Teardown destroys Apple's irreparable AirPods, revealing tiny circuitry held together by glue

Posted:
in General Discussion edited December 2016
With Apple's AirPods now in the hands of customers, a subsequent teardown of the wearable wireless ear buds has transpired, unsurprisingly discovering that the diminutive technology is essentially impossible to repair or even recycle.




The components experts at iFixit conducted the dissection of the AirPods, discovering a very tiny 93-milliwatt-hour battery inside the stem of each earpiece. That's just over 1 percent of the charge capacity of Apple's iPhone 7.

Inside the separate charging case, Apple has packed in a still-tiny 3.81V 1.52Wh lithium polymer battery, offering about 16 times the capacity of the ones found in the AirPods themselves. Based on capacity, the case should provide users with up to eight recharges before it needs to be recharged itself, through a Lightning port on the bottom.




Taking apart the AirPods rendered them completely broken, as the in-ear accessories are held together entirely by glue. The charging case fared even worse, as it had to be cut open and destroyed in order to access the internal components.

The clever design of the AirPods packs multiple components into a small space. The in-ear portion features not only the speaker, but also infrared proximity sensors to detect when it's placed in the user's ear canal.

The stems, too, feature antennas surrounding the batteries, allowing for improved reception. And the metal tips at the end of the stems both cover the microphones and act as contact points for charging when placed into the case.




In a bit of speculation, iFixit did an X-ray scan of the charging case and found that an STMicroelectronics ARM chip within has what the solutions provider called "quality issues" with its solder joints. They suggested that this could have been the culprit for delays that caused the accessory to miss its October launch. However, as of yet, there have been no other such indications that the quality of the AirPods case has been an issue.

Other chips inside the AirPods include:
  • An Apple-branded chip identified as 343500130, believed to be the W1 Bluetooth component
  • Cypress CY8C4146FN programmable system on a chip
  • Maxim 98730EWJ low-power stereo audio codec
  • Texas Instruments TPS743
  • NXP 1610A3 charging integrated circuit
  • Texas Instruments BQ24232 power management integrated circuit
The first AirPods orders began arriving to customers on Monday, while some of Apple's retail stores have had limited inventory available just days before Christmas. For more, see AppleInsider's exclusive hands-on impressions.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 39
    macxpressmacxpress Posts: 4,792member
    While its interesting to see what's inside and how its assembled, why do they have to complain about the repairability of every product? 99.9% of users are not going to try and repair these. When they break you either get them replaced under warranty or they're simply broken.
    [Deleted User]sog35mike1stanthemanSpamSandwichschlackjbdragonStrangeDaysmdriftmeyerration al
  • Reply 2 of 39
    macxpressmacxpress Posts: 4,792member
    sog35 said:
    These are not meant to be fixed by consumers.
    For that matter no product Apple makes today is meant to be fixed by consumers. I guess I'm sorry they now have a failing business model. Its just the way things are today. Hell, most cars today aren't meant to be fixed by consumers. 
    edited December 2016 mike1EsquireCatsSpamSandwichschlackStrangeDaysration alpscooter63
  • Reply 3 of 39
    croprcropr Posts: 914member
    macxpress said:
    While its interesting to see what's inside and how its assembled, why do they have to complain about the repairability of every product? 99.9% of users are not going to try and repair these. When they break you either get them replaced under warranty or they're simply broken.
    From the environmental point of view, it is better that equipment can be repaired, that batteries can be recuperated and recycled, ....  This is especially true for the charging case,which has a bigger battery and where the design constraints of size, weight, and materials are less important than for the earpods.
    stantheman
  • Reply 4 of 39
    macxpress said:
    While its interesting to see what's inside and how its assembled, why do they have to complain about the repairability of every product? 99.9% of users are not going to try and repair these. When they break you either get them replaced under warranty or they're simply broken.
    While I understand your sentiment try to keep in mind that the ones doing the teardown are called iFixit for a reason. They will naturally complain whenever a component cannot be repaired.
  • Reply 5 of 39
    mike1mike1 Posts: 1,852member
    cropr said:
    macxpress said:
    While its interesting to see what's inside and how its assembled, why do they have to complain about the repairability of every product? 99.9% of users are not going to try and repair these. When they break you either get them replaced under warranty or they're simply broken.
    From the environmental point of view, it is better that equipment can be repaired, that batteries can be recuperated and recycled, ....  This is especially true for the charging case,which has a bigger battery and where the design constraints of size, weight, and materials are less important than for the earpods.
    It is impractical and uneconomical to fix. Period. Apple charges $69 for a new component. Even if it was repairable, you would pay a tecnician at least that for an hours work and you would have a repaired unit versus a brand new one. For better or worse, this is the case for most consumer electronics these days that are out of warranty.
    stanthemanjbdragonppartekimpalomineStrangeDaysration al
  • Reply 6 of 39
    avon b7avon b7 Posts: 3,488member
    I don't see really what makes them difficult to recycle. I think that with the right tools it won't be that much of an issue. The non repairable/replaceable batteries in the Pods is the big downer for me.
  • Reply 7 of 39
    Keep in mind that iFixit's business model is to sell overpriced tools and replacement parts.

