iPad 2 gets the teardown treatment

iSuppli offers an early look at its estimated cost for every component Apple installed in its latest tablet.

Arik Hesseldahl
4 min read

Part of the tradition of an Apple product release is the teardown.

Usually within hours of the first sales, pictures begin to emerge from the odd people who delight in taking the new gadgets apart to see what's going on inside. The days following Friday's release of the iPad 2 have been no different. I've seen two different teardowns already.

But the teardown that Wall Street and the investment community is waiting on is the one from the market research firm IHS iSuppli, whose team spent all day Saturday in a furious effort to dissemble a 32-gigabyte iPad 2 and estimate the cost that Apple paid for every component. They gave me an exclusive early look at their findings.

The point is to form a partial picture of the gross profit margin on every unit, a figure that Apple generally keeps to itself. This information is useful to investors and analysts who then factor the findings in with other assumptions they use to predict how much of a profit Apple is going to report over the next few quarters.

The headline of iSuppli's teardown researcher is always the estimated bill-of-materials cost, which is the sum cost that it thinks Apple has paid for all the hardware inside the iPad 2. It doesn't take into account the cost to develop software, or other things like packaging, shipping and distribution, or manufacturing.

In this case the estimates are for the 32-gigabyte, 3G version of the iPad which sells for $729, and there are two estimates, one for the AT&T version--$326.60, and one for the Verizon Wireless version--$323.35. Some of the wireless chips used in the AT&T version are a little more expensive or require an extra part. For example, on the Verizon version, GPS is integrated with the Qualcomm-made wireless baseband chip. On the AT&T version, an extra GPS chip had to be added along with the Broadcom-made Bluteooth and Wi-Fi chips, adding an extra cost of $1.50 per unit.

The baseband wireless chips were naturally different because AT&T and Verizon use different wireless technologies. Intel, the new owner of the former wireless chip division of Infineon, supplied the main wireless chip in the AT&T version, with supporting chips coming from TriQuint Semiconductor and Skyworks for a combined cost of $18.70.

Qualcomm supplied the main wireless chip Verizon version, with supporting chips coming from Skyworks, Avago Technologies, and Murata for a combined cost of $16.35. While there had been some speculation that Apple had used a Qualcomm chip in both versions, it turned out not to be the case.

Aside from the wireless chips, the components are otherwise identical across both versions. Both sport Apple's A5 chip, and iSuppli says that Samsung is still manufacturing it for Apple at a cost of $14. While there had been some talk in recent weeks that Apple was moving its chip manufacturing contract to Tawain Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp., there's no evidence that it has made such a move, at least not yet.

The most expensive component by far is the touch-sensitive display, coming at $127. iSuppli says that the LCD portion the unit they tore apart was built by LG Display, but Apple is known to use other sources for displays, including Samsung, and possibly ChiMei Innolux. The glass assembly covering the display is thought to come from TPK or WinTek. iSuppli says costs on the display are going up because manufacturing yields on LCDs have been lower. Apple is also thought to be using a more expensive glue to improve the efficiency to the process of bonding a new thinner type of Gorilla glass to the display.

Samsung supplied Apple with the NAND flash memory used in the iSuppli sample, holding on to a relationship that goes back several years to the days of the first iPod nano, though Toshiba is also known to supply Apple with flash. It is the world biggest consumer of flash memory after all. Elpida supplied the DRAM memory. iSuppli estimates the combined cost of memory, both flash and DRAM plus a Micron-made MCP memory chip at $65.70.

Then there's a set of components seen in the iPad 1 remained the same in the iPad 2. STMicroelectronics supplied the gyroscope and the accelerometer, and AKM Semiconductor supplied the electronic compass. Broadcom supplied touch interface chips, while Texas Instruments supplied a touch screen driver chip. Analog Devices supplied a capacitive touch controller.

Finally there's the two cameras. iSuppli hasn't yet named the suppliers there, though the usual candidate is Aptina, the former camera unit of Micron, though it's possible that Apple sources them from more than one place.

iSuppli's estimates are a lot higher than the findings of another teardown shop, UBM Techinsights. The Wall Street Journal reported that UBM's cost estimate is about $270, but that estimate was made before it conducted its actual teardown, and didn't change once it had.