Teardown.com Blog Posts

In-Mold Electronics (IME) are Making Their Way to White Goods

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Austin, TX October 22, 2015 – The future of white goods is all about embedded materials and touch features. In our recent teardowns of an assortment of white goods and smart home appliances, we see a growing opportunity to integrate many features that are associated with personal communications and wearable devices.

At teardown.com, we look at over 400 devices a year, analyzing how they are made and delve into the technology choices and cost considerations that were made to bring them to market. We put products from brands like Apple, Samsung, Honeywell, and Nest under our microscopes to better enable an understanding of technology evolution and the alignment to the features users are demanding.

One of the most venerable components in electronics today is the printed circuit board (PCB). Since 1943 1 the venerable PCB has been the foundation for electronics. Figure 1 illustrates today’s complex multi-layer PCBs.

Image: Apple iPad Air 2, cross-section of 10-layer build up PCB
Image: Apple iPad Air 2, cross-section of 10-layer build up PCB

As a material often required in all electronics, the PCB has several advantages including its ability to connect discrete components without bulky, labor-intensive wiring, fitting circuitry into a smaller footprint with improved reliability, improved high speed signal integrity, etc. In fact most products, whether on FR4, metal, ceramic, or glass substrates, contain a PCB board. And while PCBs come in all sizes, they – by their very nature – create design restrictions for manufacturers that are passed down to the customer and shape the user experience. As a company that does numerous teardowns, we are starting to see the need for cheaper flexible substrates that can allow a certain amount of electronics to exist within a confined curve, rather than a form dictated by a PCB.

In the early days, nobody really worried that electronics tended to be boxy and functional. However, as electronics have become part of everyday life, expectations changed as anything with power (automotive surfaces, appliances, household switches, etc.) is now expected to deliver innovative and creative design. More designers and manufacturers are challenging conventional thinking. In response, material companies like DuPont have begun offering new solutions that stretch or can be thermoformed to meet their design requirements.

As circuitry becomes smaller and electronic content proliferates, new form factors are required. To accomplish this, material needs to become smart and functional. The ability to embed electronics into formed and injection molded parts has led to in-mold electronics (IME). Two of the main drivers for this change are the drive for smaller, less bulky devices and the increasing comfort of consumers with touch surfaces. And now the cost of implementing this technology has dropped significantly based on new designs and techniques.

mage: IME Examples
mage: IME Examples

At teardown.com we recently compared in-mold electronics based solutions to traditional legacy PCB designs in the appliance market. Whereas appliance fascia traditionally have knobs, buttons, and switches connected to clunky capacitors, resistors, and 8-bit processors, when compared to the design changes of IME, it suddenly became apparent that the features and function of modern day tablets, phones and computers could easily cascade into the more mundane, but important electronics we take for granted. Devices like refrigerators, washers, dryers, and household control panels could be further designed into the way we live, rather than as a big white box hidden in a corner or basement. Moreover the ability of designers to reshape common goods from the kitchen to the car to even the bathroom can allow for greater creature enhancements across our living space.

IME Integrated with IC and into household white goods

When we see companies creating these materials it is the nature of our business, and quite frankly our curiosity, to see what integrated circuit companies are investing in this area as well. One such company is Cypress Semiconductor with their lineup of CapSense capacitive touch-sensing controllers and PSoC programmable system-on-chip devices with CapSense functionality.

As costing electronics and materials is our bread and butter, it is worth noting that while IME will likely play a larger role in the future, it may not always be a less expensive option. As electronics are further integrated into the actual materials, replacing them means replacing the whole subsystem that is on the board. Yet, this isn’t that different than what already goes on now when your computer or refrigerator fails. PCB is also very well understood and trusted as such we expect it will continue to provide a platform for many services. But if a manufacture is looking to integrate touch, in an efficient and ergonomically designed manner, it is likely that more and more they’ll be looking at this technology.

In some applications, in-mold electronics will have both a design and potentially a cost benefit. With the ability to be created during manufacturing processes, such as thermoforming and injection molding, this can mean a single connection point and no wires behind the console. Little advantages like this can reduce weight and increase freedom for more radical and functional designs. Removing the separate buttons can reduces cost as removing traditional physical electronic components can further improve savings.

1 The history of the PCB http://www.4pcb.com/pcb/  

BMW i3 Teardown: An Electronics Masterpiece

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Austin, October 9, 2015 - Teardown.com analysis shows the BMW i3 contains nearly $4,000 in electronics, far surpassing the industry standard in its design.


Teardown.com worked with Munro & Associates on a self-funded project to take a deeper look into the design and technology used by BMW in its first mass market electric car. The BMW i3 retails for approximately $46,000 (with range extending engine) and was designed to bring the efficiency of an electric vehicle to buyers looking for urban daily driver. Like the General Motors with its Chevrolet Volt (see Volt Teardown Reports listed below), BMW is working to ensure its line-up of cars provides a transition point for buyers looking at electric vehicles. While the BMW i3 looks nothing like its renowned 3-Series of cars, nor any other of its line-ups for that matter, the BMW i3 does take on a very sturdy look and feel while bringing together a wide range of premium accoutrement and technology know how that one expects of a premium German designed car.

In our teardown and analysis of the electronics in the BMW i3 we looked at 83 system boards and electronic components that control everything from the battery system to the infotainment devices. We inspected the cameras, advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), even door locks to understand the design choices, the semiconductor manufactures which were chosen, and apply our costing methodology to ascertain key information into the final build costs of the BMW i3. Meanwhile, our partner Munro & Associates looked at the extensive use of carbon fiber, the battery technology, interior materials, and in-depth at the processing and manufacturing time and effort for the mechanical components of the car. We believe this provides the most complete 3rd party analysis and costing of the build, design, and analysis of a mass market electronic vehicle to ever be completed. Even with all the advanced materials and electronics used in the BMW i3, based on the research by Munro & Assoc. and Teardown.com we are feel BMW has made a profit off of each of the i3s has sold.

BMW i3 Electronics

Once Teardown.com completed our analysis of the electronics we were pleasantly surprised that our estimated bill of materials for the electronics alone is equal to almost 13% of the total cost to manufacture the car itself. Over 70% of the electronics costs were from components in the battery and infotainment portions of the car. Our analysis identifies design wins and semiconductor chips from industry leaders like Qualcomm, NXP, Freescale, Texas Instruments, Renesas, NVidia, Micron, On semiconductor, Intel, and Xilinx.

In our research, we looked at over 80 boards, these have been categorized into the following sections:
1. Battery and Inverter (20+ circuit boards)
2. Body Control (~5 circuit boards)
3. Driver Support (~10 circuit boards)
4. Drivetrain (10+ circuit boards)
5. Infotainment (20+ circuit boards)
6. Lighting (10+ circuit boards)

A full list of BMW i3 Teardown Reports


Semiconductor Winners in the BMW i3

As part of our teardown we looked closely at the semiconductor manufacturers who have design wins in the BMW i3. Some of the vendors with notable presence include Freescale, ST Microelectronics, Infineon, Texas Instruments, Renesas, NXP Semiconductor, Fujitsu, Intel, Bosch Semiconductor, NVIDIA, Micron, and Qualcomm. The figure below illustrates the proportion leading integrated circuit manufactures have associated with each BMW i3 manufactured. It should be noted that with NXP in the midst of acquiring Freescale that combining these two vendors that they’d account for 78 chips and over 17% of the total bill of material costs associated with semiconductors identified in the BMW i3.


Teardown example: BMW i3 Digital Radio

The following looks at some of the teardown insights we gained from our analysis of the BMW i3 Infotainment system. Each report comes with disassembly photos, board shots, PCB cross sections, package and integrated circuit (die photo) identification, block diagrams, electronics and materials costing, and more.

The image below offers an exploded view of the radio module in the BMW i3. This Harman radio is very similar to similar units we have recently torn down in the BMW 3-series of cars.

The HBB125 is the digital radio module included in models of the BMW i3. Along with the ubiquitous AM / FM radio, the HBB125 adds a 200 GB hard drive and Sirius / XM radio. Connectivity is provided via GPS, WiFi 802.11 a/b/g and Bluetooth 3.0, with CAN and USB 2.0 protocols also present in this device, but not user accessible. At its core are three different processors: Intel E660T "Atom" processor, Texas Instruments Jacinto Automotive Applications processor and Nvidia GeForce 8 (G-98) Graphics processor. In addition, over 9.8 GB of system memory has been implemented in the form of SDRAM, Flash and EEPROM from companies that include Micron, Spansion, STMicroelectronics, Microchip, Atmel and ISSI.

The use of HDD over an SSD is notable, and likely one aspect we think will change soon. You can also see three boards that make up this unit. One board is the Sirius radio board and is shown in more detail in the following image. We have also looked at the memory, processors and other integrated circuits in this design in significant detail, an x-ray of Micron's memory module is also included below.

Image: Exploded View of BMW i3 Digital Radio Module  

The image below shows one of the three boards we analyzed as part of the Harman radio module. Notable chips were identified and decapped from STMico, Spansion, and Texas Instruments.

Image: A close up view of the BMW i3 Mainboard of the Sirius Satellite Radio system, found within the Digital Radio Module

Image: Xray view of Micron NAND Flash memory in the BMW i3 Digital Radio Module

We find x-rays allows for an in-depth review of the technology and design used by leading semiconductor firms. In this case we are able to see both a top down and side view that shows how bonding wires were attached to layer the memory modules within the package.

In summary

We continue to expect to companies like Toyota, Honda, Ford, Audi, General Motors, and Mercedes to bring more choice in terms of electric vehicles to market. Based on our assessment of the design and fit and finish of the BMW i3 they will have a steep hill to climb to meet the engineering excellence that was uncovered in the BMW i3. From an electronics perspective we expect to see most major semiconductor firms to further increase their range of parts that are certified to meet the robust and resilient requirements of the auto industry. With the advent of TFT displays, always connected infotainment systems, and active advanced driving assistance systems, it is our belief that electric cars will continue to set the benchmark in electronics for quite some time. These cars, like BMW’s i3, will be test beds for the latest systems that will quickly trickle down and across a automotive manufacturers line up.

Tier 1 suppliers to the auto industry should also take note. As companies like Denzo, Magna, Harman, Delphi and more need to review their own supply chains to ensure they are designing components relevant to the industries new needs. While BMW was willing to invest at a rate much higher than the industry norm when it came to the costs of the electronics, we expect that as more of the latest technology is incorporated that a balance will need to be struck to bring the latest features in to meet both user and regulatory requirements.

As part of our research, we also produced a complete System Block Diagram of the BMW i3.

Image: Exterior System Block Diagram

Download the complete BMW i3 electronics block diagram HERE.  

More information and Contact

A full list of reports on the BMW i3 can be found here. In addition, Teardown.com offers analysis into system and circuit design win and costing analysis for all the BMW parts we have analyzed. Vendors interested in die photos, component block diagrams, PCB cross sections and more can also contact us for more information.

We expect to compare the electronics in the BMW i3 with the much anticipated Tesla '3' and provide a cost and technology benchmark of German versus American engineering.

For questions or product information, please contact:

David Clarke - Director, North America Sales
Tel: +1 877 826 4447
Email: dclarke@teardown.com

Joel Martin
Tel: +1 877 826 4447
Email: jmartin@teardown.com

2012 Chevy Volt Teardown Reports

Custom Teardown of the LG Chem AP11162116060318 Chevrolet Volt Battery Pack

Board Teardown of the 2012 Chevrolet Volt Power Management Electronics

Board Teardown of the 2012 Chevrolet Volt Infotainment Electronics

Board Teardown of the Battery Pack, Infotainment, and Power Management Electronics of the 2012 Chevrolet Volt

Board Teardown of the 2012 Chevrolet Volt Main Battery Pack Control Electronics

Teardown Vievu LE3 Body Worn Camera

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Austin, September 30, 2015 - The news that the U.S. Department of Justice has awarded over $19 million in grants to 32 States for the deployment of body worn camera comes just as Teardown.com releases our analysis of the Vievu LE3 Body Worn Camera. Cameras have become pervasive in our society and at Teardown.com we have been examining the integration of digital camera technologies since 1998. Our teardown analysis looks at the design choices of the manufacturers, the robustness of the manufacturers' design, and the bill of material (BOM) cost* of bringing that product to market. Given the magnitude of the DOJ announcement and implications this has on safety and civil service in our society, we felt it was worthwhile to share our teardown findings from this device.

