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Fireside Chat with the Xperts: iPhone Evolution


Through our partnership with iFixit, we’ve imaged every iPhone model ever made.  Take a trip with us back in time as we chat with Jeff Suovanen of iFixit about the evolution of these remarkable devices.  While there’s plenty to cover regarding how the iPhone has changed over the years, the conversation takes an interesting turn as Jeff shares more about iFixit’s broader mission and the Right to Repair movement.

Enjoy the video, and then reach out to us directly with any question.  Register for upcoming Fireside Chats with the Xperts and view our archives here.

Transcript:

David Kruidhof:
Okay. It’s ten o’clock and for another fireside chat with the experts. Today we have a very special guest with us obviously I’ve…

Bill Cardoso:
I think you are. Oh, you mean guest? Sorry,

David Kruidhof:
Yes. Not you Bill. Mostly special guests. We have Jeff here from our good friends over at iFixit. As you probably are aware we do a lot of work with iFixit. You would like to work with them providing X-ray images, ablative technology that they’re going to tear apart. So like-minded geeks loving to look inside of things. We’re always watching their videos and seeing what the latest tech is and what’s going on inside. So Jeff, I don’t know if you want to give a brief introduction of yourself?

Jeff Suovanen:
Sure. I’m Jeff Suovanen. I’ve been a senior technical writer at iFixit and I’m also on the tear down team there. So I’ve been writing guides and tear downs for iFixit for about seven years.

Bill Cardoso:
And let me tell you something Jeff. I was… A couple of weekends ago my refrigerator broke at home, right? And I’m not kidding, right? And I went online and I typed how to fix this GE, whatever that I had. And a guide at iFixit helped me out. A refrigerator something… If it’s an iPhone or computer or car repair. And I was impressed by how guys have cars, right? Car repair guides and it’s pretty cool.

Jeff Suovanen:
Yeah. We’re known for smartphones because that’s kind of what we cut our teeth on. But our iFixit mission is to teach everyone to repair everything. And it is not content that is written by us. We can’t take credit for most of it. A lot of it is community sourced. It’s basically a giant repair Wiki. So yeah, we’ve got guides for refrigerators and cars and all kinds of stuff. And it’s more important now i think than ever for people to have access to that kind of information because we’re all at home trying to DIY everything, right? We all worth. You have to be your own IT department right now with everything that’s going on.

Bill Cardoso:
Exactly. We’d spear call that you can only… Not only can buy parts, get by the tools. You guys like a one-stop shop, right? To get the knowledge and then you figure out what tools you need to get things fixed all sure. I’m a big fan so every time you need something to fix in the house which is quite often with three little kids, there’s something breaks. Because they are actively destroying everything constantly. It’s been super useful.

David Kruidhof:
Definitely.

Jeff Suovanen:
That’s great. I love hearing that.

David Kruidhof:
Well the primary topic for today is the iPhone, right? We recently had the iPhone 12 get released. And so in it’s four different versions, right? We provided you some images of those and its more awesome teardowns there and some really impressive technology in this way this version but it just got us reminiscing of good old days back to when the iPhone was invented and how far it’s really come. Right? 12 pro has a lidar on it.

Bill Cardoso:

David Kruidhof:
Mind blowing. Right? I remember when the iPhone was first getting released and there were names and what not of, Oh it does everything. This thing’s a… Whatever you could possibly imagine. It’s a hand grenade. It’s a just ridiculous thing where you were joking about because in our mindset it was preposterous, right? How many things one device can do? I remember the time when I had a flip phone in one hand, PDA in the other and someone was telling me that someone’s trying to invent something to put the two together. And I was, “Why, that’s the stupidest idea I’ve ever known.”

Bill Cardoso:
Who’s going to buy that?

David Kruidhof:
Because why would I want that? And then of course it came out and now I have it and love it. And very happy after they put them in one device. But I’m… Go ahead Bill.

