iFixIt Teardowns Give Look At Repairability Of Next Generation iPad Air, iPad mini, & AirPods

FEATURE: 04.10.19- iFixIt is at it again with its exclusive teardowns of newly released products in order to teach owners how to perform their own repairs, or whether repairs can be even performed at all, and this time around it has taken apart three of the four products Apple announced last month, giving us a closer look inside the next generation models of the iPad Air, iPad mini, and AirPods, as well as assigning the San Luis Obispo, California-based company’s repairability score for each device.

Almost as soon as the new iPad Air, iPad mini, and AirPods landed on top of the wooden countertops in the Apple Store (or hit the virtual shelves of the Apple Store online, keyword: pre-order), iFixIt was quick to get its hands on all three devices, the products recently announced by Apple — albeit quietly and without much fanfare, each through a press release on the web — a week in advance of its “Showtime” special event held on March 25 at Apple Park.

It’s no secret that Apple computers and devices have become less and less user friendly in recent years in terms of upgradeability and repairability factors but that doesn’t — and hasn’t — stopped iFixIt from performing its teardowns of products like those from the Cupertino, California-based tech giant (or any other hardware or devices for that matter).

After performing a teardown of a product, iFixIt assigns a repairability score based on the following criteria:

  • 1-2: Components are soldered or glued in so that removing them damages the device altogether; significant amount of adhesive, proprietary screws, and other barriers to repair.
  • 3-4: Some important components are soldered or glued in, but many are still modular; significant amount of adhesive, proprietary screws, and other barriers to repair.
  • 5-7: Moderate amount of adhesive, proprietary screws, and other barriers to repair, but the battery and other frequently replaced parts are easily accessible.
  • 8-9: Little to no barriers to repair; parts are easily replaceable.
  • 10: Virtually no barriers to repair; parts are easily replaceable and parts and repair documentation are provided by manufacturer.

So, without further ado, let’s get a closer look at what’s inside the two tablet computers and wireless earbuds that Apple released two weeks ago along with each device’s repairability score, courtesy of iFixIt, shall we?

iFixIt teardown of the 2019 third generation iPad Air. (Photo: iFixIt)

iPad Air (third generation)

“Today, we took apart the iPad Air 3 and found that it’s basically built like an iPad Pro 10.5′ on the inside minus the surround sound and camera bump. These days, the non-Pro iPad lineup is just frankensteined components and designs from other iPads. Too bad all this mishmashing manages to leave out almost all the good stuff like modularity and battery pull tabs.”

Teardown Highlights:

  • “inside, it looks rather different from Airs past, featuring the central logic board layout seen in other Pro iPads”
  • “the battery connector is still trapped under the board, making disconnection and repair much tougher”
  • “with a repairability pedigree coming from the dismal Air 2 and the lousy 10.5′ Pro … our hopes of a repair-friendly iPad raised by iPads Pro of the past are once again dashed”

Repairability Score: 2/10

Complete disassembly procedure, additional teardown images, and a teardown video of the 2019 third generation iPad Air can be viewed at the following link:

ifixit.com/Teardown/iPad+Air+3+Teardown/121759

iFixIt teardown of the 2019 fifth generation iPad mini. (Photo: iFixIt)

iPad mini (fifth generation)

“After three and a half years without a refresh, the iPad mini has awoken from its slumber with some updated internals. Despite appearances, our teardown confirms that this is not just a shrunken down version of the new iPad Air: it’s a reworked iPad mini 4 with some fresh silicon for 2019. We also found a thoughtful new battery connector design that automatically disconnects before you can unplug the display which ought to make the dreaded blown backlight a thing of the past.”

“But even with these updates, iPads continue to lag behind iPhones in the quality of their construction. They use a lot of similar components but the iPad mini unceremoniously glues them together with no sign of the elegance or serviceability that we come to expect from iPhones. Battery and screen replacements are the two most common repairs and the iPad mini makes both unnecessarily difficult. The battery lacks pull-to-remove adhesive tabs and the display requires a tricky removal of the home button if you want to keep Touch ID after your repair.”

