21st August 2016
Performing a teardown of an iPhone possibly isn’t the most original content to be posted on the web, but given that this is a product which I have probably had more contact with in recent years than anything else I feel that getting to see whats inside will be very worthwhile.
Whilst the question regarding whether or not this product is well designed may not require - in my opinion - much discussion. I shall focus the deconstruction towards asking ‘why?’ at each stage to try and gain a greater understanding of the design process behind this product. Also, with Apple revealing it’s new Apple Renew program last year, promoting the idea that - with a little help from L.I.A.M. - Apple products can now be easily disassembled to re-use the materials they contain, it seems appropriate to pay attention to the way in which this phone comes apart.
Any content concerning an Apple product cannot overlook the packaging; which pays as much attention to customer experience as the product itself. The clean and pure appearance of the packaging allows the user to feel extremely close to the product, without even opening it. The feeling experienced when lifting the lid from the box is one of the most aesthetically pleasing reveals I have ever been exposed to and I feel is extremely important given that it is the very first interaction the user has. A few aspects that I think truly make this packaging great: the way that the phone is presented to the user; the handy lifting tab; the presentation of the headphones and charger, all come together to create a simple yet memorable reveal.
It is often said that Apple purposely makes it difficult to open up the iPhone as some believe that this is because Apple wants you to pay for them to fix your phone. If we look at this from another angle I believe that the way that the phone has been designed - which results in it having such a solid, robust feeling in the hand - every inch of real estate is used and every component is precisely locked in place; which brings with it a phone that is more difficult to deconstruct.
One of the first things that becomes apparent when removing the screen is this connection to the motherboard. This cable handles the connection required for the Touch ID - so for anyone who has ever wondered why their Touch ID has slowed down, seeing the relevant flimsy connection may reveal why.
Apparently the 6S has re-routed this connection through a more robust cable, but I was hesitant to dismantle my new phone for further proof.
It’s quite amazing to see the number of connections required for the screen; although considering that this is the devices primary point of contact with the user we can understand the huge number of functions that the screen must perform.
As is often the case with Apple products and something they have pioneered from the beginning; the internal assembly is just as beautiful as the finished product. It immediately displays a considered and well thought out design process: where every component appears to feel at home in its position.
As with any teardown, the battery should always be removed first…. Due to the obvious environmental effects associated with throwing a battery away, Apple has stressed this concern throughout their recycling program. To remove by hand it only required the removal of three screws, the battery connection and a fair bit of force to overcome the removal strips. I would be interested to see how L.I.A.M. goes about safely removing the battery and whether or not he uses the removal strips.
Whilst removing the home button I noticed that the whole console - including laser, PCB and rubber seal - all move as one when the button is pressed; where the feedback is generated by a small flex spring underneath.
Removal of the screen backplate allows us to release the front facing camera.
Due to the fact that LCD screens contain chemicals I felt it best to only dismantle the screen assembly as far as possible whilst leaving the glass intact. If we were able to see the make up of the LCD we would see the polarising elements and the liquid crystal contained within.
What I was able to deconstruct was the backlight assembly which shows the LED’s and multiple diffusive layers; each of a different transparency, used to evenly distribute the light.
An interesting point that we discover after removing the battery is the first signs of raw manufacture. We can see the two different sizes of CNC drill bits that were used to craft the shape from the aluminium body.
A component which I have always found interesting (I think since I got my first transparent plastic controller for the PlayStation 2) is the motor that produces the feedback vibrations; which utilises an off-centre weight on an electric drive shaft to create a pleasant vibration. An interesting point to raise here is that Apple have now substituted this in the 6S with it’s new Taptic Engine which cleverly provides a quieter yet more powerful vibration, which due to its speed is able to provide real-time feedback: a crucial element for the 6S’s 3D Touch.
*The Taptic Engine really is an amazing piece of technology and deserves a further look.
It is interesting to notice the fact that the whole camera assembly is contained within a single module and also just how small it is. It is probable that the majority of image tweaking is handled by the main chip, but to be able to see the camera module standing alone allows us to compare it to a standard point and shoot camera which the iPhone arguably manages to match in terms of image quality.
Bearing in mind the considerable improvements that Apple made to the camera on the 6S it would be interesting to see if the module has changed and even more so if the dual-camera rumours for the iPhone 7 are true.
An interesting point that I noticed here was that even with all the remaining screws removed, the components were still solidly locked in place - each interlocking with each other and so precisely manufactured - again showing why the iPhone has such a solid feel.
When removing the speaker assembly I noticed that the antenna cable was held in place by a small groove on the speaker. While this may not appear deserved of a comment, it was mentioned on a blog post concerning an iPhone 5 that this small addition did not previously exist, suggesting that it was a conscious manufacturing alteration to make the antenna cable more secure.
The speaker assembly has a very simple two-point connection to the mother board and also a very empty, light feel. I think it is important to point out that in a device such as a mobile phone where real estate is so precious, we can imagine the hours of design and testing that went into creating a speaker large enough to achieve sufficient amplification whilst remaining small enough to not waste space.
Another important design point to raise here concerns the brackets which are fixed to the inside of the body - allowing components to be attached and removed more easily - instead of fixing them directly to the body. These brackets offer a small amount of flex and a thin strip of foam which is presumably implemented to give the internals a degree of shock protection: A small yet very effective addition.
Removal of the sub assembly at the bottom of the phone brings with it the 3.5mm headphone input and lightning connector along with all the printed circuitry required to provide connections to the motherboard.
It also appears important to mention with this bottom dock removed, the entry points for the phones antenna and proof that they do actually continue internally. Not overly interesting but a bit of evidence for the countless Buzzfeed articles “This is what the lines on your iPhone really do!”
A quick look at the vibrate switch and volume controls, we see that what appears to happen when you change your phone from loud to silent is the button slides across the orange line, whereas what is actually happening is the entire button is moving.
With the main board and top assembly removed we are able to appreciate the raw machined aluminium.
There is definitely a strange beauty to the main board; a beauty which I believe stems from the admiration of it’s complexity and submission to understanding it’s composition. When placed alongside the outer housing this is emphasised by the fact that something of such complexity is hidden beneath such a simple exterior.
After a fair amount of what can only be regarded as ‘hacking’ the micro-electronics and renowned Apple A7 chip are revealed to us.
I believe this teardown was definitely worthwhile due to the fact that - as mentioned earlier - being able to understand what is inside a device that you use so regularly and so intuitively that the internal workings are almost forgotten about, really allows you to appreciate how such an effortless experience is delivered. As well as admiring the internal beauty of an Apple product, we are also able to see - to some extent - how the information flows through the device, even from something as simple as how depressing the volume control sends information to the main board.
As has always been the case with Apple and hopefully what I have managed to give focus to in this post is that it is the attention to detail on the smallest of aspects that allows all the components to seamlessly work together and when this is assembled with such a high level of precision the end product really is something that stands apart from it’s competition. My first teardown of an Apple product has only left me with the desire to do it again…