Bill Cardoso:
That was going to… That remind me of the… There’s a really interesting book called, Losing the Signal. And it’s about the… It’s all BlackBerry, right? And I read this book a few years ago. Its from a few years ago. But the basic trace of history of BlackBerry. Guys you know BlackBerry? I guess old enough to remember BlackBerry.

Jeff Suovanen:
Absolutely.

Bill Cardoso:
CrackBerry, right? And he traces the history of Blackberry from the founders and how it became this powerhouse. Right? They dominated the smartphone market and there’s one part of that story that fascinates me. Because the CEO of Blackberry, right? He is… I think he’s exercise in the morning? And he just happens to watch Steve Jobs presenting the iPhone? And I think that presentation is probably the most watched presentation the world, right? When Steve Jobs goes, “It’s an iPod, it’s a phone, it’s internet navigator.”

Bill Cardoso:
Again he comes off the iPhone. And the CEO of BlackBerry he stops. He has the oh shit moment, “Oh man, we’re destroyed. We’re Done.” Right? “How do we do that?” And then Steve Jobs presented that deal with AT&T and the guy for BlackBerry is, “We are destoyed, we’re done.” Right? So he goes back to Blackberry headquarters and tells everyone, “We’re doomed.” And everyone in the BlackBerry calms him down said, “No, don’t worry that’s a toy. No one’s going to buy that. It’s not secure. It doesn’t have a physical keyboard. Whose going to buy? It doesn’t have a keyboard. It’s battery life is not long enough.” So they basically calm him down. He said, “Its going to threat. Don’t worry about it.” Right? And well the rest is history, right? But it fascinates me how the guy knew it. In his gut and was able to be talked out or reacting properly to the iPhone?

Jeff Suovanen:
It’s funny in retrospect how hyped that was at the time. Or it almost seemed like it couldn’t possibly live up to expectations. And in retrospect it’s that was easily the most… I think the most important consumer product launch in the last 15 years.

Bill Cardoso:
Yeah.

Jeff Suovanen:
I would say.

Bill Cardoso:
Yeah. I mean it came… Apple had just revolutionized the music industry. Remember you had Napster before and he had all these music issue was a Wild West. And they were able to basically revolutionize that with iTunes, right? And create a market where record companies can make music and consumers could be legal or consume legal content fairly cheaper. And then on top of that they create the app ecosystem. Right? Which is now the zillions of dollars in revenue for not only the Apple but for everyone involved in the industry. And I think you’re right? Look how many times we’ll look at your iPhone everyday.

Jeff Suovanen:
Yeah. Pretty fascinating.

Bill Cardoso:
What was that first iPhone? Where you guys? Were you already on the Apple fans before the iPhone was released? What was it for you personally Jeff, that got you? What started? What was your first? I guess what was your first iPhone?

Jeff Suovanen:
So I remember when the iPhone was introduced and I believe it was 2007. I had a iPod Nano and a flip phone. And I remember seeing that presentation and almost not wanting to continue watching it. Because it just seemed immediately you tell this thing is amazing and I want one. But it was… I want to say it was $600 at the time.

Bill Cardoso:
It was a lot of money.

Jeff Suovanen:
And carrier subsidies did not exist back then. So you know it’s very easy to start to amortize the cost of the device and you’re going to keep it for an average person probably keeps their phone two or three years. So it’s a little easier on the wallet. But at the time it was a huge outlay of cash. In 2007- 2008 were not great years for me financially as they weren’t for a lot of people. At the time it was just out of reach.

Jeff Suovanen:
It was well this is really cool but I almost don’t even want to know how cool it is because I’m not even on the same wavelength as this product launch right now. I’m doing something else. But I was excited. I Just… I think you could immediately see the potential and I ended up… I think the iPhone four was my first real smartphone. It took a few years for me to get on board. But I still use an iPhone to this day.

Bill Cardoso:
The same iPhone four by the way. He’s been fixing it for 10 years now.

Jeff Suovanen:
That’s so true.

David Kruidhof:
Really good manual that can help you out with just who needs help fix the nation.

Jeff Suovanen:
Yeah. I have to look into that.