    They don't actually care "repairability" from the environmental perspective, nor can they make an educated guess on the recyclability of a product.

    So if you want an idea of how iFixit run their business: head over to their repair forums, there is no shortage of experienced technicians who don't have nice things to say about them.

    Meanwhile the replacement part here is to simply order an airpod direct from apple, it's cheaper, quicker and will actually pass QA.
    edited December 2016 StrangeDaysration alpscooter63
  • Reply 8 of 39
    SoliSoli Posts: 8,692member
    Why are people commenting on the impractically to impossibility to fix AirPods? Sure, iFixit details how to and measures repairability on their site, but their goal is to sell tools and components. From a business standpoint these teardowns are part marketing stunt, from the standpoint of people that love to know how this work it's simply a case of seeing what's inside. I was curious about how the internals were designed—why not just leave it at that?
    StrangeDaysicoco3apple jockeypscooter63watto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 39
    macguimacgui Posts: 1,160member
    macxpress said:

    they now have a failing business model. 
    Repairing AirPods would be a failing proposition. A lot of people aren't happy with Apple's low repairability record. To be clear, 'repairability' is not about the consumer, and hasn't been for years. 

    It's disappointing for many of use that Apple has reduced the user upgrade experience to near zero. And now, a failed component will more often than not mean Apple replacing the entire mobo instead of the bad component(s).

    But that it means Apple has a failing business model is just not true.
    edited December 2016
  • Reply 10 of 39
    flaneurflaneur Posts: 4,509member
    Along with the Watch, AirPods are evidence that Apple is dead serious about doing what it takes to succeed in wearable electronics: miniaturize and complexify fearlessly, and push hard especially on mass production technology. 

    And with all the hardware finessed into those plastic cases, they still manage to come up with an elegant design — well, one that seems a bit weird at first sight, but one we'll probably get used to. Anyway, they look like they're worth $160 to me. Waiting for mine to arrive to hear how they perform. 
    stanthemanSolimike1palomineStrangeDaysapple jockeypscooter63watto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 39
    rob53rob53 Posts: 2,007member
    Two things:

    I find the "destroyed" components to be fascinating. It's amazing how much stuff Apple can pack into such a small device. I can't wait to see the knockoffs opened up and how poor their manufacturing is. No way would I put anything this complex in my ears from another manufacturer. Think about all the power adapters that burn up.

    Apple isn't the only one making hard (or impossible) to repair devices. When I've had my brakes repaired on my cars, they always replace the brake calipers instead of wasting their time trying to repair them. I usually get rebuilt calipers but not all calipers are rebuilt, some end up in the recycle pile. Repair time cost money, in many cases more than it takes to build a new device. It all depends on the device that needs repairing. Something small like the AirPods are probably manufactured in 10-30 minutes. It would take that much time just to get past the repair front desk before any repair is even attempted. Think about all those plastic PCs. Most of those are consumables, not really worth repairing. Sure, you can try and update/upgrade them but for the money, they really aren't worth it. Yes, this is a sad state in our economy where we throw away more things than we fix but the only alternative is to try and over build products so they don't break. This, of course, means a much higher initial cost and much heavier product. 

    One last thing: iFixit sells plastic tools that are meant to be destroyed instead of destroying the product being worked on. I guess I give those tools a 0 out of 10 because they are useless after using a few times. (yes, a bit of sarcasm but sometimes iFixit needs to think about how repairable items should be and not immediately discount a fantastic design.)
    edited December 2016 SoliStrangeDaysration alpscooter63watto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 39
    In the second version of AirPods, Apple should consider including a small Taptic engine that could vibrate the ear slightly with low frequency sounds. That would potentially create the same musical-percussion effect on the ear as carrying a boom box, without damaging the inner ear. 
    edited December 2016 watto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 39
    macxpressmacxpress Posts: 4,792member
    macgui said:
    macxpress said:

    they now have a failing business model. 
    Repairing AirPods would be a failing proposition. A lot of people aren't happy with Apple's low repairability record. To be clear, 'repairability' is not about the consumer, and hasn't been for years. 

