Teardown: Apple iPad 7
Image credit: Apple
Apple has upgraded its basic tablet in a Trumpian yet canny way.
The seventh-generation standard iPad from Apple has arrived. The most significant thing about its teardown is how little the company has done. While that might disappoint you from an engineering perspective, there is a bigger story to think about.
There are four main differences. A bigger screen (10.2in diagonal against 9.7in), the addition of the Smart Connector already seen on more sophisticated iPads (allowing users to connect peripherals such as the Smart Keyboard), more RAM (3GB against 2GB) and extra software features courtesy of an iOS upgrade (including greater connectivity for inputs to and display-mirroring from Macbooks).
Otherwise, the iFixit analysis captures things well: “As the most basic tablet in Apple’s lineup, this iPad mostly inherits hand-me-down features from its more prestigious kin,” its team observes.
To that end, the iPad 7 is driven by the same quad-core A10 applications processor as its predecessor: silicon, which the company introduced in 2016. The battery is also identical, at 32.9Wh, though Apple has enhanced the power management so that while the display is larger, battery life remains 10 hours. There is further, wide component reuse.
The iFixit engineers did notice some tidying up on the layout. The Smart Connector cable is no longer buried beneath a glued-down battery as on more expensive iPads, but snakes around the design (visible in the X-ray). Other cables that messily crossed the interior have been consolidated. The edge magnets have shifted slightly, though this may be to accommodate the extra port.
So, “a pretty light refresh”, in their words, but still one that makes the iPad 7 more than a simple design rev.
Unfortunately, some aspects of the physical design have not changed. There remains too much glue. The Lightning port, one of the components most susceptible to wear and tear, is soldered rather than clipped in place so replacement will be tricky. The iFixit downbeat score for the iPad 7’s repairability remains an Apple-typical 2 out of 10.
However, we should consider that this is design in a very particular context.
This entry-level iPad has always been the most cost-conscious. Pricing remains an attractive £291 (£349, including VAT) for the basic Wi-Fi-only 32GB version, and there is a further 10 per cent discount for educators and students.
Apple has also had to find a way of moving its tablet forward a generation in light of the trade war between the US and China, and the prospect that its finished products are scheduled to fall under 15 per cent Trump administration tariffs in mid-December.
In the US, JP Morgan is forecasting that the tariffs will cost American consumers roughly $1,000 each (£814), potentially enough to make ‘budget’ iPad and iPhone customers hold off a new purchase or upgrade.
Then there is the important Chinese market, where there are signs that the brand’s once glamorous standing is in decline, adding to problems it has already faced due to a slowdown in consumer spending.
According to Prophet’s Brand Relevance Index 2019 for China, Apple has slipped from 11th place to 24th. This puts it some way behind Huawei (2nd, and the leader in consumer electronics there), Xiaomi (the upstart so beloved of Sir Jony Ive in 7th) and Lenovo (the owner of IBM’s old laptop business, in 20th). It has also fallen behind a trio of leading foreign technology companies, specifically Intel (9th), IBM (11th) and Nintendo (16th).
Jay Milliken, a senior partner in Prophet’s Hong Kong office, recently told Business Insider that mainland consumers are becoming more “nationalistic” in response to Huawei’s addition to the US Entity List, with Apple feeling some of their anger.
Although Apple arrested the recent sequential decline in Chinese revenues during its third quarter, they were still down 4 per cent year-on-year. Supporting those numbers has also involved the introduction of trade-in schemes and other financing promotions, and mainland technology players have generally benefitted from a recent cut in China’s VAT rate.
With all that in mind (and not forgetting other global concerns, such as Brexit and softening in the German economy), can you really blame Apple for right now going for a design that balances extensive reuse and some physically attractive but technologically straightforward upgrades to the iPad 7?
This design could even prove canny enough for Apple to hold off price increases for its most popular tablet if and when those Trump tariffs extend to consumer electronics. Some analysts are predicting hikes of up to 10 per cent, and such would be good to avoid – particularly if competitors cannot.
The new iPad 7 may not make for the smartest electronic advance, but amid all the current uncertainty it does look like smart business.
Moreover, despite any naysaying about its innards, it remains an excellent tablet that satisfies most consumers’ target uses and also edges tablet computing that little bit further toward laptop replacement. Timely rather than radical progress, you might say.
Apple iPad 7
Key components: exploded view
1. Rear assembly
4. Mid-frame, display and battery
5. Lightning port
6. SIM tray
7. Front assembly/glass panel
8. Touchscreen controller, Broadcom
9. Applications processor, Apple
10. Flash memory, SanDisk
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