Bill Cardoso:
But what you guys have see about who has the oldest device at iFixit. Because you’re so proud of those because you’ve been fixing it for so long and like duct tape. And…

Jeff Suovanen:
It’s a point of pride. We had a few people who had really old, candy-bar like Nokia phones that were seven, eight years old and were still running great. And they were only retired when the technology got to the point where the carriers weren’t even supporting them anymore.

Jeff Suovanen:
So I’m currently rocking it on iPhone 10 which is about three years old now. It’s still working great. I have no reason to… It’s got a fresh battery in it. So it’s got a lot of life left in it. And one of the things Apple does really well is they continue to provide software updates and support over the years. So I’m good for now. I’m set. How about you guys.

Bill Cardoso:
I think my first iPhone was… There was… It might have been… I think it was a 3GS. That’s the first one. So not the very first one but the next one after that. And in the 2000’s, I was working for U.S government. So it was… Everything was Blackberry, right? I had my Blackberry and PC 100%. And then when I started Creative Electron and I remember that year I had four PC laptops in six months because they it just break. And that’s what I said, “Enough, let’s give Apple a try.” And that’s been my platform since then. But how about you? You said it was a four? Your own. The first one David, or the five?

David Kruidhof:
I think my first one was the five. It was a pretty late adopter. And then as it was my first job in sales my boss got me an iPhone. And that was when I finally jumped to a have a smartphone. I had semi smartphones for a while because all I needed to really do was text. All right. So I had to keep a manual keyboard on mine. All I do is text. And I was content with that. It changes your life. I just have everything right in front of you. World of information quite literally in front of you. And it just changes everything. Because the way you interact changes expectations. Right?

Bill Cardoso:
I think we should go Apple so they can sponsor this video though.

Jeff Suovanen:
It is amazing though, how many functions that one device has taken over. It was pretty sophisticated at launch and it’s only gotten more. So you think about how many separate gizmos you used to have to buy it? You have pocket calculator and a camera and a compass and a GPS and all of this stuff it’s all there or now in one device which is pretty amazing. Other kind of power in your pocket.

David Kruidhof:
Yeah.

Bill Cardoso:
It’s true. That’s true.

Jeff Suovanen:
That goes for Apple or Samsung or whoever’s making this modern smart phones are just amazing. Which is part of the reason why we enjoy taking a part in picking at the pieces so much.

David Kruidhof:
Yeah. So what changes have you guys seen or appreciate I should say from the first iPhone, right? Going from nothing to the first iPhone was just absolutely astounding but internal technology you’re tearing these apart. Oh, and you’ve been X-raying these for so many years. What are you seeing through these generations from then till now that’s really impresses you the most? Maybe that’s too broad of a question. Too many things.

Bill Cardoso:
I think the repair ability index that iFix has been tracking. So good way to approach this question.

Jeff Suovanen:
Repair ability has been an interesting arc and that’s obviously what we’re focused on. I was going to tell you as a consumer I think the thing that sticks out to me is the camera. Those original cameras were crummy as camera phones were in those days. It’s pretty amazing now how sophisticated they’d gotten and how much real estate physically those cameras take up inside the phone. Bump on the back to accommodate the extra thickness of the camera. They really kind of dominate the device in a way now in a way that they did not in 2007 or 2008. So that I would say is something that as a consumer interests me and surprises me. I would not have predicted.

David Kruidhof:
I think the iPhone might be number one or most common camera.

Jeff Suovanen:
Yes.

Bill Cardoso:
Most sold camera. And it’s not a camera, right? Obviously it is but that’s not what its primary job was supposed to be. We have the camera.

Jeff Suovanen:
As they say in the photography world that the best camera is the one you have with you, right?

Bill Cardoso:
That’s a good point.

