iPad Air teardown reveals significant internal changes

Bill Detwiler cracks open the Apple iPad Air and gives you a tour of the redesigned interior.

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The 2013 iPad Air is the thinnest and lightest version of Apple's flagship tablet. It also has a faster processor, better front-facing camera, a completely flip-flopped internal layout, and lots of other hardware updates. Unfortunately, it's still extremely difficult to disassemble and repair.

For more information on the iPad Air, including real-world tests and pricing, check out Tim Stevens' full CNET review.

Cracking Open Observations

Heat, patience required to open the iPad Air: Like previous iPads, the Air's front glass panel is held to the metal body with double-sided adhesive strips. I used a heat gun (set on low) to loosen the adhesive. Then, starting from the lower-left corner, I used a series of thin tools to gently pry the panel off.

Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic

New location for front panel ribbon cables: As I noted above, Apple has rearranged the Air's internal hardware. In doing so, they moved the cables that connect the front panel to the motherboard from the lower left side to the lower right.

Must remove LCD to detach front panel: You can't completely remove the Air's front glass panel without removing the LCD.

Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic

Redesigned interior: Along with giving the Air a slew of upgrades, Apple also rearranged the internal hardware. The motherboard and battery have swapped spots. The motherboard is now on the right and the battery is on the left.

Reduce battery capacity: The Air has a two-cell, 32.9Wh battery compared to the previous iPad's three-cell, 42.5Wh unit. Apple was able to cut the battery's capacity without sacrificing battery life by increasing the efficiency of other components--chiefly the display. According to IHS iSuppli, the Air uses fewer than half the LEDs found in the third-generation iPad to illuminate the LCD.

Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic

New chips: Like the iPhone 5S, the Air has Apple's 64-bit A7 processor. According to benchmark tests performed by Primate Labs, the Air's version of the A7 is running at 1.4GHz. In addition to the new processor, the Air also has Apple's M7 motion co-processor, new wireless chips and new power management chips, just to name a few.

Two microphones: The Air has two digital microphones instead of the single analog microphone found in all previous iPads, except for the iPad 2.

Thinner components: At a mere 0.29 inch thick, the Air is 20 percent thinner than the 4th generation iPad. According to IHS iSuppli, Apple was able to reduce the tablet's thickness at least in part by using both a thinner LCD and front panel.

Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic

Still difficult to repair

When it comes to performance and design Apple is definitely moving the ball forward with each iPad iteration, and the Air is no exception. But when it comes to repairability, they're actually going backwards.

Most internal components and cables are attached to the metal case with adhesive and many components are part of a multi-part assembly. These construction methods make removing or replacing damaged parts extremely difficult, if not impossible.

(A more detailed version of this story was published on TechRepublic's Cracking Open blog.)

About the author

Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop support specialist in the social research and energy industries. He has bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Louisville, where he has also lectured on computer crime and crime prevention.

 

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