Teardown Highlights:

  • “the headphone jack lives and it’s modular which is weird because the all-important Lightning port remains hopelessly soldered to the main board”

Repairability Score: 2/10

Complete disassembly procedure, additional teardown images, and a teardown video of the 2019 fifth generation iPad mini can be viewed at the following link:

ifixit.com/Teardown/iPad+Mini+5+Teardown/121589

iFixIt teardown of the 2019 second generation AirPods. (Photo: iFixIt)

AirPods (second generation)

“We were on cloud nine after tearing down Samsung’s Galaxy Buds which proved that wireless earbuds can, in fact, be repairable. But dissecting the new AirPods felt like teardown deja vu, requiring the same kind of brute force destruction that we used on Apple’s initial version two years ago. Sure, these have fancy new H1 chips but they’re still destined for the e-waste bin in a short time, leaving us feeling like Apple upgraded the wrong thing.”

“As for the charging case, aside from the wireless charging coil and the relocated LED status light, we noticed a beefier hinge and a circuit board blanketed with waterproof coating. Hopefully, the improved durability of the charging case will result in fewer failures. Overall, these $200 headphones are some of the most disposable products we’ve ever seen (despite the WEEE logo inconspicuously placed under the charging case lid).”

Teardown Highlights:

  • “after two years, the repairability score is unimproved”

Repairability Score- 0/10

Complete disassembly procedure, additional teardown images, and a teardown video of the 2019 second generation AirPods can be viewed at the following link:

ifixit.com/Teardown/AirPods+2+Teardown/121471

(The company notes that the teardowns are not repair guides; see the service manual provided by iFixIt for each respective Apple device linked within each teardown page).

We would be remiss if we didn’t find out what it takes to do these product teardowns — not to mention, how long it takes for the company to complete the entire process — so, of course, we inquired with iFixIt for some answers.

“Teardowns require a massive team effort,” said Elise Barsch, iFixIt social media manager and copywriter. “Sometimes they take place over multiple continents, with additional support from semiconductor analysts, x-ray technicians, etc. Once a device lands on our doorstep, our team doesn’t sleep until we’ve finished the teardown.”

Barsch also noted and joked that teardowns require, in her own words, an obscene amount of caffeine.

“Most of the time, manufacturers don’t like it when we take apart their new tech and show the world what’s inside,” added Barsch. “The impetus behind teardowns has always been repairability. It’s a great way for us to educate consumers about product design in a way that’s easily consumable and dare I say entertaining (or at least we think so).”

In general, as with major product releases like an iPhone, iFixIt does a teardown as fast as its team(s) possibly can. To do that, it takes on average 9-12 hours to shoot and edit all of the photos then write the press release.

“For less highly anticipated devices, we might take our time and spread it out over the course of two or three days,” said Barsch. “And with more complex gadgets, we’ll spend two days to a week shooting photos and writing the teardown. It depends on the popularity or complexity of a device.”

“Mostly, for high demand devices like the iPhone, we get one of the first new units at the Apple Store in Australia. For other popular devices, our teardown team will go to various retailers at home in San Luis Obispo (the Apple Store, Best Buy, etc.) until we get a device. For less highly anticipated gadgets, we’ll order them online. Whatever gets the Devices in our hands fastest.”

For the record, iFixIt acquired the AirPods on March 26 publishing its teardown two days later on March 28, acquired the iPad mini on March 27 publishing its teardown six days later on April 2, and acquired the iPad Air on March 29 publishing its teardown five days later on April 3. All three devices were ordered online and shipped to the company.

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Note from the Author: the teardown summaries quoted for each product were obtained from marketing emails sent out by iFixIt publicizing the actual teardowns (which is the reason you will not find the verbiage on the linked webpages).

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