David Kruidhof:
That’s fine

Jeff Suovanen:
That’s really going to be your iPhone. But to your point about repairability Bill, I think that there’s been an interesting arc there because the first few iPhone generations were not super repairable. I think I would say they were sort of figuring out how to make this thing. And repairability was a little bit of an afterthought. And that’s fairly common for second generation products. The point where they really started to nail it repair ability wise was iPhone five. And the reason I say that is because that’s when they figured out a design that accommodated both screen and battery repairs fairly well. And those are the top two smartphone repairs by far because people drop their phone they need a screen repair and the battery is a consumable. And it just tends to wear out after a year or two after 500 or so charge cycles. So those two repairs are really important but in the original iPhone; iPhone 3G, 3GS. It was always a trade-off.

Jeff Suovanen:
You could get to the battery but you couldn’t get to the screen. Or you could get to the screen but you had to completely disassembled the thing to get the battery out. With iPhone five Apple started offering in-store repairs. Same day repairs for customers at the Apple store. And it shows in the design because they settled on this unibody tub that all the parts go into including the battery goes in last or near last. And then they close it up with the screen over the top. So the screens is the first thing to come out. And then right from there you can get to the batteries, virtually step two and that design and the iPhone 5 has persisted to this day. Obviously there’s been a lot of design changes to the iPhone over the years but that basic way that it’s sort of constructed to accommodate those two repairs has not changed since the iPhone 5 which was in 2012. That’s an eternity in the tech world. That was eight years ago.

Bill Cardoso:
No. Yeah. From an X-ray inspection perspective this… We see the iPhone is a leading indicator of what’s to come as far as mass produced consumer electronics, right? You look at some recent introduction to the iPhone like additive substrates going away from subtractive substrates, your additive substrates and the stacking that we saw on the iPhone 10 where they have two, the motherboard and other boards stacked for the first time. With Apple pushes me overlook as far as mass consumer electronics way. And so from an inspection perspective the… Its interest ahead of what U.S Manufacturing is currently doing. So there’s about a five year gap, right? What we see on an iPhone today is what is going to be common standard here in a few years. I read something you guys are talking about the cameras or not iPhone 12. What’s going on there with repair ability.

Jeff Suovanen:
The iPhone 12 camera situation is a little strange. What we do when a new phone comes out particularly in iPhone, is we’ll buy a couple of units of each model and we’ll start swapping parts back and forth to simulate a repair, right? Because we don’t have replacement parts available yet for something that new, but we can just buy two phones and sort of cannibalize one to put new parts in the other one.

Bill Cardoso:
That’s smart.

Jeff Suovanen:
Normally that’s a pretty straight forward process. But in recent years, Apple has been throwing up some barriers where a particular part even if it’s a genuine part harvested from another iPhone may not work correctly or may not work at all without Apple’s sort of secret sauced software pairing that they do. And that’s a tool that they only provide for their own technicians. So it’s not available to an end user, a DIYer and not available to many independent repair shops. That has not affected cameras yet. But what we’ve found with the camera on the iPhone 12 when we swapped it, is it booted up and it worked. But it was really glitchy. The camera app would crash constantly. It would freeze. There were a number of functions that weren’t available at all. It would not switch to the wide view module. You could only shoot it at regular. One at zoom. And what was even stranger was this only applied to the vanilla iPhone 12. The 12 pro camera swaps work fine.

Jeff Suovanen:
So it’s a really strange situation. We have reached out to Apple to see if they can enlighten us as to what’s going on there. We’re hopeful that we’ll get an answer. But the bottom line is camera swaps are just really unreliable on the iPhone 12 in a way that we’ve never seen before. My hope is that that’s a glitch and it’s a bug that they will fix. But the sort of arc of repairability of iPhones in recent years has not been great. So the jury’s out. iPhone 12 might be a turning point repairability wise. We’ll see.

Bill Cardoso:
Interesting.

David Kruidhof:
Interesting. Because iPhone or Apple has been concerned with counterfeits and stuff like that, right? People repairing things with not authentic stuff and either getting mad that it doesn’t work anymore or a breaking of screens, bodies breaking. Do you think that’s their defense against that stuff must have make it harder or requires some software validation?