For a limited time you can buy the Vievu LE3 Body Camera report now for $500. 

The Vievu LE3 Body Worn Camera sells for around $900. At the retail price, this will supply 24,700 units across the 32 states, or around 775 per state. It should be noted that this DOJ Grant required the State or Local Law Enforcement to match the grant, thus potentially doubling the number of cameras deployed. For reference as to the size of this market, Wikipedia indicates there are over 1 million active police officers in the United States. With the growing requirements for law enforcement personnel (and likely other safety personnel) have access to body worn cameras, this seems like a lucrative market for both Vievu and competitor Taser. This market has strong growth potentially sales for other robust action camera manufacturers like GoPro, Sony, Panasonic, and iON.

Foremost the LE3 is a ruggedized camera specifically marketed to Law Enforcement Agencies across the United States. At Teardown.com, we expected that given today’s image and battery technologies that LE3’s hardware would be optimized to capture this data, as well as have a robust and long lasting power source. These are even highlighted on the Vievu’s products specifications page. Yet, in the Vievu teardown study we found the device lacking.

In fact the Vievu LE3, from a hardware perspective, is far behind common consumer electronics in both technology aspects, yet priced at a premium. For instance, the LE3 camera has only a 0.9 MP image/recording capability. Given the average mobile phone has over 8 megapixels and action cameras from manufactures like Sony and GoPro have over 10 megapixels, yet sell for $200-500 dollars, we are wary that these devices will live up to the expectations, especially given that other, better technology is readily available at a lower cost. The only logical reasoning behind such a low megapixel camera option may be an effort in keeping file sizes small, since video recordings could be quite long.


Based on our bill of materials cost of the Vievu LE3 the manufacturing cost of the device is less than $40 per unit. At a retail price of $900 or a rental price (recently announced on Vievu’s web site) this is a hefty mark-up given devices technical and design simplicity. So what is inside the Vievu LE3 Camera?


The LE3 has the look and feel of a simple pager/beeper from the 1990’s. The rubberized exterior of the unit gives it a solid feel while the belt clip seems to be adequate for retaining the camera while worn during physical activities. The LE3 proprietary software adds a nice layer of tamper resistance to the camera.  Tamper resistance, but perhaps not tamper proof. Taking a screw driver to the edge of the LE3 allows the two halves of the enclosure to pop open, revealing the now user accessible microSD card. Removing the memory card and plugging it into a card reader allowed for the video files to be accessed without the VERIPATROL software on a PC. Only the files that had not been accessed yet through the VERIPATROL software were on the memory card.  Once the files are accessed using the Veripatrol software, it appears they are deleted from the microSD memory card.

The following teardown images show a fairly straightforward design utilizing standard PCB and off-the- shelf electronics. Some of the key integrated circuits come from SK Hynix (memory), OmniVision (camera), Qualcomm (processor) (formerly Zoran, then CSR, and now Qualcomm through acquisitions).

Image: Vievu LE3 Mainboard with Camera Module

In the image below it is clear the ease of accessing the standard off the shelf micro SD card. This doesn’t say much for the security of the devices memory, but does potentially allow for some ‘do-it-yourself’ upgrades. 


Image: Vievu LE3 main board with micro SD Card (cover removed) memory and processors

Image: Vievu LE3 main board with micro SD Card (card removed)

The camera module is visible through the plastic protective window of the LE3 and at first glance it appeared to be “small”. The Vievu LE3 is advertised as a 720 HD camera while the actual MegaPixels are not referenced. Our Teardown process revealed that the image sensor is a 0.9 MP CMOS sensor from Omnivision. It is our opinion that while technically correct, marketing the LE3 as a 0.9 MP would be far less attractive to prospective customers than the touted 720 HD video capability. Especially in today’s world of 12 MP camera phones where even 1.3 MP cameras are hard to find.


Image: Vievu LE3 Camera Module removed from main board.


Image: Vievu LE3 Camera Module disassembled.

Teardown Summary

For the $900.00 price tag, the Vievu LE3 appears to be lacking in camera quality. Audio was OK, but the conversation from the person not wearing the camera was tough to hear in the recorded videos.

As we stated previously, while this device can serve as a ruggedized body worn camera for law enforcement, the retail price is a significant variation from the actual component pricing. Given limited product runs it could be argued that Vievu didn’t quite have a lot of purchasing power to negotiate when compared to a cell phone manufacturer, but given the basic design and antiquated parts used, these costs still don’t add up to the price that we purchased the device for. Of more concern is the ease of which the data can be access and the poor quality from the .9 megapixel camera given the intended use of the device.  

To compare how the Vievu camera technology stacks up compared to some recently teardowns of action camera and the latest camera in the Apple iPhone 6, check out these reports: 

• GoPro Hero 4
• Sony Action Cam Mini HDR-AZ1
• Eken Sports Cam W8
• Teardown of the Apple iPhone 6

It should be noted that that since Teardown.com purchased the Vievu LE3 that the company was sold to The Safariland Group who now offers the Camera and associated cloud services as a subscription and doesn’t list any one-off purchasing options on its website.

For a limited time you can buy the Vievu LE3 Body Camera report now for $500.

Teardown.com bill of material costing is based on nearly two decades of costing analysis and comes from methodical research into integrated circuits, materials analysis, and supporting technologies. For more on our costing methodology, see here.

For question or product information, please contact
David Clarke - Director, North America Sales
Tel: +1 877 826 4447
Email: dclarke@teardown.com

Drones generating a buzz: Parrot Bebop

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August 28, 2015 – Austin. The growing adoption of drone (or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) technology for consumer and business use continues to intrigue Teardown.com. As it is our business to understand the design and cost characteristics of technologies people use, monitoring the evolution of the prosumer drone market continues to reveal just how quickly the manufactures and designers of these technologies are changing.

One of our previous drone teardowns, the Parrot AR Drone 2.0 – GPS Edition, showed that this $350 product had a bill of material cost of roughly $140. As identified in our analysis, it sported technology from the likes of Micron, Texas Instruments, and Atheros (now part of Qualcomm).

Image: Parrot AR Drone 2.0, August 2014

This August we updated our look at Parrot’s products, this time looking at the Parrot Bebop Drone (retail price $499.99) as curiosity had us wondering how drone technology has evolved over the past 12 months. While we have not completed a full bill of materials costing analysis Teardown.com has noted significant changes in the electronics that Parrot chose for its newest product.

Image: Parrot Bebop Drone, August 2015

While the price is higher, Parrot has greatly reduced the overall size of the drone, yet it weighs roughly the same as the AR Drone. From an electronics perspective where the AR.Drone 2.0 contained eight circuit boards the Bebop has only two which greatly simplifies design.

Image: Parrot’s AR Drone 2 (PCB mainboards) versus Parrot’s Bebop (PCB mainboards)

Teardown.com’s analysis shows the team at Parrot has definitely upped their game in terms of technology innovation by simplifying their design choices and taking advantage of increases in processing power and access to more memory for at or lower costs to the previous versions.

The upgrading of camera and imaging technology has been a significant influence to many of the design changes. In an effort to handle the additional loading of 1080p video capabilities, Parrot upgraded the AR Drone’s Texas Instruments Cortex-A8 processor to a dual-core Parrot-branded P7 processor based on Cortex-A9 technology. This is the first processor that we have seen branded by Parrot and additional analysis will be required to see what exactly is inside this chip.

Memory (DRAM), to support the application and guidance needs, has also been increased from the AR's DDR2 256MB to the Bebop's DDR3 512MB along with a significant bump in internal NAND flash memory storage from 4GB to 8GB. While the NAND Flash continued to be supplied by Toshiba, Parrot chose Nanya DDR3 SDRAM over the previous drone’s Micron DDR2 memory.

The images below highlight the most significant of the integrated circuit design wins within the Parrot Bebop that Teardown.com has identified while doing our initial teardown.

Image: Parrot Bebop Drone Mainboard Side 1

Image: Parrot Bebop Drone Mainboard Side 2

While the processing power and the memory are important to make a drone successful is all about making it easy and dependable while aloft. At Teardown we were somewhat surprised to see the changes made by Parrot in moving away from Qualcomm Atheros to rival Broadcom for Wi-Fi connectivity. While both are low power chip designs we feel this change in design was likely based on further power improvement requirements they achieved with the Broadcom chipset.

We noted that Cypress has been added for flight control duties with its PSoC 3. The adoption of the Cypress’ technology has likely been to allow the designer (in this case Parrot) to be able to further improve the drones capabilities as the PSoC platform allows the programming and customization of how the hardware can interact with application specific requirements as well as adds a CPU with additional software designer capabilities. Based on location and hardware connections, it appears the single PSoC device has integrated the motor control of all four brushless motors. The Cypress PSoC3 replaces four Atmel Mega MCUs and their PCBs that provided motor control in the previous design and replaced an MCU in the older drone as well, an impressive reduction of 5 integrated circuits to a single chip. This likely results in further bill of materials cost savings for Parrot.

Meanwhile, Invensense maintained its design win with the MPU-6050 6-Axis MEMS gyroscope and motion control sensor. This was an upgrade from the previous Invensense MEMS IMU-3000 chipset.

A Look Inside Apple iPhone 6 Plus Battery

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A tour of Apple's iPhone 6 battery helps nail down the one variable that determines manufacturing cost.

Li-polymer batteries are ubiquitous. They are everywhere: cellphones, tablets, laptops and hybrid or electric cars. We rarely think about them except when the discussion turns to the rather short battery life seen in some consumer electronics. Smartwatches, like some laptops, come to mind where battery life is measured at less than a day. This has me thinking about batteries, and are there commonalities between the batteries seen in smartwatches, cellphones and tablets.

And this has our curiosity piqued at TechInsights as to whether a single variable can be used to predict their manufacturing cost (bill of materials or BoM)? Simple proxies would include the battery mass or its charge capacity as both are easily measured.

Figure 1 shows a typical lithium-polymer pouch-type battery taken from a smartphone, in this case the Apple iPhone 6 Plus. The copper anode and aluminum cathode current collector tabs are seen extending out of the right end of the battery package. A flex ribbon containing control electronics has been removed from this battery but is shown on another iPhone 6 Plus battery in Figure 2 (on next page). We note the use of two Ricoh battery protection IC’s and a Texas Instruments Li-ion fuel gauge.

Figure 1: Apple iPhone 6 Plus Li-polymer Battery. (Source: TechInsights)

Figure 2: iPhone 6 battery electronics. (Source: Deep Dive Teardown of the Apple iPhone 6 Plus A1524, TechInsights)

Our first question: is this battery special? And to answer this we examine the energy density (Wh/g) for a number of batteries used in smartphones, cellphones and tablets that have passed through TechInsights labs over the last year or so.

The graph shown in Figure 3 includes smartwatch batteries that tend to be less than 25 g in weight, cellphones of various kinds, and tablets weighing in at more than 70 g. The slope of the straight line through the data is about 220 Wh/kg and it is a pretty good fit to most of the data points. The small scatter in the data points about the fitted line indicates that these batteries are using the same or at least fairly similar cell technologies. A significantly improved battery should lie well above the trend line, and a poor battery technology would be below the trend line. A few batteries are measurably below the trend line, though this underperformance might be due to excess packaging that would increase the weight of the battery without adding capacity.

Figure 3: Li-Polymer battery capacity. (Source: TechInsights)

The iPhone 6 Plus battery, weighing in at 43 g, is not standing out from the trend line and does not seem to be special. But being Apple it is nonetheless interesting.

Our next item of interest is the BoM cost for the battery and to do this we need to know more about the battery’s structure. Our teardown begins with Figure 4 where we peel away the outer foil casing to expose a polymer film that envelopes the battery cells. This polymer film has been peeled away to expose the outer aluminum cathode collector layer shown in Figure 5.

Figure 4: Cutting away outer casing.(Source: Deep Dive Teardown of the Apple iPhone 6 Plus A1524, TechInsights)

Figure 5: Outer aluminum cathode collector layer. (Source: Deep Dive Teardown of the Apple iPhone 6 Plus A1524, TechInsights)

Figure 6 is a cross section taken through the iPhone 6 Plus battery showing its layered structure. The battery contains eleven cathode (positive battery terminal) and 10 aluminum anode (negative battery terminal) current collector layers that are connected in parallel. The anode and cathode collector electrodes are coated with their electrode respective active layers and then stacked one on top of the other. Separator layers are inserted between the anode and cathodes to prevent short circuits but at the same time allows for the transfer of lithium ions between the anode and cathodes.

