Kyle Wiens and his team at iFixit, a website that provides free repair manuals and advice forums, are some of the smartest Apple geeks around. They've taken apart countless iPhones, Macs and iPads to see what makes them tick-and, of course, to find out how to repair them.
A few weeks ago, iFixit first reported Apple's screwy behavior to put tamper-resistant "Pentalobular" screws into its products that stymie do-it-yourselfers from making repairs. Then iFixit manufactured a tiny screwdriver that works on the Pentalobular screw's five-point flowery design.
Just how obsessed are these guys? Wiens flew to London to get his hands on the first iPhone 3GS before it debuted in the United States, and to Japan for the iPhone 4. Wiens was also a featured speaker at Macworld 2011 in San Francisco last week.
CIO.com sat down with Wiens at Macworld 2011 to get his impressions of the components that Apple puts into its products, as well as the strategy behind the components. He also gave his predictions of what might be inside the upcoming iPad 2 and iPhone 5.
Did Apple's switch to tamper-resistant Pentalobular screws surprise you?
Wiens: It surprised me that they were swamping out [standard Phillip screws] in their stores. I can see them switching production for new products, but to retroactively switch something they did in the past is a little disturbing. It's like a locksmith changing the locks in your house so that only he can rekey the locks in the future.
Some manufacturers have tried this. Mercedes removed the dipsticks in their cars so that you couldn't change the oil. There was a huge furor, and they had to put them back. Nintendo has a proprietary connector called the Gamebit, but it's become popular enough that there's a lot available today.
You've built a Pentalobular screw driver, mainly for hacking out the screw and replacing it with a Phillip screw. Tell me about making this screw driver.
Wiens: The quality of the screw driver is better than how we've been describing it. You can use it for multiple uses. It's not exactly the same shape as Apple's [Pentalobular] screw driver, because we were concerned there might be patents. We haven't found any patents yet.
Our screw driver is basically a five-point star. We've got a professional-grade version of the tool. Manufacturing this was really a challenge. It's so tiny. The screw driver is 0.7 millimeters across. You can't even really see it [with the naked eye].
COO Tim Cook said Apple had invested $3.9 billion to secure component supplies and capacity. Is this a good strategy?
Wiens: Apple has been shifting more of their cash to long-term investments, such as manufacturing partnerships. I think it's a very wise place for Apple to be spending their money. It's relatively low risk. Apple has such a line on the market that they are in much better position to forecast that risk than everybody else.
With all the other tablets coming out, it doesn't matter how competitive they are hardware-wise. We haven't seen anybody compete with the iPad. Certainly, nobody can come close to competing with the iPad on price, partially because of these bulk purchasing deals that Apple has set up.
When Apple first introduced the iPod, they were buying up all the Flash in market from all four suppliers. Nobody has been able to come up with an iPod Touch competitor because nobody can hit that $200 price point.
What do you expect to see in the iPad 2?
Wiens: The iPad compared to the iPhone 4 feels like a very primitive device. It doesn't have Facetime and some sensing capabilities. So I expect to see Facetime. Apple also has to increase the RAM. Right now, app developers do not get enough RAM. I think we'll see substantially improved graphic performance.
Wiens: I think the iPad 2 is going to play catch up to the iPhone 4, with the exception of a higher resolution. Apple will have to double the resolution, which is four times as many pixels. Otherwise, apps would not work well.
Right now, the iPad's pixel density is terrible, only 129 pixels per inch. The Galaxy Tab beats the iPad with 169 pixels per inch. But I'm not aware of any manufacturer that has the capacity to deliver double the iPad pixel density on a 7-inch display yet.
I can see Apple doing some deals in the last six months, spending billions of dollars to get those factories online, and producing those displays 18 months from now.
Will the iPad 2 have a multicore chip?
Wiens: This year? I don't know. They desperately need it. Multi-tasking on iOS is painful. Part of that is CPU limited. You have a single in-line processor and you're trying to run multiple end-to-end contact switching. You end up pushing the thing really hard.