My good friend Joe and I spent a little amount of time last week disassembling an Apple TV, on a personal level to both take a look inside as well as to get a sense of what folks at companies like iSuppli and Portelligent do when they do their teardowns. I was also asked to take a look at how prominent/visible a chip company in the portfolio of my venture capital employer is inside the Apple TV.
I apologize for the poor photo quality (I wasn’t originally planning on posting these and I just wanted to document how we took it apart so that I knew how to put it back together). But, if you bear with me, here’s a picture of the Apple TV itself before we “conducted open heart surgery” (it fits in the palm of your hand!):
Here is the what it looks like after we pry off the cover (with a flathead screwdriver or a paint wedge thing) – notice how thick the edges of the device are. This is important as I have nothing but sympathy for the poor engineers who had to design the infrared sensor and “blaster” for the remote such that it was powerful enough to penetrate that wall (but cheap enough/energy efficient enough for Apple to include it).
I’m not exactly sure what the pink is, but my guess based on how “squishy” it was, is that it is some sort of shock absorber to help protect the device. Unscrewing the outermost a set of screws (two of which are hidden under the shock absorber), we finally get at the circuit board at the heart of the device:
Using tweezers, we removed one of the connectors (I assumed it linked the chips on the board with the power supply) allowing us to detach the board from the enclosure:
We then had to remove the pesky electromagnetic shield (the metallic cover for most of the board), unveiling the chips inside (unfortunately, I didn’t take a picture of the opposite side of the board where you would actually see the Apple A4 chip):
To give a little perspective on the size of those chips, here is the board next to the original device (which, by the way, fits in the palm of your hand):
Cool, isn’t it? (At least Joe and I thought so )
As for reflections on the process:
- It’s a lot simpler than you would expect. Granted, we didn’t tear down a mobile phone (which is sealed somewhat more securely – although Joe and I might for kicks someday ), but at the end of the day, much of the “magic” is not in the hardware packaging, but in software, in the chips, or in the specialized hardware (antenna, LCD).
- With that said, it’d probably be pretty difficult to tear down a device without someone knowing. The magic may not be in the packaging, but ODMs/EMSs like Foxconn have built a solid business around precision placement and sealing, and human hands are unlikely to have the same precision (or be able to remove/replace an EMI shield without deforming it ).
- Given how simple this is, I personally believe that no tech analyst worth his or her pay should be allowed to go on without either doing their own teardown or buying a teardown from someone else. It’s a very simple way to understand how chip companies will do (just look at the board to see if they are getting sales!), and it’s a great way to get an understanding of what the manufacturing cost, design process, and technological capabilities of a device are.