Figure 6: iPhone 6 Plus battery in cross section. (Source: Detailed Structural Analysis of the Apple iPhone 6 Plus Li-ion Polymer Battery, TechInsights)

Figure 7 shows the edge of the battery where the cathode current collector layers are brought and welded together to form the battery’s anode battery terminal. The anode current collectors are brought out of the package in a similar fashion.

Figure 7: Cathode battery terminal. (Source: TechInsights)

From TechInsights’ Detailed Structural Analysis report, we know that the iPhone 6 Plus battery uses lithium cobalt oxide (LiCoO2) for the cathode and graphite for the anode as shown in Figure 8.

Figure 8: SEM cross section iPhone 6 battery. (Source: Detailed Structural Analysis of the Apple iPhone 6 Plus Li-ion Polymer Battery, TechInsights)

LiCoO2 (LCO) is a mature battery technology commonly used for mobile battery applications such as cell phones, tablets and laptops, and this likely explains why all of the batteries shown in Figure 3 fall on the same energy density curve.

Table 1 lists as few other cathode materials. The last three are used in electric vehicles such as the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf. TechInsights has previously analysed the Chevy Volt battery fabricated by LG Chemical where we observed a mixture of lithium manganese oxide (LMO) and lithium nickel manganese oxide (NMC) being used for the cathode.


Cathode Material Application
Lithium cobalt oxide (LiCoO2) cell phones, tablets, laptops, cameras
Lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxide (LiMnCoO2) Chevy Volt
Lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) Electric vehicle
Lithium nickel cobalt aluminum oxide (LiNiCoAlO2) Tesla

Table 1: Common lithium ion battery compositions and applications


The graphite anode and CoO2 cathode have lattice structures in which lithium ions are reversibly inserted (intercalation) into the interstitial spaces between the atomic layers. Figure 9 is a high resolution TEM image of the cathode’s CoO2 layer, while the graphite layered structure is shown in Figure 10.

Figure 9: CoO2 cathode layers. (Source: Detailed Structural Analysis of the Apple iPhone 6 Plus Li-ion Polymer Battery, TechInsights)

Figure 10: Graphite anode layers. (Source: TechInsights)

Finding manufacturing cost models (BoM) for mobile Li-ion batteries has proved to be a bit of a challenge. Several papers have been published on the manufacturing costs for electric vehicle (EV) or hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) Li-ion batteries: Argonne National Laboratories (2000 and 2012), Rempel et al. (TIAX presentation 2013), and Wood et al. (J. Power Sciences 2015) to name a few. But we found little in the way of the manufacturing costs for the smaller batteries used in cellphones and laptops. The TIAX presentation provides a $0.47/Wh for PHEV type batteries, and Wood et al. derive a baseline model calculation of $ 0.50/Wh for the complete battery. This last report was published in 2015 and represents the most recent calculation that we found.

Our Teardown business routinely disassembles electronic devices such as watches, smartphones, tables and laptops and derives their BoM using a sum of the parts methodology. These Teardown reports often include the BoM for the complete battery including its electronics, labor and margin. We are interested in the battery maker’s cost so we have subtracted the margin from the Teardown.com BoM’s and have plotted this in Figure 11 for many of the devices used in Figure 3.

Figure 11: Battery Mmaker’s BoM vs. cell capacity. (Source: TechInsights)

The data (red diamonds) shows a BoM trend line of about $0.37/Wh with a fair amount of scatter. The scatter is not too surprising as the batteries often contain different sets of electronics appended to them. The $ 0.37/Wh BoM is less than the $0.50/Wh of Wood and this is perhaps no surprise as cell phones and car batteries use different technologies even if they both use lithium ions as the energy storage medium. The cell phone battery is also a mature technology that would support a lower build cost.

We have also plotted the retail prices for Li-ion batteries that we found on Amazon. We have been a bit selective with these, picking the lowest priced batteries that we found. Our thought here is that the lowest priced batteries are priced with the least margin for the battery maker, the wholesaler and retailer. The retail price is about twice that of estimate our BoM for the battery, and this seems quite reasonable.

Figure 11: Battery Mmaker’s BoM vs. cell capacity. (Source: TechInsights)

I have a predilection for plotting graphs of everything in sight and it gives me a small thrill to find straight lines. It is a physics thing, straight lines fitted to data.

So returning to my question: Is there a simple proxy for the BoM? We think so, as the results shown in Figure 11 suggest that battery capacity (Wh) or even its weight do a pretty good job of it. And this makes sense; the battery cost comprises materials and labor, and we might suggest that both scale with the battery size.

- Kevin Gibb is the product line manager for Process at TechInsights. As PLM, Dr. Gibb is responsible for the technology coverage, manufacturing processes, and pricing strategies for TechInsights’ semiconductor process open market reports covering state-of-the-art semiconductor devices. Dr. Gibb has a broad knowledge of CMOS, bipolar, III-V, and MEMS technologies gained over nearly 25 years of working in semiconductor consulting firms, manufacturing, and government research laboratories. He has written process analysis reports on hundreds of devices over the past decade and half, spanning: CMOS, memory, MEMS and CMOS image sensors.

Avago Buying Broadcom: From a Teardown Point of View

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On May 28th Avago Tech (AVGO) and Broadcom Corporation (BRCM) announced that they had entered into a definitive agreement for Avago to acquire Broadcom in a cash and stock transaction worth an estimated $37 billion. This deal makes Avago the owner of a very strong portfolio of wired and wireless communication offerings, on par with the likes of Qualcomm (QCOM), MediaTek, Intel (INTC) and others. The new company will also be well positioned in the System on a Chip (SoC) market given Broadcom’s expertise in this area and we expect that Avago’s products will quickly look to be integrated in a series of new packages, SoCs, and reference designs for a broad range of market and technology applications. At Teardown.com we look at where we see the gains Avago may achieve, and what this means to the market, the device OEMs, and its competitors.

A primary gain by Avago, but definitely not the only one, is Broadcom’s wireless integrated circuit (IC) portfolio. Broadcom is an undisputed leader in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and NFC chipsets and a leader in the development of SoC architecture. Broadcom’s BCM-series (identified in both Broadcom packages, as well as 3rd party package manufactures like Murata) have a large share in mobile devices, wearable electronics, connected home technologies, as well as in new markets like automotive and robotics. Based on data from over 800 teardowns from 2012 to 2015 we counted Broadcom ICs in over 450 mobile devices. This compares to just over 300 for Qualcomm/Atheros. If you add Cambridge Silicon Radio (CSR), who is currently being acquired by Qualcomm, Broadcom’s chipsets are still more prevalent across the mobile technology market. See Table 1.

Table 1: Mobile Device: Wi-Fi & Bluetooth IC Counts, 2012 to 2015
Mobile Device: Wi-Fi & Bluetooth IC Counts, 2012 to 2015  

Based on our teardown data, we expect Avago to be well positioned to gain market share by supplying an integrated communication, RF, PA and FBAR/LNA (and more) filter offerings to its customers and companies competing in the Internet of Things (IoT) market.

Furthermore, as there is a rising price pressure to adopt reference designs to connect and share data from multiple discrete electronics solutions Avago should be able to capitalize. By adopting some of Broadcom’s best in class SoC architectures this could create further distance between it and chipmakers like Qualcomm and Intel, both of whom are making similar acquisitions to compete in this space. Teardown.com looked at a sample of 100 digital home and wearable devices we’ve torn down over the past couple years and found Broadcom has continued to build a distinct lead in the Internet of Things market place.

Table 2: Digital Home & Wearables IC Counts, 2012-2015
Digital Home & Wearables IC Counts, 2012-2015  

Another vendor who might find themselves under pressure from the merger of Avago and Broadcom is NXP. With the growth of Near Field Communications (NFC), especially in wearable, medical, and home environments Avago may have significantly grown its market share with the acquisition of Broadcom. This would offset Qualcomm buying CSR, and allow Avago to compete more readily with NXP in niche markets, after it completes its acquisition of Freescale. Not only does Avago grow its market share in NFC, it gains significant patent strength too. Figure 1 shows the NFC patent holdings of Broadcom relative to other top patent assignees from a 2015 study looking at IoT ICs.

Figure 1: Top patent assignees in NFC ICs for the IoT market
Top patent assignees in NFC ICs for the IoT market  

Table 3: NFC Socket Wins, 2012-2015
NFC Socket Wins, 2012-2015  

Impact on Cell Phone Market

Based on a library of over 800 mobile devices at Teardown.com, our research shows there are quite a number of devices (mostly mid to low range smartphones) that still have stand-alone solutions for their Wi-Fi/Bluetooth chip sockets. For devices where Avago did not win the slot for one of the main RF power amplifiers, they will have the almost guaranteed slot for a Broadcom Wi-Fi/Bluetooth chip. Broadcom was already the leader in this area and this purchase won't likely change anything against those players.

In the low to mid-range smartphone market, our data shows that these are typically served by Qualcomm and MediaTek for both application processors and baseband processors and in turn Wi-Fi/Bluetooth by either of their solutions or by Broadcom. This is based on the low to mid-end product in the market being more reference design dependent, with Qualcomm and MediaTek providing solutions across AP/BB, PMIC, RF Tx, Wi-Fi/BT/GPS, CODEC etc. The only exceptions we see are Spreadtrum, Samsung, and HiSilicon which don’t have Wi-Fi/Bluetooth (yet) to put alongside their baseband wins. Broadcom currently has high attach rates with all three vendors; though Spreadtrum should start using the RDA Microelectronics assets soon.

In addition, the following teardown data from a leading cell phone manufacturer, illustrates Avago’s potential gain in both PCB real estate as well as revenues based on our costing methodology. It should be noted that we did not assume Avago would replace competitive parts, rather just grow the share of wallet from existing Avago and Broadcom design wins.

Figure 2: OEM Mobile Phone Main Board before and after Avago acquiers Broadcom
OEM Mobile Phone Main Board before and after Avago acquiers Broadcom
Source: Teardown.com, 2015

Competing with RF Filters

Our research shows that it's possible that Qorvo, Wisol, Taiyo Yuden, TDK-EPC, and other filter manufacturers could lose their filter slots in the Wi-Fi/BT space, because Avago can easily fill that spot now by likely providing a fully encased front-end with their filters inside.

While there is filter impact (mostly to Murata), when we look at the mix of filter suppliers alongside Broadcom we expect a greater impact for Qorvo and Skyworks, as the 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz power amplifier suppliers make a strong push here, with a very competitive packaged price for part at $0.25-$0.50 based on teardown.com costing.

Impact on Packaging Manufacturers

In our opinion, Avago's acquisition of Broadcom is a benefit for both firms and potentially their customers. This move causes disruption in the market, and furthers the consolidation that is increasing being seen in the semiconductor market. Based on teardown data, the biggest disturbance could be in the package manufacturing sector for Wi-Fi/Bluetooth front-end modules (i.e. Murata, Samsung Electro-Mechanics, USI, AzureWave, etc.). Based on current trends in device commoditization, and a rationalization of the semiconductor supply chain, vendors that control reference design and who promise a level of support and consistency to OEMs in adopting their solutions, will likely grow faster than point solutions.

Broadcom has long been a partner to packaging companies who include their communications chipset. With the acquisition by Avago, it will be interesting to see how Avago either continues these partnership relationships or alternatively boost their own packaging to include the Broadcom family of parts within Avago packages. An advantage for Avago will be to package Broadcom’s chipset with their own power amplifiers, duplexers, and switches to create a reference package for low, medium and high-end ODM and OEMs. Given the current consolidation of the cell phone market and growth in price conscience wearables, a compelling reference design of best in breed solutions has considerable merit.

In Summary

Avago has disrupted the wireless and wired communications market place. While this is likely a reaction to the quick commoditization and increasingly price sensitive mobile phone and wearable market, it was necessary in order to compete with the growing Qualcomm who has aggressively pursued their own mergers and acquisitions strategy. Now that Avago can now look to integrate RF, PA and non-baseband communications into a single package or offer this to packaging companies, we expect to see more System on a Chip (SoC) reference design wins for the company in the not too distant future.

Favorite Teardown Toys of 2014 – Part 2

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As promised we are concluding the year with our favorite teardowns for 2014. The end-of-the-year is always a great time for reflection, to take stock in all we have accomplished and seen all throughout the year. Even though we kicked off our favorite Teardown Toys of 2014 last week, our analysts still had a lot to talk about, so let’s get started!

