[MacBook Air Teardown] 'No Waste Outside, Nothing but Waste Inside' [Part 5]

Feb 20, 2008
Nikkei Electronics Teardown Squad
The MacBook Air's main substrate. A jumper line looks like surrounding a large LSI chip in the bottom center.
The MacBook Air's main substrate. A jumper line looks like surrounding a large LSI chip in the bottom center.
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The keyboard had a number of tiny screw holes.
The keyboard had a number of tiny screw holes.
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The inside of an external component used to attach the keyboard. Opinions were divided among the engineers whether cutting work had been added or not.
The inside of an external component used to attach the keyboard. Opinions were divided among the engineers whether cutting work had been added or not.
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The hinges. Apple might have made this component by cutting an aluminum die-cast product, an engineer said.
The hinges. Apple might have made this component by cutting an aluminum die-cast product, an engineer said.
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The MacBook Air's LCD panel. It is a product manufactured by AU Optronics Corp of Taiwan.
The MacBook Air's LCD panel. It is a product manufactured by AU Optronics Corp of Taiwan.
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"Can we say that the MacBook Air has a perfect, sophisticated external appearance, but its insides are full of waste?" asked Mayuko Uno, a squad member, as if speaking for the engineers that had finished the teardown process.

With the help of several engineers from major Japanese PC manufacturers, the Nikkei Electronics Teardown Squad broke down the MacBook Air to the point where putting it back together would be difficult. What became apparent was its unexpected internal structure.

One engineer who attended the project said, "It was completely different from what I expected." And another engineer said, "Including ODM products, the MacBook Air was different from any other PC I have ever seen."

What astonished all those engineers was the fact that the computer had a very costly structure. For example, it used an extremely large number of screws to attach components. About 30 screws were used to attach the keyboard alone.

"The total number of screws in the MacBook Air was several times the number used in a PC we make," one of the engineers said.

Looking at the hinges connecting the upper and bottom units of the PC and at the inside surface of external components, the engineers pointed out the possibility of additional cutting work.

All of the engineers found the structure hard to comprehend. The screws that attached the keyboard might also prevent the keyboard from bending when being pressed, but it seems like there must have been a better solution.

"If I proposed such a design, our company would never approve it," said one of the engineers. "I can't find anything that is technically superior. We can make the same computer at a lower cost," said another. Did the MacBook Air's internal structure represent the immaturity of Apple's design skill?

The engineers guessed one of the factors behind such a structure was the laptop's manufacturing plant, which apparently did not give any technical feedback to Apple.

"When it comes to Japanese PC manufacturers, their manufacturing plants will complain or add their own technical efforts to lower cost, if a proposed structural design was insufficient," one of the engineers said. "The MacBook Air gives me an impression that its manufacturing plant packaged the computer exactly as ordered by Apple."

Apple contracts out all of its PC production. The MacBook Air we tore down this time is highly likely to have been manufactured by HonHai Precision Industry Co Ltd of Taiwan. The computer's internal structure can be described as a reflection of this divided labor system.

Based on the results of our teardown project, we guess Apple is not paying much attention to both workmanship of the hardware design and comprehensive cost reduction. The company seems to have focused on aspects, where its expertise lies, such as external appearance, software and user interfaces.

Apple apparently takes the same stance for all of its products, including the iPod and iPhone. The MacBook Air's mysterious internal design might be a violent antithesis against Japanese manufacturing, which allows no compromise even in detailed parts of the hardware.