Teardown: What’s Inside Apple’s Big New iPad 2 Dock (+ iPad 1 Dock) | iLounge Backstage

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Teardown: What’s Inside Apple’s Big New iPad 2 Dock (+ iPad 1 Dock)

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By Jeremy Horwitz

Editor-in-Chief, iLounge
Published: Tuesday, April 12, 2011
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We were curious. Puzzled, even. Why would Apple go through the trouble of completely redesigning the original iPad Dock—an accessory that is actually physically compatible with both the iPad and iPad 2—to release the considerably larger and even less compatible iPad 2 Dock, which is physically incapable of making an electronic connection with the iPad, and now has too little space to work with even slender iPad 2 cases?

We posted a Backstage article on the two iPad 2 Docks and included a guess or two of our own. Maybe Apple needed or intended the extra space inside the iPad 2 Dock for more complex electronics, such as a late-omission Thunderbolt port. Perhaps it had learned something from the odd little gray pill below the Dock Connector on the original iPad Dock. A reader suggested that stress on the first iPad on the prior Dock had caused minor damage to the iPad’s rear casing. There wasn’t any one obvious answer.

So we cracked both the iPad Dock and the iPad 2 Dock open to take a look for ourselves, and what we found inside was surprising. Read on for all the photos and details.

First, if you’ve ever wondered how Apple gets those docks to feel substantial, the answer’s not tiny sandbags. Each version of the Dock actually has a huge, heavy metal plate inside molded with a “Zinc-3” legend on its undercarriage.

These plates actually jut up to form the reclining mini-walls found behind the iPads, which is to say that Apple’s Docks are far sturdier than their pretty little glossy white plastic exteriors would suggest. The process of prying them open took nearly an hour per Dock, and included a series of little discoveries—glue-covered screws inside the original iPad Dock, replaced by cheaper and more easily removed melted plastic donuts to hold the iPad 2’s metal and plastic base pieces together. It was harder to get these Docks apart than any of the first three or four iPods, in some cases appearing that Apple was actively attempting to prevent disassembly.

What else was inside? Well, nothing that would explain the radical increase in size. Each Dock has a spring-loaded Dock Connector, as well as a long dark green Dock Connector cable running from one side to the other, seemingly with more surface area than the tiny circuit board inside. There’s at least as much empty space inside of each Dock as there is used area, with the ratio of unused space growing markedly in the iPad 2 Dock.

What changed on the iPad 2 Dock’s circuitboard? Well, the first version of the Dock had a 2009 copyright, two legends (“MFC HF/e1 DC 0810” and “Apple 821-1064-A), and a square chip that we believe to be the authentication hardware. The iPad 2 Dock has no copyright date on the top of the circuit board, one legend (“821-1219-A HF/e1 MFC 0911”) and what looks to be two square chips, one in the exact same place as before, and another that’s covered in silver—obscuring whatever markings it might have had—while sitting in a newly added square area on the circuit board. Thanks to their connectors, the Docks both include more conspicuous Foxconn or Foxlink branding than Apple markings, on the inside at least.

We know from testing the iPad and iPad 2 Docks that they don’t behave identically from an electronic standpoint—the newer version is a little faster and less glitchy when initiating screen mirroring, for example—but it’s pretty obvious now that there was no need for all that extra depth, height, and length to accommodate electronic changes. After going through the full teardown, our impression is that the extra footprint was solely or substantially to increase the iPad 2 Dock’s stability, and that the lip may be there to change the distribution of stresses, as suggested by our reader.

The biggest takeaway from the experience? Case incompatibilities aside—and they increasingly seem to be by design—Apple builds these docks amazingly well. Given that we’re talking about $29 accessories that look like they’re made entirely from plastic, they were surprisingly challenging to disassemble, resilient to all but surface damage, and unusually substantial for items that could have just as easily been rendered disposable. The industrial engineers only cut obvious corners on the sequel in ways that would never impact an average user, replacing internal screws and glue with more efficient fasteners. They obviously also created a dock that uses substantially more metal than before while maintaining the same $29 price. It’s actually pretty impressive. But the questions we’re still left with are these: why is Apple making such simple Docks like steel traps, and what’s the new silver-covered chip really doing there? Maybe some one out there has good answers. Or maybe some things will just remain mysteries.

« Thanking Apple For Hassle-Free Software Updates

A Few Details On Apple’s (Much) Bigger iPad 2 Dock »

Comments

1

Thanks for the information.
Any chance of taking the iPod 2 Keyboard Dock apart?

Posted by DutchAussie on April 13, 2011 at 2:53 AM (PDT)

2

A quick note: that is not a “chip covered in silver” in the new dock, it’s an unpopulated set of pads for a QFN package (look on Wikipedia for photos).

Not sure what exactly would prompt Apple to include a whole extra chunk of board that isn’t used, but who knows. It would be interesting to see if there’s a similar grouping of parts (but populated) in the new iPad 2 to HDMI adapter…

Posted by Matt Jones on April 13, 2011 at 4:24 PM (PDT)

3

And they’ve been making the docks this way for years; I’ve still got one of the original docks that shipped with the first docking iPod. I’ve taken it apart many a time, and it’s still in great condition, aside from a couple scratches on the bottom.

Yeah, they’re expensive, but they’ll survive a nuclear war.

Posted by Josh Calvetti on April 13, 2011 at 6:46 PM (PDT)

4

I like knowing the quality of the accessories match the quality that they have in the iPad 2. I work for Dish Network and I really am looking for a good stand or dock that fits my needs. This may work for when I am charging my iPad but when I am at work or just doing what I do most streaming TV from my Sling Adapter with the Dish remote app I would need something that has speakers and that lets the iPad change positions. Thank you for the information I may just pick one of these up for my home office.

Posted by Ray on April 14, 2011 at 8:44 PM (PDT)

5

Does anyone know if the small ‘lip’ that comes up at the front of the iPad 2 dock is solid plastic, or hollow? It isn’t clear from the pictures. I would like to grind it down so that the Smart Cover can stay comfortably on the iPad while it sits in the dock, but I only want to grind it down if the lip is solid plastic rather than hollow.

Posted by Craig on April 14, 2011 at 9:26 PM (PDT)

6

Craig, it is hollow, see 5th pict down from top of article, top of picture.

Posted by steve on April 21, 2011 at 9:48 PM (PDT)

7

would love more info on HOW you disassembled it.  i want to dremel my dock to allow me to dock it with the think ikit cover on it.

Posted by bitkahuna on April 26, 2011 at 6:02 AM (PDT)

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