Paweł Gala – Yotaphone C9660
“In my opinion the most interesting device which I analyzed in 2014 was the Yotaphone C9660 (from Rusia ). The interesting thing about this mobile phone is the YotaPhone has an LCD screen and features a second e-ink screen on the back of the device. Users can switch from the main display to the e-ink display with certain applications such as reading books and navigating maps. And even though the e-ink display is always on, it uses very little power which helps the device extend its battery life.”

Figure 1 YotaPhone C9660

Piotr Wysokiński – LG G Flex – first flexible smartphone.
“This year I had a chance to analyze a lot of interesting devices, but if I had to choose one that stood out for me, it would surely be the LG G Flex. A fine design as well as being very innovative, the LG G Flex was the first curved and flexible phone thanks to a display manufactured using P-OLED technology. And if the curved display wasn’t enough, the Flex’s back enclosure is coated with a self-healing layer which is able to rid small scratches caused by casual, daily usage.”

Figure 2 LG G Flex

Paweł Klata - Jolla Phone JP-1301 - made to be modified.
“2014 saw the debut of the Finnish company Jolla, started by former Nokia employees. This team of experienced cellular phone hardware and software engineers released a mobile phone which is, as they call it, "unlike" any other. Although the device is not equipped with the latest hardware, it has a completely new operating system – Sailfish OS, which is a descendant of Linux MeeGo. The open-source software offers users a gesture-based interface, enhanced multitasking and support for Android applications. Another notable feature is “The Other Half” – a customizable back cover which can store user settings in the NFC tag. And if that is not enough to make this device cool, you have the option to create your own “Other Half” using a 3D-printer! ”

Figure 3 Jolla Phone JP-1301

Kamil Szostak - Samsung Galaxy Note 4
“The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 was my favorite device for 2014. In my opinion Samsung saved the best for last releasing the Note 4 just in time for the holiday season. I have analyzed many Samsungs before and didn’t expect anything new from the Note 4, but the number of new technical solutions and ICs surprised me. The Galaxy Note 4 differs from recent models especially with its metal frame - something Samsung had not used in their other flagship devices. The fact Samsung finally released a device with a metal frame and with their use of the newest and the most effective components made this device my favorite…for now.”

Figure 4 Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Michał Ksionek - Samsung Galaxy Alpha - Samsung's battle on the market
“The device that interested me the most this year was the Samsung Galaxy Alpha. After doing a couple of Samsung teardowns I was expecting just another plastic phone. Instead, what came out of the box was a thin, nicely designed smartphone, one of the first metal-framed devices in the Galaxy product line. Adding to this reasonably sized 4.7 inch display, Samsung created a smartphone which looks very solid and which is very comfortable to use. The Alpha has a small number of non-electronic parts with main parts being assembled (or disassembled) using screws. This makes the Alpha very easy to repair…or teardown. Another key point I found interesting – I discovered a design win change nobody expected (including me) - STMicro replaced Cypress Semiconductor as the touchscreen controller. Although the Alpha was meant to be an alternative to Apple's iPhone 6, but for me, its similarities were limited to only the thickness of the device and its very high price.”

Figure 5 Samsung Galaxy Alpha

Sean Bridwell – Amazon Fire TV
“I was impressed by the portability, access to an amazing amount of content, and how easy it was to set up. Also, Amazon designed the Fire TV using very similar ICs I’ve seen in other teardowns which means two things: 1) Amazon didn’t try to re-invent the wheel and instead designed the Fire TV with a design which they knew would work, and 2) the use of current ICs means Amazon designed the Fire TV with up-to-date IC components making the design usable for a foreseeable future.”

Figure 6 Amazon Fire TV

Tim Matè – Microsoft Band
“There has been an interesting evolution of the wearable technology just in the last couple of years. With a smaller form factor and increased functionality, the Microsoft Band brings further integration of the IC content contained within itself. One note worthy point is Microsoft is using Freescale's ColdFire+ MCU with an integrated touch-sensing interface. It will be interesting to ‘watch’ the evolution of these wearable devices over the coming year, especially when Apple finally releases their Apple Watch.”

Figure 7 Microsoft Band

Ramon Rodriguez – Motorola Moto 360
“Well I guess the most interesting product I analysed was the Moto 360. This complex, feature-packed smartwatch was dense with components which included: 4GB of internal storage, TI OMAP3630 Application Processor, TI WL18G Bluetooth 4.0 LE, and various sensors such as a 3 axis Compass, a 6 axis Gyro/Accelerometer Pulse Oximeters, a capacitive touchscreen and a 1.5 inch 262k color display. The Moto360 uses a wireless charging cradle to recharge its lithium-ion polymer battery.”

Figure 8 Motorola Moto 360

Stacy Wegner – All products from A to Z
“Seriously, I have to choose just one interesting device? They were all interesting devices from the Alcatels to the ZTEs. I could consider the Philips Hue Lighting system to help make a home not only smart, but smart with multiple color options; or maybe I would consider the Nokia Lumia 929 which used an LC circuit on an RF path to split frequencies instead of using another SAW filter; or maybe the Garmin 620; or maybe one of the GoPro 4 cameras; or maybe the…”



Well, that is it - our final countdown of our favorite teardowns for 2014, and more importantly, the final countdown to 2015 when we get to clear our analysts’ tables and (im)patiently await for the new devices of 2015 to show up at our doorsteps.

Speaking of 2015, follow us on twitter as we tweet away from the 2015 International CES event in Las Vegas, Nevada. Our bags have been packed for a while now, our fingers are limber, and excitement abounds, its Vegas or bust!

Happy holidays and happy new year.


CES 2015 - Concepts in Device Forms

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Day 1 of CES 2015 somehow blurred into day 2 as if we were all sucked into an electronic device time warp. With certainty day 1 kicked off with Teardown.com walking in the Sands (yes, pun intended), and at least one of us was able to end the day without any blisters on our feet.

Aside from the unexplained quantum leap, devices abounded across an area equivalent to a small city. However, when day 3 began a sort of panic came over us as there was still so much to see, leaving us to hoping we would find a time machine in one of the 3000 booths and have it take us back just one more day for more time.

Day 3: Happy Birthday, Elvis – and "thank you, thank you very much…"

CES 2015

 Figure 1 - Die Mark of Elvis found in our Die Library at Teardown.com

..to the likes of Raspberry Pi and all of the sensor and wireless radio semiconductor manufacturers like InvenSense who are playing an integral role in the Wearable and IoT world, or as one speaker said, it is not an “IoT world, it is now an Io ‘Me’ world.”

Looking at the vast sea of exhibitor booths was proof we are far past the ‘can we connect’ to ‘how and why we connect’ portion of IoT, IoE, (and IoMe). Fitness bands and wearable clothes, smart phones, thermostats, smart lights, and even cars – all are customizable for the user, and all have at least one sensor, one wireless radio IC, or both.

CES 2015

Figure 2 - Muse Brain Sensing and Training Headband

As was expected there were plenty of wearables, some looked like they offered the same as the others, some made no qualms about having the same offerings but instead stood apart with style, as was the case with the Withings Activé, with an analog face and leather band option.

There were plenty of stylish wearables, but the smallest wearable with an actual touchscreen display was the Mota, a smart ring with a display large enough to at least display an icon.

We came across a second ring which is a 2015 CES Innovation Honoree winner, and to be honest, the concept is pretty cool. The Bluetooth connected Ring from Logbar was first introduced right here in Austin, TX at last year’s SXSW. It is a multi-device controller using shortcut gestures you make in the air as you point to the device you want to command with your ring finger. Does this mean pointing will no longer be considered rude, but hip? We shall see.

CES 2015

Figure 3 - Withings Activité Watch

As we just slipped in, for fitness and stylistic wearables, Bluetooth is predominantly the choice for connecting. However, we did find HearNote’s booth and got a look at their non-Bluetooth, wirefree solution using Kleer radio technology.

CES 2015

Figure 4 - The Ring from LogBar

CES 2015

Figure 5 - HearNotes Wirefree Earbuds

Kleer technology has been around for awhile and has some advantages over Bluetooth such as providing uncompressed audio, using less power, and it is less susceptible to interference than Bluetooth 2.0. There are receivers in each of the HearNotes’ earbuds, allowing for a truly wire-free earbud product, something we did not see in other Bluetooth earbuds or headphones. The HearNotes earbuds communicate with the transmitter piece (the one front and center above) which plugs into your device’s headphone jack.

Kleer technology looks like a viable alternative to Bluetooth for audio devices, especially with its advantages for audio quality and battery life. Hmm, intriguing, indeed… we will have to teardown the HearNotes in order to better understand how this tech is being utilized today after being introduced almost eight years ago.

Even though Bluetooth connectivity is the preferred tech for wearables, the choice for the Digital Home device market was not so clear.

Connected Home and Connecting the World

CES 2015CES 2015

There was a good showing for the connected home and devices like lighting at both Tech East and Tech West. Most devices touted connectivity via WiFi or Bluetooth, but at both sites, ZigBee and Z-Wave were nicely represented as well. For most consumers, WiFi and Bluetooth may seem like a safe bet because of their familiarity with both technologies, or at least with the familiar terms. However, both the ZigBee and ZWave alliances were doing their best to educate the masses on their respective protocols and technologies, throwing around terms like mesh-networking, longer battery life, and longer range.

CES 2015

Figure 6 - Philips Hue Lux LED Bulbs

With the battle of the bands, there are a couple of products which caught our eye and which will eventually secure their place on our lab tables. One such device was the Venstar Voyager thermostat which allows the user to choose (again the customization feature) how they want to connect: WiFi, Bluetooth, or ZigBee. Noted, the Venstar has a very basic design and probably did not have as high a cost for enclosures as the thermostat from Trane which uses Z-Wave. This leads us to mention our observation: digitally connected home devices are not only trying to figure how to talk to the rest of the IoT world, but they are also fighting the same battle the wearables are fighting which is how to connect, be usable, and do it all in style.

CES 2015

Figure 7 - Venstar Voyager Thermostat

CES 2015

Figure 8 - Trane ZWave XL624 Thermostat

Lights, Camera...Action!

GoPro has some competition from the likes of Kodak, Sony, and Garmin, to just name a few. The action camera market is getting as interesting as the moments they are made to capture.

CES 2015

Figure 9 - Garmin Virb Elite Action Camera

But GoPro has some allies in the sky. There were several drones which are “GoPro ready” and with (horizontal only) auto-follow features. One such drone is the Ghost from Ehang who just announced raising $10 million dollars through Series A funding. This brings their total funding to over $10.6 million dollars thanks to their additional funding received through Indiegogo.

CES 2015

Figure 10 - Ghost Auto-Follow Drone

Besides the auto-follow feature, the Ehang Ghost separates itself with its control app and tilt control feature which uses the controlling smart device’s accelerometer (read: accelerometer = sensor).

And no, pink is not the only color of the Ghost seen at CES. We just thought we would add a photo of something that wasn’t black, silver, or white.

Not everyone needs or wants a camera to record death-defying feats or follow them around for a jog around the park. There are cameras which are marketed for the jungle of social life, too, like the HTC Re (and it should be mentioned, the HTC Re was their ‘showcase’ product for CES and not the rumored M9).

CES 2015

Figure 11 - HTC re Social Media Action Camera

Basically, there are HD video cameras marketed for those which are physically active and socially active, and all are capable of sharing with friends and family almost immediately. This once again plays well into the Io’Me’ of the IoE / IoT world.

3D Printers and the Their State of Affairs

3D printers had a good showing this year, too, with desktop models in action to show they can be useful even in a smaller size. Today 3D printers are still rather pricey for the average consumer to purchase for home use, and up until we ran across a display depicting a 10ft modeled scene from historic Nantucket, we assumed 3D printers could only be fully utilized within engineering departments, architects, and anyone who creates models for a living.

What was explained to us by the 5th grade teacher whose class made the model display, the MakerBot 3D printer used at their school has been integral in class projects. The point is: even if 3D printers are not ready for the average consumer, they are finding plenty of homes in our children’s classrooms at school. And if anyone is doubtful this is not smart product marketing by MakerBot, look at the popularity of Apple laptops among the younger generations who had Apple laptops available in their schools since kindergarten.

Yes, there were TVs, too

What would CES be without TVs? The concept of ‘curved’ and 4K UHD was seen at all of the major TV playgrounds, with a good chunk of real estate taken up by the likes of Changchong, LG, Hisense, Panasonic, Sony, and TCL, the latter displaying the largest curved TV in the world, a 110” monster.

