined.

Now Chipworks, a company that specializes in reverse engineering and patent infringement analysis, has issued its own teardown analysis of the iPad. The firm said it collaborated in the effort with iFixit, which provided its own photographic teardown of the iPad.

"Essentially, the iPad is an iPod Touch with an enhanced display and much increased battery life," Dick James, senior technology analyst at Chipworks, said in a statement. "The iPhone 2G-style touchscreen architecture perhaps reflects the date of design start, and we will likely see [Texas Instruments] get the design win in the next-generation iPad -- especially as we have seen the same chip in the latest iPhone, iPod Touch, and Magic Mouse."

In its report, Chipworks said Apple followed the same approach it did with the iPod and iPhone by using conservative, lower-cost technology and focusing its efforts on design and usability. It's also the first Apple device to use the company's new A4 processor.

Cost-saving iPad design

"The construction is fantastic. It's solid aluminum and was very hard to take apart," Rob Williamson, a marketing manager at Chipworks, told Internetnews.com.

While some earlier reports estimated Apple's costs to manufacture the device -- which starts at $499 -- at about $250, Williamson said Chipworks' analysis is that Apple is able to make the iPad for much less.

In one example of cost-savings, Williamson said the touchscreen controller in the iPhone 3G lists for $14. "The iPad uses three older chips that combined cost about $11 three years ago. Apple took advantage of having more space to work with."

He also noted that the iPad's two batteries are probably ten times larger than what is in a typical mobile phone or iPod. "That's what takes up the majority of the space," he said.

Additionally, Williamson said Chipworks was able to get a glimpse into which vendors Apple -- normally careful to hide its suppliers from competitors -- is using for the iPad's components, determining that LG makes the iPad's LCD screen.

However, he also said Chipworks has so far been unable to determine who makes the iPad's capacitive screen, which sits on top of the LCD panel and enables the touch interface, though it's possible LG does that as well, he said.

Apple did not return a request for comment by press time.

David Needle is the West Coast bureau chief at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

Tags: iphone apps, iPad, iPad apps, Apple, tear down

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