iPad Air teardown

Analysis of Apple's latest tablet reveals its cheaper to make than last year's model.

Comments Off on iPad Air teardown November 5, 2013
Mike McLeod

The A7 APU is one of many components re-used in Apple's latest tablet. (Photo credit: Chipworks)

The A7 APU is one of many components re-used in Apple’s latest tablet. (Photo credit: Chipworks)

If there’s a new Apple product out, then the tech researchers at Ottawa-based IP services firm, Chipworks, have probably already dug into its electronic guts and electron-microsoped its innards to figure out who made which of its many electronic components. On November 1, Apple made its latest tablet, the iPad Air, available and Chipworks has already posted a complete bill of materials for the company’s thinnest and lightest iPad yet.

True to form, Apple has recycled many of the components from previous iDevices to make the iPad Air, Chipworks’ techs say. The A7 APU and M7 motion controller from the iPhone 5 make a reappearance in the 5th generation iPad, although the A7 runs a bit hotter here and features a larger heat sink to compensate. In addition, Chipworks says Apple re-used Qualcomm’s Baseband Processor, a Cirrus Audio codec, two Broadcom touch screen controllers and Toshiba’s 16 GB NAND Flash from the iPhone 5 models as well as Qualcomm RF transceiver and PMIC previously incorporated into multiple Apple products. The OmniVision-made 5-MP iSight and 1.2MP Facetime cameras have also seen service in earlier devices.

Among its new components, the iPad Air includes a new power management IC by Dialog Semiconductor that reportedly helps boost battery life to 10 hours; however, the newest iPad also has fewer power-draining LED diodes (36 vs. 84 for the previous model) to light the LCD display which also allowed Apple to make the battery smaller this time around. In addition, the iPad Air incorporates a new Broadcomm combination WiFi/Bluetooth/FM receiver chip and a number of other new components from Skyworks, STMicroelectronics, Murata and Texas Instruments.

All this amounts to a lower cost to manufacture and a higher profit margin for Apple, says California-based research firm IHS. In fact, the iPad Air is not only thinner and lighter but also carries a lower cost bill of materials than last year’s model.

For example, the entry-level 16GB NAND flash memory version without cellular connectivity carries a BOM and manufacturing cost of US$274, according to IHS Inc., which is $42 less than the entry-level third-generation iPad. However, the iPad Air’s profit margin spikes as the memory capacity increases: the 32GB model costs Apple just $8.40 more to but retails for $100 more.

According to IHS, the only components that have gone up in price are the thinner display and touch-screen subsystems. The Air’s display is 1.8mm thick and carries a cost of $90, compared to about 2.23 mm for the older-generation iPad at $87. Similarly, the cost of iPad Air’s thinner touch screen – which incorporates a cyclo olephin polymer film sensor – is estimated at $43.00. By comparison, the third-generation iPad used a thicker and cheaper glass sensor that came in at $37.50.

For the detailed breakdown, check out Chipworks’ Teardown Blog and the IHS web site.