CES 2015

Figure 12 - TCL 110" 4K UHD TV

If you sat in the TV conference on Monday, you would have heard what we heard: TV sales are forecasted to decline by an estimated 3 million units here in the US, but the Chinese demand will help counter this, with estimates of the Chinese market accounting for more than half of the total sales. Teardown.com will definitely be analyzing TVs in 2015 to understand who really owns the display panel market – is it indeed LG Display? And if so, how do the other companies like Sharp, Sony, and even Samsung compete and compare?

CES 2015

Figure 13 - Toshiba 55" 4K UHD TV with Toshiba Glass

Now if you are not sold on the curve rave, don’t worry. There are still plenty of flat alternatives like this creative 2-for-1 product placement of a Toshiba 4K UHD TV advertising their Toshiba Glass wearable device.

But wait, wait, why in the world did the TV manufacturers spend the printing ink to put ‘UHD” next to 4K, isn’t this the same redundancy as saying RAM memory? In short, yes, but to keep the confusion to a minimum Teardown.com will conform to how the TV manufacturers refer to their TVs as 4K UHD, and when we analyze a TV which is not 4K but is UHD, we will be diligent about indicating such data in our reports. (Cliff Note: UHD means anything above 3840 x 2160 pixels, thus all 4K TVs are UHD but not all UHD TVs are 4K, get it? Got it? Good.)

Routers and Extenders – Making Connections

So we’ve covered wearables, cameras, TVs, and connected home devices, yet no one has asked yet how do we connect everything together to join in the IoT? With routers and extenders, my dear, that’s how. With the vast number of connected devices (in home and office), 2.4 GHz and 5GHz will be fully utilized and much needed for speeds and bandwidth to support all of the connected devices. When we happened across the Qualcomm’s display of products they have their ICs in, it was very obvious to us they have truly committed to being a part of the IoT world and not just through mobile devices.

What about Mobile Devices?

Well, we’re not going to get to 50 billion connected devices without mobile, and you already knew there some mobile devices at the show. However, CES stands for Consumer Electronics Show so the actual number of new mobile devices on display was overshadowed by all the other electronic devices. We suspect that even though the Sony Xperia Z4 was announced behind closed doors (and noticeably absent from Sony’s show floor), it will be on display at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona – we hope. That is not to say Sony didn’t show off their current mobile and wearable devices as there were plenty of Smartwatch 3s and Xperia Z3s to look at as well as a few of Sony’s tablet models.

CES 2015

Figure 14 - Sony Xperia Z3, Smart Watch 3, and Tablets

Before we found Sony, we had found ZTE. We had heard last year ZTE was making a play to move up the ladder in the US mobile market. They have committed to increase their marketing by 3-fold just for brand recognition. We don’t know if it is a coincidence of the ‘3s’ but their thrice marketing efforts is the same number of NBA teams they currently sponsor: New York Knicks, Houston Rockets, and the Golden State Warriors. And for the CES attendees who didn’t know about ZTE’s basketball ties, ZTE gave everyone passing their booth a small hint of their basketball love.

CES 2015

Figure 15 - ZTE Booth at CES 2015

Of course, their booth wasn’t totally sport centric, as they also had a beautiful serenity display setup for a multiple of their new models, such as the new ZTE Nubia Z7 Max with its pretty impressive device specs : Snapdragon 801 MSM8974AC (which is Qualcomm’s top performer of the MSM8974 ICs), multi-mode / multi-band coverage for both cellular and WiFi bands. Yes, those are CES attendees taking photos of the live, exotic plants ZTE had next to their Nubia products because the display really was that pretty.

CES 2015

Figure 16 - ZTE Nubia Z7 Max

ZTE may have the NBA, but Samsung has the Avengers. The device of choice to back up these comic heroes was none other than the limited released Samsung Galaxy Note Edge. We had to smile when we saw the many advertisements for the Edge; it maybe slotted for a limited release, but we’ve had one in our labs under analysis already and it even made it to our Favorite Teardown Toys for 2014.

CES 2015

Figure 17 - Samsung Galaxy Note Edge with the Avengers

The My Kronoz and Burg booths we found in the CES labyrinth got our attention straight away. They were displaying cellphone wristwatches, not a new concept to us, but each of the booth managers were surprised to hear we had already “seen” such a device from LG Electronics back in 2009. Regardless of the lack of the devices’ concept newness, we are researching when we may get our hands on these new devices to see what has changed in the last six years. The Burg device was advertising Mediatek for 3G which we do know is different from the LG GD910.

There is ‘just one more thing’ for us to talk about: E-Waste

It goes without saying: 50 billion working electronic devices is going to be a milestone, but what happens when one or some, and eventually, all of these devices stop working and need to be replaced? To the consumer, it will only be a matter of cash and replacing the device with a new device. However what we heard is there are some serious financial considerations at both the front end of a product life and at the end-of-product life when the device needs to be discarded and replaced.

Even if the electronic device cannot be reused, electronic devices have a lot of recyclable materials such gold, silver, aluminum, and plastics. The OEMs pay an up-front fee for the cost of recycling their devices. In the US, the fees depend on what state the device is sold in and is usually calculated by the weight of the device. As one could imagine, there is a slight decrease in those cost for the newer TVs which weigh less than their older models.

Leaders in the recycling of electronic devices include Sprint, Best Buy, and Dell Computers, the latter partnering with Goodwill Industries as a drop-off station.

CES 2015

Figure 18 - PowerWrapper from the Paper Battery Company

Okay, we have to wrap this up. This is not to say we talked about everything we saw at CES 2015. We didn’t even cover the Polaroid smartphone making its way into the US market; or the gaming systems; or the augmented reality devices; or the advances in batteries (like this paper battery); or 3D TVs which (finally) do not require glasses. We didn’t have room to talk about battery chargers, the SSD drives from Samsung, Toshiba, and even Energizer, or the cars we saw inside the buildings and not just outside. We didn’t even tell you about Qi wireless recharging, 5G cellular modes, cool retro flip phones, retro cameras, or even the retro pinball machines; or about the robots or the amazing household appliances – there was just so much to see and plenty to talk about for the upcoming year. All we can say is farewell for now and if you want to ask or chat about anything else we didn’t mention here, please feel free to contact us by phone, email, or even twitter.

Until next year.

CES 2015

The Pre-CES Experience

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The next series of blogs will come directly from Teardown.com’s staff on the floor at CES. Every year we gather (with 1,000s of our closest, geekiest friends) at CES to see where technology is taking us. We speak with vendors about our observations from nearly 2 decades of device teardowns, and pick up cues as to where the next billion dollar idea is originating from. So here we go…

January 5, 2015

Monday was awesome - a great primer for kicking off the International CES show here in Las Vegas. There were many busy bodies in the LVCC halls, conference room, teams building booths, and exhibitors already talking about their latest devices and technology.

CES 2015

We attended four briefings yesterday (which all looked the same – see the above photo from the CES Trends to Watch conference). These were all packed to the gills and standing room only, and without the mandatory coffee often necessary to stay alert in this 24/7 city I might add…

What did the Teardown.com team hear yesterday, you ask? We heard about ‘use cases’ for all of the connected devices. We know we can connect the devices, but why and to what is the benefit to the consumer to connect their security camera to a wearable and a TV? We saw the growing presence of the smart, connected living offerings and further growth in the areas of quantifies self. Yes, it looks like a huge year for semiconductors, fancy displays, and super optimized power management systems.

Speaking of TVs, we saw this banner on the South Hall:

CES 2015

To the right of Qualcomm’s seemingly rhetorical question, we saw a banner from Hisense. It says “100 INCH Laser Cinema TV’…the ‘use case’ would be to make friends and family members very, very jealous…assuming they can stand in the same room with this goliath.

Other use case questions arose for the wearable, 3D-printers, and the drones, too. For Teardown.com, we can think of many cool uses for such devices, but we are only a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of electronic consumers, so it is definitely going to be interesting for us this week and this year to see how the OEMs make their products appealing to the consumer masses.

And just like every year at CES, this is the place to show off products and technology, so if you have a device or a technology, this is the place to be.

CES 2015

Okay, we have received our little smiley face from our fitness tracker for doing our morning workout, showered, stretched, and coffee is in hand – we are ready and heading in to the International CES 2015.

Favorite Teardown Toys of 2014 – Part 1

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One of the perks of working at Teardown.com is that we get to try out and teardown everything from Apple’s devices to BMW’s Harman car radios.

And the best part? We don’t worry about how easy they are to repair or put them back together again. When a device arrives in our labs, our job is to tear-it-down, and oh what fun we have doing it!

That said, the Teardown team does have its favorites! There is not one analyst who hasn’t coveted one particular device or another over the past year. From pleading for us to assign them some phone or camera, to smiles and raised arms of joy when we hand them the box, it is obvious we all like electronic gadgets, some gadgets more than others.

So, this year we asked our analysts to share their favorite teardown of 2014. Since we had so many to choose from, we had to break this blog into two parts. Spoiler alert, the most common theme in their responses: the more challenging the device, the more they liked it.

Chad Davis
Chad Davis - Apple iPhone 6  

"When Apple finally introduced NFC to their lineup of iPhones in the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, they implemented a completely different and much smaller type of NFC antenna compared to what we see in most smartphones and phablets. AMS' NFC Active Load Modulator / Booster (#AS3923), which Apple utilized allows for up to 100 times smaller NFC antenna design as claimed by AMS."

Figure 1 Apple iPhone 6
Figure 1 Apple iPhone 6

Krzysztof Mikulski - Apple iPhone 6 Plus  

“My favorite device for 2014 is the Apple iPhone 6 Plus. Its intelligent design incorporated many high-end ICs, most marked with “Apple”. Apple’s use of the high-end display had great specifications allowed the images to really jump off the screen. The hardware designers also hid the antennas within the aluminum back enclosure, and used a new design for the NFC antenna – making it one of the most talked about mysteries for 2014. Overall, the iPhone 6 Plus has good quality and a solid construction making it my favorite device for 2014.”

Figure 2 Apple iPhone 6 Plus
Figure 1 Apple iPhone 6 Plus

Artur Szkopek
Artur Szkopek - Samsung Galaxy Note Edge

“For me, the most interesting device of 2014 is Samsung Galaxy Note Edge. It is the first smartphone with a fixed curved display manufactured using P-OLED technology. The unique feature gives the user a main display and also a second, side display for reading notifications independently from the main screen. The Note Edge also uses fast charging which can charge the device from 0 to 50% in just 30 minutes.”

Figure 3 Samsung Galaxy Note Edge
Figure 3 Samsung Galaxy Note Edge

Mariusz Derlecki
Mariusz Derlecki - Samsung Galaxy K Zoom – half phone, half camera

“In July 2014, I analyzed Samsung Galaxy K Zoom, my favorite device for 2014. The first challenge for me was how to classify it. Is it a smartphone with great camera, or great camera with just a smartphone? Even today, I still wonder. The thing that distinguishes it as a great camera is the fact it has a 10x optical zoom and xenon flash – allowing the device to take some pretty amazing photos. Moreover, the Galaxy K Zoom is a full-featured, high end smartphone with a super AMOLED display – the better to view those awesome photos.”

Figure 4 Samsung Galaxy K Zoom
Figure 4 Samsung Galaxy K Zoom

Nathan Taylor
Nathan Taylor - Google Glass

“The Google Glass is another step towards seamlessly connecting humans to technology. The "Private Eye P4 Head-Mounted Display" was one of the first I can remember. Crude as the P4 was, the Google Glass has taken a much larger step from this early 1990's heads up display. The Glass is certainly a novelty at this time, but in every technological advancement it's necessary to crawl before you walk. Years from now the Glass will be looked on as a device that launched the imagination and boundless limits for integrating electronics into the human body.”

Figure 5 Google Glass
Figure 5 Google Glass

Craig Pullman - Qualcomm Toq Smartwatch Toq - Mirasol Display

“A mirasol display produces iridescent color, similar to what you would observe in a butterfly’s wings. When a voltage is applied to a nano mirror actuator the distance between the mirror and its thin film electrode is adjusted to either 450, 520 or 675nm corresponding to Blue, Green or Red color. Full spectrum white light enters the top window and if the cavity separation is set to 675nm (red) then red color bounces out through the window while all the other colors/wavelengths are captured in the cavity never to be seen again.”

Figure 6 Qualcomm Toq Smartwatch
Figure 6 Qualcomm Toq Smartwatch

Next week we will wrap up the year of our favorite teardown toys and clear our plates for 2015.