    It's disappointing for many of use that Apple has reduced the user upgrade experience to near zero. And now, a failed component will more often than not mean Apple replacing the entire mobo instead of the bad component(s).

    But that it means Apple has a failing business model is just not true. 
    Show me where people are not happy with Apple's low repairability record...Its quite obvious iFixit has a failing business model right now...otherwise they wouldn't be complaining every time they tear an Apple product down. 
    edited December 2016
  • Reply 14 of 39
    metrixmetrix Posts: 245member
    I am guessing in the mfg. world they called it epoxy not glue.
  • Reply 15 of 39
    Obviously we would prefer small and powerful headphones over repairable ones. Especially when it costs just $59 to replace it. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 16 of 39
    flaneur said:
    Along with the Watch, AirPods are evidence that Apple is dead serious about doing what it takes to succeed in wearable electronics: miniaturize and complexify fearlessly, and push hard especially on mass production technology. 

    And with all the hardware finessed into those plastic cases, they still manage to come up with an elegant design — well, one that seems a bit weird at first sight, but one we'll probably get used to. Anyway, they look like they're worth $160 to me. Waiting for mine to arrive to hear how they perform. 
    I count seven chips inside of each AirPod plus a battery, antenna and glue.  This is quite a step up from EarPods connected via wires and plug-in jack. Admiring bigger, more profitable products like iPhone makes it easy to overlook how far Apple has pushed the technology with AirPods. 
    edited December 2016 Soliration alpscooter63watto_cobra
  • Reply 17 of 39
    macxpress said:
    While its interesting to see what's inside and how its assembled, why do they have to complain about the repairability of every product? 99.9% of users are not going to try and repair these. When they break you either get them replaced under warranty or they're simply broken.
    I read this article a bit differently - unless I missed it, I don't see a complaint, but rather a statement of fact.  The AirPods are not repairable any more than light bulbs or a myriad of other consumer products.  I'm sure Apple could have made them repairable, but would have sacrificed reliability, performance, and compactness.  Looks like a good design decision by Apple to give functionality, reliability and compactness higher import.  Especially, as others have said, repair costs on such a low price point item would not be something customers could justify.
    ration al
  • Reply 18 of 39
    My toaster has extremely low repairability. The base is riveted on, the case seams are folded, availability of replacement parts is almost zero (I imagine the cord is about the only one I can source), the controls are soldered on, and most of all any repair would cost more than the $10 cost of replacing it. I would pay almost as much in shipping any of those non-available parts as the entire unit. If I outsourced the repairs it would cost more than five new toasters.

    There are plenty of wired earbuds and even wired headsets that can't be repaired -- nearly all of them.

    Let's face it: some items simply aren't meant to be repaired. If Airpods were designed to be fixed then they would be four times their current size and weight. They would have ear clips to hold their massive mass in place.

    StrangeDaysn2macsration alpscooter63
  • Reply 19 of 39
    zimmiezimmie Posts: 210member
    macgui said:
    macxpress said:

    they now have a failing business model. 
    That's utter bullshit. Repairing AirPods would be a failing proposition. A lot of people aren't happy with Apple's low repairability record. To be clear, 'repairability' is not about the consumer, and hasn't been for years. 

    It's disappointing for many of use that Apple has reduced the user upgrade experience to near zero. And now, a failed component will more often than not mean Apple replacing the entire mobo instead of the bad component(s).

    But that it means Apple has a failing business model is just not true. 
    I'm 99% sure the OP meant iFixit is the one with the failing business model.
    edited December 2016 ration al
  • Reply 20 of 39
    macxpressmacxpress Posts: 4,792member
    zimmie said:
    macgui said:
    macxpress said:

    they now have a failing business model. 
    That's utter bullshit. Repairing AirPods would be a failing proposition. A lot of people aren't happy with Apple's low repairability record. To be clear, 'repairability' is not about the consumer, and hasn't been for years. 

    It's disappointing for many of use that Apple has reduced the user upgrade experience to near zero. And now, a failed component will more often than not mean Apple replacing the entire mobo instead of the bad component(s).

    But that it means Apple has a failing business model is just not true. 
    I'm 99% sure the OP meant iFixit is the one with the failing business model.
    Yes I did...Obviously Apple's business model is not failing. Companies with Billions in profits are not failing.
    edited December 2016
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