Jeff Suovanen:
I think Apple’s M O personally, is my personal opinion. I think their M O is to control every aspect of the consumer experience. And that includes the entire repair experience. They don’t want anybody getting their iPhone repaired anywhere other than at Apple or an Apple authorized location where they have control over everything that happens. I understand that it’s just not realistic when you have a billion plus or I think it might be two billion plus iOS devices in the world now. That’s crazy. And so it’s just making things very difficult for folks who have to have functioning devices but they’re beholden to Apple’s future for doing that. You mentioned counterfeits. Apple likes to beat the counterfeiting drum because it’s a good scare tactic. It works well, but they have gone to the extent of labeling refurbished parts as counterfeits. And these are genuine Apple parts.

Jeff Suovanen:
They might go out of the country to a factory in China for example where they take. You look at it. A screen is a great example. So an iPhone OLED screen. If you have to buy a replacement part it’s very expensive. It’s 150, $200 something like that. What typically breaks is not the panel. It’s the glass cover, right? It’s a $10 piece of glass that shatters. That the display panel underneath is still totally usable. So what happens is these broken screens get shipped to a factory in Taiwan or China. They very carefully remove the shattered glass. They refurbish the screen. They put new glass on it. It’s good as new. They ship it back to the U.S so the repair shops can have those parts because Apple won’t sell them the parts, right? Because Apple wants the control.

Jeff Suovanen:
So these refurbished screens are coming back in the U.S and then Apple has custom sieze them and say they are counterfeits.

David Kruidhof:
Wow.

Bill Cardoso:

Jeff Suovanen:
This has happened over and over to our friends in the repair community. It’s incredibly frustrating especially when you have money tied up. If you’re a repair shop and you’ve laid out $10,000 for new screen inventory and it gets seized that money is lost. That’s very difficult for a small business owner to absorb those kinds of costs and Apple is there interfering in their ability to repair and do business. So it’s very frustrating. I understand Apple’s desire to want to control everything but it’s causing a lot of problems in the repair world. And this is part of the reason why iFixit works so hard on advocacy issues for right to repair laws and things like this. Because those are our friends and the repair community. And we’re seeing the struggles that they’re going through as a result of these kinds of aggressive anti-repair policies that Apple has.

Bill Cardoso:
[inaudible 00:22:35]

David Kruidhof:
I think we may have just lost the sponsorship.

Jeff Suovanen:
Apple does a lot of good things. I don’t mean to… I said I I’m an iPhone user. There’s a lot of things repairability wise about the iPhone I really like. And we have friends at Apple. I think that we’ve had some good conversations with them. And my hope is that things will move in a more positive direction. They’re a big organization. It’s a big ship. They’ve made some good positive. If you look at their most recent environmental report they have emphasized over and over some wonderful environmental goals that they have. And that repair is a key component of that. If they stick to that, if they stick to those goals if they’re really serious about it I foresee changes coming in the repair world. I think Apple will ultimately do the right thing.

David Kruidhof:
But they are in a difficult position, right? If you really… We have two billion devices out there and when one of them breaks prematurely. Someone on YouTube is going to make a video about it and your reputation goes down, right? It goes viral and there’s problems. So they’re trying to control that. But how you said maybe some of those are overly aggressive, right? These are authentic parts that are coming back but they don’t have the traceability that Apple might wish for, right? And so if you can’t practically repair and maintain these two million phones there’s going to be a demand to do it through third parties, right? And so how do you regulate that. You really can’t. And then your reputation is the one that gets dinged every time somebody else does something wrong with it. And of course you’re going to get upset about it. That’s… I don’t know what the answer would be on how to do that nicely and effectively.

Jeff Suovanen:
Not to point fingers specifically at Apple because this is a problem industry, ***right? Right to your peers is a huge issue. It’s a huge issue in agriculture. Farmers are all over this. They’re being locked out of their tractor. Prepares with software which is crazy. Issue in the medical world we had a huge project that I fixed it earlier this year to publish a ventilator and medical equipment repair manuals because the manufacturers were locking down repairs and making… There was a shortage of ventilators in hospitals couldn’t repair them because they weren’t allowed which is weird.