Cruising in the New Connected Car

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The world loves the automobile.

In the U.S. it is estimated that there is a car for every 1.3 people and globally there are an estimated 1.1 billion cars on the road, track and paved paths that connect our people and our civilization. This is far more than Henry Ford imagined when the Model T took cars into mass production and these cars are getting more sophisticated every day. Leading that sophistication is the imbedded technology found in our daily vehicle.

Our car is a symbol of our way of life and often embodiment of our personal taste and lifestyle. In fact, I argue that this symbol has only be usurped by the mass adoption and personalization of the smart phone as a personal statement of who we are (or want to be). Thus, it is not hard to expect that these two devices would become an interlinked part of our personal make-up and perchance even out identity.

But enough about ‘smart phones’ let’s talk smart cars! Admit it, when peeking inside a new car, the center console is high on the list of things we check out first. Aside from actually driving a car, drivers increasingly seek a connected experience with their car, their peers, their family and their surroundings. The car’s infotainment systems (stock or add-on) is the ‘center piece’ of a well-designed room.

It contextualizes our travel. It feeds out emotions. It links family members in epic Christmas sing-a-longs that leaves the family dog howling ta the moon for hours after the trip is done. Now cars are even more connected, bringing real-time traffic, weather, email, entertainment, and more to the driver and occupants. Cars do this by connecting to our phone, satellites, and mobile routers. Ensuring that they and us cannot escape (err miss) all that funky weirdness that happens. And being in Austin we know weird. All the while these connected features extend beyond the infotainment systems and connect all the engine and safety modules making our cars more efficient, reliable and safe for us and our passengers.

But let’s get back to the car…or truck…or SUV….or hybrid… and its entertainment, because Route 66 is all about the music man.

Fortunately, the modern center console is no longer limited to just AM/FM radio stations and cassette tapes. (For those who don’t know what a cassette deck is, just think of the slim box of black string constantly trying to tie a knot around misplaced medal box between two rubber wheels). Center consoles today provide so many different options and features they are no longer referred to as just radios, but instead have an almost omniscient title - infotainment systems or for the really automotive verbose, head units.

At Teardown.com we like electronics, almost as much as we love our cars. And as such, we could not not teardown a modern head unit to see how far removed we now are from those pecky cassettes. In our most recent report, the Harman NBT infotainment system used in the BMW 3 Series, 5 Series, and some 7 Series models we found a bucket load of cool technologies. In fact this is a similar Harman system that is available in the BMW i3. (Spoiler alert: THAT WE ARE ALSO TEARING APART!!!)

Figure 1 BMW i3
Figure 1 BMW i3

BMW is a crafty lot. They have been building these fancy infotainment units into cars and updating them regularly. They are now in the 3 iteration of their head unit and like all company’s like cool new monikers that make them feel special. As such their branding for the current infotainment brain is called the NBT, which stands for Next Big Thing. Wow, wish I was that creative!

But we aren’t here to talk about head unit names, no matter how clever. Rather we wanted to know what makes this baby tick, tock, and even Rock. So we sent this off to our lab to meet it inevitable doom.

Inside, we found six separate antenna ports, several processors, a 200 GB hard drive for enough storage for the entire family’s playlist, and 9.8 GB of total system memory.

Figure 2 Autonet Cellular and WiFi Router
Figure 2 Autonet Cellular and WiFi Router

This Harman system also has WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity to link to other wireless devices. Bluetooth connectivity has been popular for some years now, but car manufacturers have started to include WiFi connectivity options more recently. However you don’t need to buy a BMW to have WiFi - automotive WiFi routers such as the Autonet Cellular WiFi Router are also available as aftermarket options and have been since 2009.

Most of the Harman NBT unit‘s enclosure is made of AZ91DT – a magnesium alloy. Magnesium has several advantages. It is lighter than aluminum, less-expensive, and requires less energy to recycle. With the upcoming CAFÉ and EU Emissions standards requiring cars to be more fuel efficient, cars need to be lighter and automakers are understanding magnesium alloys like AZ91DT can help achieve shedding that weight and reduce costs.

The component arrangement in Figure 3 shows the exploded component view of the Harman – a stout looking infotainment unit indeed, but since the majority of the enclosures were made from the lighter magnesium, the total unit weighed only 2.16 kg.

Figure 3 Harman NBT Infotainment in the BMW 3 Series
Figure 3 Harman NBT Infotainment in the BMW 3 Series

This unit appears to be part of Harman Kardon’s low-energy GreenEdge™ product line. Harman announced back in December 2011 a long-term partnership with BMW to provide the German automaker with audio systems developed on green innovations. So not only does this infotainment unit have features galore, it entertains using less energy while keeping the environment in mind.

Judging by the selfies our analysts sent to us from the 2014 International CES event in Las Vegas, there are many cool technologies coming to the market in the electric and driverless vehicles. And be assured, we will gladly get into a car that drives and parks itself just as long as that same car lets us play drums on our steering wheel to our favorite songs… when safely stopped, of course.

Want more auto? Check out the partnership between Teardown.com and Munro as we teardown the BMW i3 all-electric car.

Where will Wearables Take Us?

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At Teardown.com we have been very busy analyzing nearly 400 devices over the past year. Our work allows us firsthand knowledge of evolving technology trends; the growing sophistication in design requirements and techniques; and deriving the bill of materials costs for everything from a Withings Activity Tracker to the electronics used in a 2014 electronic vehicle, the BMW i3. Like many, we have been fascinated by the emergence of wearable devices and their ability to be integrated into our daily lives, improving health, collaboration, and further quantifying ourselves. As a result our labs have been very busy comparing devices we analyzed nearly two decades ago with the current tide of wearable devices as part of the Internet of Everything.

Defining what is a wearable, while not an enigma, does create a very broad segment of products serving a myriad of different needs. For example, if you glance over at Wearables.com, it is interesting to see just what is considered a Wearable! There are devices that span a range of products from Bluetooth necklaces, fitness bands, golf gloves, shirts, and even a camera yielding drone bracelet called a Nixie. (Full-disclosure: I WANT ONE!) Wearable applications range from consumer, to medical, to even military use. While there are challenges depending on a particular target market, most Wearable devices will have the similar challenges. First and foremost is how to power and charge the device. Second has to deal with matching the desired features to the multitude of sensors, imaging devices, and input devices available to choose from.

Features – Who Was First

At Teardown.com we have kept every device we have torn down over the past 15 years. This allows us to dust off a few boxes in our ‘device morgue’ to determine which wearable device really started the feature race. One of our early candidates that may just be the grandpappy of today’s wearable phenomenon is the Casio WQV-2 wrist watch with a built-in camera we tore down…way, way back in the 2000!

Figure 1 Casio WQV-2 Wrist Watch Camera

Notably, this watch (and its sister device the Casio Wrist MP3 Player) have physical designs tailored for the fitness and exercise market. In 2004, a non-fitness watch, the Fossil FX-3002, (a.k.a the “Dick Tracy Watch”), came to the market with a few “firsts” in its features arsenal. It was one of the first wearables to have inductive charging; one of the first Microsoft based devices with up-to-the-minute stock, sports, weather, and news updates using a FM sub-carrier radio. It was also one of the first Wearables to design an antenna into the watchband.

In 2009, OEMs started getting more aggressive in what could be designed into a Wearable with devices like the limited release of the LG GD910 Watch Phone. The LG GD910 was not the first cell phone wrist watch, but it was first to bring so many functions into only 90grams - voice calling, 3G data, a touchscreen display supported by Synaptics, a Broadcom BCM2046 for Bluetooth, and yes, a camera for photos and video calls. Its RF cellular design was squarely designed on an Infineon (now Intel) platform, with some support from Murata and Avago. Our research showed it required multiple antennas that were designed and assembled using techniques similar to many cell phones.

Figure 2 LG GD910 Watch Phone

Today’s Wearable Device

Limited release devices like the LG GD910 usually have high price tags, but they also push designs forward. Today, Teardown.com has over 100 wearable and wellness devices that we have analyzed over the past couple years in our library. And we have seen that these devices have quite a few things in common.

First, most have better rechargeable batteries than the Casio watches in the early 2000s. While not a surprise there, it is fascinating to see the PMIC (power management integrated circuit) evolution of the past decade! Second, new wearables are jam packed with more sensors from heart rate and pulse oximeters to accelerometers like the 3-axis accelerometer BMA250 from Bosch Sensortec or combination sensors like the 9-axis LSM9DS0 from STMicroelectronics. And no matter how few or many sensors are designed into a wearable device, they are required to connect to a RISC microcontroller or processor, such an Atmel AVR ATmega168PA or an ARM based controller.

Being part of the Internet of Everything means a device must be connected. As such, most Wearables have Bluetooth connectivity, with no noticeable dominant player. Texas Instruments, STMicroelectronics, Nordic, CSR, Qualcomm, and of course, Broadcom have all appeared in Bluetooth spots for multiple devices. Some of the wearable devices are using WiFi and Bluetooth combination ICs like the BCM4334, although some devices only used WiFi for software updates and rely on Bluetooth for main connectivity.

Packaging design also plays a large part in wearable design. At Teardown.com our x-ray machine sees lots of duty capturing 3D imagery of how the micro-electronics and often wafer level packaging have been cast into plastic, metal, and rubberized materials. Ultra-thin ribbons are seen connecting various components and subsystems to deliver advanced features to the user.

Wearables in 2015 and Beyond

Smart design choices in the all areas from battery to mechanical fabrication will be the goal in order to be competitive in the Wearable market. Take for example two similar devices, the Jawbone UP24 and the Xiaomi Mi Band. Overall, they have the same types of components, yet the Jawbone UP24 had an estimated 58% higher total manufacturing cost than the Xiaomi Mi Band.


Figure 3 Jawbone UP24 and the Xiaomi Mi Band


In 2015, Teardown.com will continue to analyze fitness bands and smartwatches as well as other interesting devices such as the Nymi cardiac signature security band, the Myo Gesture Control Armband, and the Mimo Smart Baby Monitor garment to just name a few. Of course, our list also includes the Apple Watch due out spring of 2015.

We already have our bags packed for the upcoming annual International CES event in Las Vegas, Nevada and are anxious to see what next year’s Wearables market has in store for us. We will be tweeting and blogging away while we immerse ourselves into the new season of tech gadgets. Will we see another Watch Phone or maybe a Wearable Valet band for a driverless BMW car?

September 2014: Apple Announcement

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We've seen a lot of Apple devices, but Apple's announcement today actually has us wondering - which is the more exciting product: the new 4.7" iPhone 6, the 5.5" iPhone 6 Plus, or the Apple Watch? Apple's normal behavior of releasing a new flagship phone powered by a new Apple processor is exactly what Teardown.com expected to see today with the iPhone 6 models and A8 processor. The rumors have been mounting for some time now that Apple would finally include NFC as well. This one turns out to be true, but it was delivered Apple's way - requiring their fingerprint TouchID and a built in Secure Element chip which resides on the new iPhones to make all NFC transactions. Market indicators lead us to believe that NXP’s PN547 has the NFC design win. TechInsights has already procured the chip and have started a detailed analysis. Also noteworthy - both phones will work using VoLTE, a new way of using 4G LTE networks to make voice calls over the internet. Currently, Verizon looks to be ahead of competitors Sprint and AT&T for delivery of VoLTE networks in the US. If VoLTE is too much to digest, the iPhone 6 will also allow for voice calling over WiFi, an expansion on their iMessage text application which alternates between a cellular network and a WiFi network depending on signal strength.

Teardown.com will post its quick turn analysis of the iPhone 6 Plus on September 19, 2014. The other benefit to Apple finally releasing a 5.5" phablet phone is we can now compare it to its number 1 rival product - the Samsung Galaxy Note 4.

For quick turn teardowns on devices from Apple, Samsung, and more, please click here.

If you would like to be notified when the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus Teardowns are complete, please click here.

Apple's event was one of the longest events seen in quite a while, running almost two full hours, but it was well worth the watch...literally. Apple announced they have entered the smartwatch market, and by the features and capabilities showcased today - the Apple Watch really is gearing up to be a true smartwatch. It too, will have a Sapphire Glass display covering a flexible, retina display, touch interactions, a control knob, NFC, a speaker, haptic sensors, heart rate monitor, gyroscope, accelerometer, inductive charging using Apple's Magsafe, and can be housed in a variety of propriety strap designs to fit the user's needs or mood. Unfortunately, there was no actual release date for the Apple Watch, just an “early next year", but when it does hit the stores, it will compete with the new LG Watch R, the Moto 360, and Apple's largest rival, the Samsung Gear Live S.

