First iPad Mini teardown reveals few surprises

iFixit gives Apple's smaller tablet a low '2' repairability score, says it's 'extremely difficult' for DIYers

The first teardown of an iPad Mini showed few surprises, but the team that took apart Apple's new smaller tablet said it was "extremely difficult" for do-it-yourselfers to repair.

iFixit.com, which regularly rips apart devices sold by Apple and other electronics makers, published its initial teardown guide for the iPad Mini today.

"This product continues Apple's design pattern of creating devices with built-in consumables that are challenging to replace," said iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens in an email Thursday.

Although the Mini hit pre-order on Oct. 26, it won't reach retail until Friday, when previously-ordered tablets are also to be delivered to customers.

iFixit, however, got its hands on an early delivery to a California developer who let the site take his apart.

"The iPad Mini continues Apple's repair-impeding practice of keeping iPads together with copious amounts of adhesive," the iFixit guide stated.

Wiens chimed in. "The screen is glued to the case. The battery is glued down. The logic board is really glued down. The headphone jack is glued in. The only good news is that the LCD is not fused to the front glass," he said.

When iFixit tore down Apple's 15-in. MacBook Pro with a Retina screen in June, Wiens called it "the least-repairable laptop we've taken apart," and gave it a "1," the lowest-possible score in his site's repairability ratings, largely because of the amount of adhesive used to hold down components, particularly the battery.

Today, the iPad Mini did little better, garnering a "2" out of 10, and collecting the comment "repair [is] extremely difficult" from iFixit.

In comparison, two tablet rivals, Google's Nexus 7 and Amazon's Kindle Fire HD, each earned a "7" on repairability from the site.

There weren't many surprises post-teardown, but Wiens pointed out a few.

Contrary to Amazon's assertion earlier this week on its website that its Kindle Fire HD sported stereo speakers while the iPad Mini does not, iFixit did indeed locate two speakers on Apple's tablet. (Amazon has since removed the comparison chart from its home page.)

iFixit also tentatively identified the display module in its unit as from Samsung, which according to an analyst from NPD DisplaySearch, is shutting down its display relationship with Apple, a move that will likely result in severe shortages. Instead, Apple has turned to LG Display (LGD) and a new source, AO Optronics (AOU) for its tablet screens.

Last week, however, Richard Shim of NPD DisplaySearch said that the Samsung-Apple relationship wasn't completely dead, and that the former was still supplying about 5% of all iPad display modules.

Wiens made a point of noting that the iPad Mini uses a separate pane of glass overtop the LCD display, unlike other Apple devices such as the Retina-equipped MacBook Pros and the upcoming refreshed iMacs, which sport glass fused to the screen, a tactic used to reduce the device's thickness.

Wiens speculated that Apple may have foresworn fusing in the Mini to reduce repair costs of shattered screens, what with the expectation that many will be used by children and that schools may view them as more attractive than full-sized iPads because of the lower price.

But he criticized Apple, not for the first time, for the difficulty of removing the iPad Mini's battery and the relatively high price of a replacement battery.

The iPad Mini apart and on display; the battery is at the bottom center. (Image: iFixit.)

"Relative to the $329 price, Apple's $99 battery replacement program is very expensive," said Wiens. "Without regular battery replacements, the iPad Mini is doomed to the same 2- to 3-year maximum lifespan that the iPad has."

Apple charges $99 for all iPad battery replacements, with an additional $6.95 tacked on for shipping if the device is not brought to an Apple retail store or authorized service provider.

The iPad Mini is a 7.9-in. tablet that starts at $329. It is currently backordered two weeks for all Wi-Fi models; the more expensive configurations able to connect to the Internet through a mobile carrier aren't expected to ship until the middle of this month.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

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