Bill Cardoso:
So wow

Jeff Suovanen:
So it’s not just Apple. They’re an easy target because they’re the biggest company in the world. And they’re… Everybody looks to them to set trends but this is a huge problem across multiple industries and without pointing fingers at any one person. Our position that iFixit is basically if you own something you should have the ability to repair it. And so parts should be available. It doesn’t mean manufacturers can’t make a profit on them. They should make a profit on part sales. They should make a profit on repairs. That’s capitalism. That’s fine. But those things should be available so that if you’re stuck at home in a pandemic and you don’t want to risk life and limb to go down to the repair store or the Apple store or wherever to get your product fixed you can do it at home. And that’s what iFixit tries to provide in. And we think that option should be available for more products and more industries.

David Kruidhof:
And some of us just like to do it, right? Now that life-threatening reason to repair around stuff we just want to, right?

Jeff Suovanen:
Its all that we are having now.

David Kruidhof:
Its present a thing. It’s fun. Right? Yeah.

Jeff Suovanen:
That is similar in the car repair world. Like if your only option is to take your repair to the dealer. That’s going to be an expensive repair and there should be more competition than that. Right? Like we all have corner auto repair shops. We want those guys to be able to stay in business. And it’s the exact same issue. So it’s all about having options. Not everybody wants to do a DIY repair, not everybody’s going to try to fix things at home. A lot of us we rely on repair shops and technicians to service our stuff. And that’s fine too. It just should never be in a situation where the consumer’s only option is to go back to the manufacturer for repair.

David Kruidhof:
Right.

Bill Cardoso:
So true to the tradition of this fireside chat. What was the question again?

David Kruidhof:
I don’t know. Was there a question?

Jeff Suovanen:
I’m sorry guys. You got me started in the right to repair.

Bill Cardoso:
We don’t answer David’s questions anyway.

David Kruidhof:
A whole list of them. I asked two of them. We don’t answer either of them. Speak how this goes. That’s what makes it a chat instead of a prepared webinar. We only have a minute left but I did want to… But this timeline that we put together up. Just so people who aren’t familiar with all of it and get a glimpse at what we’re talking about here. So this is the first iPhone. Is here on the left. This is actually is not all of the iPhones that have been released. Now we took out some of them just to… Some of the assays and things like that with minor changes just to fit it on the screen.

David Kruidhof:
Even now you really can’t see at all but it’s amazing, right? I think one of the first things that really impressed me or one of the things that really impressed me with this 11 pro is this battery shape. Right? All of these are more of that. You roll the two materials together and then kind of flat them into this one shape. You can’t do that with this. This is a different technology with the battery that really pops out to you when you’re looking at it with the X-ray but-

Jeff Suovanen:
Yeah actualy they’ve done some really fun things with batteries and recently because I know you said we only have a minute left. So you’d probably not have time to talk about it but, yeah.

David Kruidhof:
We’ve got on a whole half an hour conversation on batteries.

Jeff Suovanen:

David Kruidhof:
Alright Jeff, what were you saying?

Jeff Suovanen:
Oh, I was just agreeing with you. Apples batteries in recent years have been… They’ve done some really cool stuff. We can talk about that more if you want. And I know you said we’re running out of time.

David Kruidhof:
I mean looking at much this is the later 12, right? These are so much smaller than that but you’re still getting more battery life out of it. It’s awesome. Really awesome. But we out of time we’ll have to come back to this at some point. But Jeff really appreciate you joining us and really fun conversation. Appreciate your time.

Jeff Suovanen:
Anytime. We love you guys. We love your images. Our use case for X-rays is maybe a little unusual. We’d just like to see inside stuff so we know how to pull it apart but you guys do amazing work. We’re huge fans and I’m happy to join anytime.

Bill Cardoso:
Same thing if you ask, we are big fans too.

David Kruidhof:
All right.

Bill Cardoso:
Thank you guys.

David Kruidhof:
Thank you all for joining us.

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