For more on Apple's investment in Sapphire Glass click here

Meanwhile - We Compare Apples to Fire Phones

Apple iPhone 6

Figure 1: Amazon Fire Phone vs. Apple iPhone 5S

Until the iPhone 6 arrives, Apple's current flagship phone is still officially the iPhone 5S, and since Amazon CEO Jeff Bezo declared the Fire Phone a better product than the iPhone 5S, we will compare the two devices while we await the opportunity to analyze the iPhone 6 Plus later this month.

Product Cost Comparisons

Teardown.com has published reports for both the Amazon Fire phone and the Apple iPhone 5S, and estimates both devices' COGs to be almost the same.

Apple iPhone 6

Figure 2: Cost of Goods

The cost differences between the phones were in different areas such as a $35 USD delta for Integrated Circuit costs and about $11 for Modules. When all of the differences were taken into account, the end result was less than a dollar between the two phones.

Product Design

Looking at the summarized product specifications below, the devices are somewhat unequal from a hardware perspective. The Fire Phone has a total of six cameras, a larger display, more RAM, and even NFC. Yet even with these seemingly superior advantages, the sales numbers of the Fire Phone are rumored to be less than stellar, while the iPhone 5S remains to be a popular product even after a year of its release.

Apple iPhone 6

Figure 3: Amazon Fire Phone vs. Apple iPhone 5S

Ignoring COGs, sales numbers, and software applications, both phones are at their cores mobile devices. Looking at each of their functional blocks several notes can be made in regards to the phones' RF designs.

First, Amazon uses the Snapdragon 800 Baseband / Applications processor, while the iPhone 5S uses a separate Qualcomm MDM9615M modem and their own A7 processor to run their iOS. A second note, the Fire Phone has four main RF antennas, an RF transceiver, and an additional RF receiver versus the iPhone 5S having only two main RF antennas total and one RF transceiver. Also missing from the iPhone 5S was any type of envelope tracking technique for its RF power amplifiers. Teardown.com has noticed envelope tracking becoming more common for devices such as the Amazon Fire Phone with multiple LTE bands.

Apple iPhone 6

Figure 4: Package Marking Image of Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 Baseband/Applications Processor

Apple iPhone 6

Figure 5: Amazon Fire Phone - General RF Block Design

Apple iPhone 6

Figure 6: Apple iPhone 5S - General RF Block Design

The Fire Phone also had Qualcomm's recently introduced QFE2320 - a single-die CMOS, multi-mode, multi-band RF power amplifier and antenna switch IC. This allows Amazon to use only one other RF semiconductor manufacturer for its RF power amplifiers where Apple designed its RF power amplifiers using four different manufacturers.

To be fair, the QFE2320 was not available last year to be utilized in the iPhone 5S so it will be interesting to see if either it or its Qualcomm companion QFE2340 will make it into the new iPhone 6 phones. Since Apple announced their new phones will work with over 200 LTE carriers worldwide, we have our suspicions of what we will find when we open up the case on September 19 and we will let you know just as soon as we know.

Apple's Investment in Sapphire Glass

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From their new plant in Arizona, GT Advanced Technologies (GTAT) is providing the new sapphire lenses for Apple’s iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus phones. Apple provided approximately $578 million of seed money to get the facility up and running for the sapphire production. This investment will be repaid over five years, starting in 2015.

GTAT expected their 2014 revenue guidance to be between $600 and $800 million with its sapphire segment comprising up to 80% of the year’s total revenue. This has since been updated to yearly revenues of $600 to $700 million.

Using this data as a guide, GTAT’s sapphire segment should generate a 2014 revenue between $480 to $560 million. In 4Q13 GTAT'S sapphire segment had a revenue of $18.8 million. However, their 2014 first quarter sapphire segment revenue dropped to only $5.6 million but then increased to $44.1 million in 2Q14. This increase probably includes the initial orders from Apple. If we use $24.4 million (the combined 4Q13 and 1Q14 revenues) as a baseline for GTAT's sapphire segment performance in the first half of 2014 (the actual will be different), Apple’s order revenue for 2014 is expected to be between $455 and $535 Million which is approximately 94% of GTAT’s sapphire segment revenue.

In July 2014, the Wall Street Journal reports Apple has placed orders for 70 to 80 million iPhone 6 and 6 plus units. At 70 million units, using Apple’s order revenue above, the estimated sapphire unit cost will be between $6.50 and $7.75. If the number of placed orders is closer to 80 million units, this range should drop to $5.70 to $6.70. While the yearly performance of both companies (and iPhone 6 volumes) remains to be seen, we are expecting the average sapphire lens unit cost to be between $6 and $8.


Parrot AR. Drone 2.0 - GPS Edition Teardown

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Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are no longer confined to the battlefield as hobbyists and commercial uses are on the rise. The FAA struggles to take an official stance on the use of drones as the proliferation of the unmanned aircraft has resulted in some near-collision occurrences and safety concerns. With Amazon and other companies testing delivery by drone options, one thing is clear: commercial interest in drones is a new market waiting to explode.

AR Drone Teardown

Teardown.com analysts have recently performed a teardown of the Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 – GPS Edition and found that the $349.99 has a BOM cost of $137, including the GPS Flight recorder. Upon opening the drone, we found 2 main circuit boards, one for processing and communication, and one for motion control.

Figure 1 below shows Parrot’s use of Micron DDR2 256MB memory in a POP package over Texas Instrument’s OMAP3630 Applications Processor. Other major IC’s are Micron’s 128MB flash memory, Texas Instruments Power Management + USB solution, and Atheros Low-Power 802.11 b/g/n WiFi controller.

AR Drone TeardownFigure 1: IC Identification

Also interfacing with the main board is the Motion Control Board shown in Figure 2 below. The Drone uses the combination of Bosch BMA150 Accelerometer and BMP180 Barometric Pressure Sensor, Invensense IMU-3000 Gyro & Motion Processor, and Microchip PIC24HJ Microcontroller for Ultrasonic Sonar Control. Controlling the drone using Parrot’s free app is certainly aided by the addition of the gyroscope and accelerometer. Flight stability provided by counter measures to the outputs of these sensors helps the drone to respond on its own to light bumps or windy conditions.

AR Drone TeardownFirgure 2: Motion Control Board

Two Kobitone ultrasonic transducers seen in Figure 3, one 400SR (receiver) and one 400 ST (transmitter) work with the PIC24 Sonar Controller to monitor the AR 2.0 drone’s flight altitude. There is also an AKM Semiconductor 3-Axis Compass on the Sonar board shown below in Figure 4.

AR Drone TeardownFigure 3: Sonar Board - Ultrasonic Transducers

AR Drone TeardownFigure 4: Sonar Board

The included GPS Flight Recorder Module contains a Telit Wireless Solutions GPS receiver and also 4GB of user-accessible NAND flash for storing video and picture captures. The GPS module plugs into the AR.Drone’s USB port. See Figures 5 and 6 below.

AR Drone TeardownFigure 5: GPS Flight Recorder Module

AR Drone TeardownFigure 6: IC Identification

A Look Inside the Samsung Gear Live Smartwatch

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A quick peek inside the teardown of the Samsung Gear Live revealed a design win for Cypress Semiconductor's TrueTouch® Gen5 touchscreen controllers.

Samsung Galaxy Live

Teardown.com's Product Analyst, Stacy Wegner confirmed that the “Cypress CYTMA545-44LQI33ABA capacitive controller replaced the previous design win of the Melfas touch controllers in Samsung's last two smartwatches, the Samsung Gear and Samsung Gear 2 Neo.”

Samsung Galaxy Live

The Gear Live implements the Cypress CYTMA545's water rejection feature, wake-on-touch mode, and uses only a portion of the CYTMA545's available 33 sense lines which helps Samsung conserve power for their latest smartwatch.

The design win adds to Cypress's April announcement of their TrueTouch® Gen4 design wins in five of Huawei's Ascend and Honor smartphones.


Automotive Tech Trends: The BMW 3-Series Camera

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At Teardown.com we analyze more than 400 devices a year searching for technology and market advancements that engineers and product teams can use when planning their business strategy. Our research clearly shows the automobile industry is entering a period of significant change. As vehicles move toward full autonomy, technology is being implemented in driver assistance, connectivity, and safety features in order to make it all possible.

What started as the simple seatbelt and collapsible steering columns, has developed into what AutomotiveWorld.com recently published as a comprehensive list of seventy-nine key safety, security and advanced-technology features that have been included on 2015 Chrysler Group vehicles. All this tech content has attracted the attention of some of the biggest names in the semiconductor industry. Companies such as Qualcomm, Broadcom and Intel are looking to gain an early dominance in the race to capture the automotive market.

Governments are also taking an increased interest in this space. Safety has always been a concern, at least since the early 1960’s and the precedent was set when seat belts were originally required in all new vehicles as a result of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 209. Since then research has shown that when used, lap/shoulder seat belts reduce the risk of fatal injury to front-seat passenger car occupants by 45 percent.

Fast forward to 2014 where, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there are 210 fatalities and 15,000 back-over injuries per year with children under 5 years and adults over 70 years of age being the victims in a whopping 57 percent of the fatalities. Recently, in an effort to reduce injury and death resulting from these types of accidents, the NHTSA issued a mandate that requires rear visibility equipment on all new vehicles manufactured on or after May 1, 2018 and weighing less than 10,000 pounds. Considering an annual production of 60+ million passenger cars, the NHTSA mandate will have an immediate impact on the electronics industry, creating a boon for developers and manufacturers of camera and related integrated circuit technologies.

With that in mind, the analyst team at Teardown.com is dissecting the Rear View Camera module found in the current BMW 3 Series. To understand the technology and design choices inside, we procured this $400 device and proceeded with the TEARDOWN.

Below, you will see several images that were taken before we actually put a knife to the module. These images exhibit external details for engineers to examine and compare with their own designs and technology choices. In the first image (see Figure 1) the outer camera lens is clearly visible and is approximately 1 cm2 in diameter. You can also see that the part measures roughly 20cm2 and includes a high temperature, polycarbonate (PC-ASA) cover.

Figure 1: BMW 3-Series PN 66.53 924.351-01 rear view camera

Figure 1: BMW 3-Series PN 66.53 924.351-01 rear view camera

The second image (see Figure 2) is an x-ray which shows the arrangement of the image sensor and lensing.

Figure 2: X-ray image of BMW 3-Series PN 66.53 924.351-01 rear view camera

Figure 2: X-ray image of BMW 3-Series PN 66.53 924.351-01 rear view camera

Once the module was disassembled we see (as expected) that the PCB board is relatively simple. In Figure 3 we can see components from Infineon and NXP Semiconductor and, after removal and inspection, a CMOS image sensor from OmniVision. Given our familiarty with these vendors and the processes used, our estimates for the cost of the device are between $50 and $75 USD. Given the imprtance of the technology, that isn’t a bad margin when the cost we paid was nearly $400 USD.

Figure 3: BMW 3-Series PN 66.53 924.351-01 rear view camera board

Figure 3: BMW 3-Series PN 66.53 924.351-01 rear view camera board

The value of a teardown report is in the detailed cost analysis which is permanently documented in a database common to all of the other devices which have been evaluated at Teardown.com over the years. Each Deep Dive report includes a complete bill-of-materials (BOM) along with cost breakdown information and photographs detailing the various subassemblies. Once completed, Deep Dive reports, or abbreviated Survey reports, can be downloaded by subscribers to our service or, for a fee, by the general public visiting our website. Reports are used by companies for reconnaissance of intellectual property (IP) violations, discovery of a product's true cost to manufacture, examinations of specific design aspects, and any number of different ways determined by their background, culture and capabilities.

Comparing Apples to Amazons

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The Apple TV (3rd generation) model A1427, was released in March 2012 and torn down and a Bill of Materials was generated in June 2012. At the time, the BOM was estimated by TechInsights™ Teardown.com at $70.30. Roughly 2 years later, in April 2014, Amazon released their Fire TV, which was torn down in May 2014 with a cost estimate landing at $92.99. The cost comparison below compares costs at the time of their respective teardowns. Be advised that in the two years since Apple released their TV, the BOM for that unit is likely to have dropped since our initial analysis.

