Every year we head to Australia with our friends from ifixit to teardown the brand new iPhones to figure out how they’re built. The teardowns are done at our dear friends at circuitwise, who let us use their TruView Prime to take the x-ray images you’re used to year after year. For more details please visit the complete teardown here.
We set down with Phil Stoten from Scoop to chat teardowns, x-ray inspection, and the future of electronic packaging. Enjoy!
This year we went back to Australia with the ifixit team to tear down the iPhone XS and XS Max. As expected, this new series of devices are spec upgrades of the iPhone X, so there we no major surprises. Apple repeated the stack boards, which greatly increased the complexity of the substrate used and the overall assembly. Perhaps the biggest surprise was the “L” snapped battery of the iPhone XS, the first of its kind in the world of iPhones. The following image shows x-rays of the iPhone X, XS, and XS Max.
The two things come together, you can’t have one without the other. More than being a trailblazer, Apple is a design consolidator. What that means is that prior to Apple’s entrance into a market, device designs are fragmented. Look, for example, at the “smartphone” market prior to the iPhone. We had blackberries, Palm, and many other vendors offering a wide range of designs. After the iPhone, now all devices are a black glass rectangle with a soft keyboard. The same can be said for the tablet market and the iPad, smart watches and the Apple Watch, and for the MacBook.
To be on the edge of design you need to also be on the edge of manufacturing. The iPhone X introduced a semiconductor-like fabrication process for their substrates, which allowed Apple to shrink the whole design by about 35%. The X also introduced a face identification protocol that uses 30,000 infrared dots projected in your face – and imaged by a custom IR camera. These leaps in design push our manufacturing and x-ray inspection capabilities, requiring the supply chain to continuously keep up with Apple.
The iPhone is perhaps the driver of the inevitable convergence of semiconductor manufacturing and PCB assembly. The future – a not so distant future – will enable phones fully integrated in a single package. We’ll see sensors taking more of the real estate inside our phones, to truly transform them into personal information hubs. Phones will consolidate all our personal data, from shopping lists to movie preferences to our real time EKG.
The substrate-like substrate used on the iPhone has already been adopted by all major smartphone makers. It will be interesting to see how long this technology will take to become mainstream in North America. There is a significant retooling required to deal with these substrates, which will require a wave of infrastructure investment.
The constant drive for miniaturization is far from over. The new substrates used in the iPhone X platform opened the door to a new era a electronic packaging that will greatly increase the power of these devices. Furthermore, we have 5G around the corner, which will impose considerable demands in battery – driving the further miniaturization of the electronics. Inspection, specially x-ray systems, need to adapt to higher resolutions and higher magnifications.
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