Both units have a retail price of $99. From a cost at launch standpoint as shown in Figure 1, Apple appears to be making a better profit at nearly $30 compared to Amazon at $6. This ignores and channel margin, which is likely ~20%. An advantage of Amazon is that it sells the lion™s share of its product so it limits payments additional reseller margins. But make no mistake, neither company is looking for unit profits, both are seeking to continually unleash the profits of streaming media services to the growing number of connected consoles worldwide.

Being a 2014 product, it is not surprising to find that the Fire TV comes with a faster processor, more SDRAM memory, MIMO dual-band WiFi, 5.1 surround sound and a Bluetooth driven remote for non-line-of-sight control. The device also comes with a very interesting new IC from SiTime, more about them in a coming blog.

Key Design Wins Include:

Qualcomm gets the processor socket with a 1.7GHz Quad-core Snapdragon S4 incorporating an Adreno 320 graphics processor along with the associated Qualcomm PMM8920 power management IC.

Qualcomm also wins with the Qualcomm Atheros QCA6234 dual-band 2x2 MIMO WiFi 802.11a/b/g/n & Bluetooth 4.0 part.

SDRAM Memory:
Micron provides the 2 Gigabytes of DDR2 SDRAM memory onboard that is stacked on top of the Qualcomm APQ8064T processor.

NAND Flash Memory:
For non-volatile memory, Toshiba provides an 8 Gigabyte multi-chip memory part.

Bluetooth Remote:
The Bluetooth connected remote is powered by a Texas Instruments M430F5435A mixed signal microcontroller. Also found on the remote is a Texas Instruments CC2560 single chip Bluetooth IC, an Audience eS305 voice processor and a Bosch Sensortec BMA150 3-axis accelerometer.

Figure 1: Cost stackup between Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV

Amazon Fire TV v. Apple TV


At the time of launch, Apple TV™s connectivity, which included WiFi, Bluetooth, HDMI and 10/100 Ethernet, and had a higher initial cost than the Fire TV. But leveraging new technology from the past 24 months, the Fire TV incorporates a much faster and more expensive Qualcomm Atheros QCA6234 MIMO WiFi solution.

MIMO is important because it allows the simultaneous use of two or more transmit/receive channels to boost throughout data rates. The QCA6234 is a 2 x 2 (2 transmit/2 receive) MIMO part.

While Apple TV contained a Broadcom BCM4330 based Universal Scientific Industries (USI) WiFi/Bluetooth module that did not contain MIMO, Broadcom has not been sitting still. Their BCM4354 WiFi/Bluetooth/FM radio part is 2 x 2 MIMO capable and now in production. It is likely that the BCM 4354 or a module containing it will be found in the next generation of Apple TV.

Non-Volatile Memory (NAND)

Both units come with 8 GB of MLC NAND Flash. While Teardown.com priced the Apple TV memory at $1.60 (higher than Fire TV) current costing for the same memory is less expensive. Both Apple and Amazon source their NAND flash from Toshiba, which, barring any volume pricing implications, should have them at cost parity at a given point in time.

Volatile Memory (SDRAM)

The Apple TV comes with 512 MB DDR2 SDRAM while the Fire TV came equipped with 2GB DDR2 SDRAM. The cost, which again is at time of teardown, has the Apple TV™s cost approximately $1.50 higher than Fire TV at $4.54. In 2014, we expect Apple to be paying closer to $2.40 for this memory part. This would make it $2.00 cheaper than Fire TV™s memory.

It is notable to remark that be going from 512 MB to 2 GB that Amazon will have faster response time to new apps as well as receive a boost to streaming and playing the latest HD content. This jump further amplifies the readily available memory IC choice by product vendors today.


The applications processor in the Apple TV is a 1GHz, dual-core (one core is disabled) is a 2nd generation A5 processor. Analysis on this chip was done by TechInsights and can be found here. It is a die shrink version of the processor first seen in the Apple iPhone 4S. The Fire TV runs on a Qualcomm 1.7 GHz quad-core Krait 300 processor with an Adreno 320 graphics processor. The Fire TV provides more horsepower with an approximate $7.50 premium. However, if we assume Apple has been able to shave off cost from their A5 over the past two years, the premium would increase to about $10.00.

Figure 2: Apple A5

Apple A5 Processor

Figure 3: Qualcomm APQ8064T

Qualcomm APQ8064T Processor

Power Management and Audio

Apple™s 338S1040 (made by Dialog) power management and audio IC is significantly cheaper than Fire TV™s Qualcomm PMM8920 IC. Apple™s $1.47 power management IC is a single die part with smaller area compared to Qualcomm™s $4.20 two die IC.

Non-Electric Parts

Based on inputs from our customers and industry expertise, the costing methodology we used to estimate the Apple TV has significantly changed since we costed it. At first glance, it appears that Apple has a more cost efficient design, but when employing the new model to those parts, Apple™s non-electric parts increases to $8.29, compared to $9.70 for the Fire TV. A description of the costing methodology change is at the end of the article.

Other Parts

At the time of launch, Apple™s other parts came in at about $10. We expect that the Apple TV would have dropped into the $9.50 range by this point due to manufacturing efficiencies and a decline in the cost of these parts by various suppliers. Fire TV currently has $13.29 worth of other parts. The 10 layer main circuit board is approximately $3.50 more expensive than its Apple counterpart and accounts for the bulk of the cost difference.

Supporting Materials

Without the remote controls, Apple TV™s supporting materials comes out to $2.80 while Fire TV™s supporting materials comes out to $3.12. So, there are no major differences here. However, Apple™s IR remote is costed at $4.15 while the Fire TV™s Bluetooth remote comes in at $13.19. The Fire TV™s remote has a $1.55 Texas Instruments mixed signal microcontroller, a $0.92 Bluetooth solution, a $0.81 3-Axis accelerometer, a $0.59 voice processor, two microphones and more. All told, it is a more costly, more capable remote.

Fire TV Bluetooth Remote

The Bluetooth remote is powered by a Texas Instruments M430F5435A microcontroller. It contains a Texas Instruments CC2560 Bluetooth IC, a Bosch Sensortec eS305 3-axis accelerometer, Audience eS305 voice processor and two MEMS microphones.

The Voice processer is a very interesting innovation from Amazon because it moves the interaction with the console into the growingly popular voice control world of SIRI. Further from a bundled services perspective Amazon is using voice to drive people to its search engine, thus allowing it to further present and promote its products and services.

The accelerometer does not appear to have a documented usable functionality associated with it at the present time. It may be usable for certain games, but this has yet to be verified.

Final Test and Assembly

Along with better capability come higher assembly and test costs. The Fire TV, with its Bluetooth based remote, MIMO WiFi and more, requires an additional $0.65 in this area.

Other Observations

Both units are small boxes of comparable size. When you open them up, Apple chose to embed a 2.5 Watt power supply in the box while Amazon used a whopping 16 Watt external power supply. Amazon™s power supply is so large that it blocks access to an adjacent wall outlet.

In order to fit the power supply inside the Apple TV, Apple had to increase the component density on their circuit board. They also managed to do so with an 8 layer board that was estimated at $3.12. Amazon on the other hand, used a larger, more expensive 10 layer board that cost $6.53 resulting in a cost difference of $3.41 for the board. It is worth noting that the Fire TV board in figures 4 and 5 have a significant amount of green space. Had they packed their electronics more densely, they would have had a smaller, cheaper board.

Figure 4: Amazon Fire TV Boards Side 1

Fire TV Board

Figure 5: Amazon Fire TV Boards Side 2

Fire TV Board 2

Figure 6: Apple TV Board Side 1

Apple TV Board

Figure 7: Apple TV Board Side 2

Apple TV Board 2

Apple TV & Amazon Fire TV Closing Thoughts:

While the Apple TV had an estimated bill of materials cost of $70 in July 2012, supply chain efficiencies and other cost reductions should have reduced that number significantly by now. Combine this with a constant retail price of $99, and you get a business case that improves over time.

The Amazon Fire TV outperforms the Apple TV in features and speed, but that is hardly a surprise given it launched just over two years after the Apple TV. Apple has not been standing still and there are rumors of a new Apple TV with Kinect type remote-free UI support.

Cost Methodology Change:

After receiving consistent feedback from our customer base, we brought in someone with knowledge on mechanical costing to make recommended changes to our mechanical cost model. Up to this point, our model calculated cost based on weight and material composition, and then multipliers were used for various types of processing (fabrication techniques, coatings, processes, processing operations, etc.). While our new model calculates base cost from weight and material composition, multipliers are only used for formation techniques (moldings, extrusions, stampings, etc.). For coatings, our new model uses a base coating cost and takes into account the part area to be coated along with a process yield. Likewise, for processing operations (inserts, drilled holes, heat staking, printings, etc.) are calculated based off a base cost, quantity of occurrence and yield factor. The results are now much closer to feedback received.


Connectivity and Sensors Blog Post Part 2

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Today’s blog will discuss the Near Field Communications (NFC) hardware, as well as barometric and humidity sensors found in today’s smart devices.

Since July 2012, Teardown.com published 87 Deep Dive Teardown analyses in the Mobile Devices channel that covers phones, tablets, laptops and other devices. These devices represent a broad sample across manufacturers, price tiers and markets

Of this sampling of devices, the number of units and percent of sample in which these functions were observed can be seen in Table 1.

Table 1. Feature Prevalence


NFC Hardware

The current players in NFC are NXP Semiconductor, Broadcom, Inside Secure and STMicroelectronics. NXP’s NFC radio chipsets are most often identified in our teardown analysis with both the PN544 and PN65 integrated circuits appearing 13 times each. The NXP parts have been observed since the 3rd quarter of 2012. The PN65 was last seen in a device that shipped in June 2013. The PN544 was observed in a device launched in February 2014.

Broadcom’s ICs showed up in nearly a third of our teardowns with their BCM20793 and BCM20794 parts, appearing 6 times each. Both Broadcom parts have been seen in recent teardowns. The number of occurrences and their share can be seen in Table 2.

Table 2. NFC Hardware


Barometric Sensors

Barometric sensors are only starting to gain traction in mobile devices. They first appeared in the Samsung Galaxy S III (GT-I9300), which launched in mid-2012. It carried the STMicroelectronics LPS331AP sensor, which appeared once more in the Nokia Lumia 1020. The Bosch Sensortec BMP180 has the most occurrences with 9 design wins and its apparent successor, the BMP280, was observed twice. The BMP180 has been seen throughout the data sample period, while the BMP280 showed up in November, 2013. It is interesting to note that the STMicroelectronics IC is approximately 2x the cost of the Bosch Sensortec parts based on our costing models. Table 3 shows their occurrence information.

Table 3. Barometric Sensors


Humidity Sensors

Humidity sensors were introduced to the mobile device space by the Samsung Galaxy S4 (GT-I9505) in April 2013. Only one other device with this function has so far been observed in our Deep Dives, that being the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 (SM-N900A). Both units use the Sensirion SHTC 1.


Finally Inside the Google Glass

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Back in December 2011, the first hints appeared that Google was developing wearable glasses. By April 2012, Google Glass made their first appearance when Sergey Brin wore a prototype to the Foundation Fighting Blindness event in San Francisco. Finally, in April 2014, Google made a version available to customers for wider testing.

At the heart of Google Glass is an OMAP 4430 processor by Texas Instruments. It is supported by 2 gigabytes of SDRAM and 16 gigabytes of NAND Flash, a WiFi/Bluetooth module and a 5 Megapixel camera. Powering it all is a 570 mAh Li-Polymer battery.

Teardown Blog Google Glass

Teardown Blog Google Glass

The OMAP 4430 architecture observed in our teardown is presently and end of life/obsolete solution from Texas Instruments. This hints at a long development time and suggests that either Google or Foxconn made a large parts purchase or they are planning a limited product run of this generation. If Google is planning a second generation Glass product it will likely be based on a processor by Intel, NVidia or Qualcomm.

With a ‘special Tuesday’ price of $1500 and a Bill of Materials of less than $100, it appears that Google is making a fortune from each sale, but given the long development cycle and its associated costs, Google is likely to be much closer to a small profit or loss or break-even.

To view the entire teardown of Google Glass and an estimated bill of materials, visit the Google Glass Quick Turn Teardown

15 Years of Smartwatch Evolution

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At Teardown.com we have done nearly 2,000 teardowns over the past 15 years, infact some of our earliest were Smartwatches. As we recently expanded our medical device teardown program to include the rapidly growing wearable “Internet of Things” space – once again smartwatches are of particular interest.

The smartwatch is not a new trend, we were tearing them down in early 2000 when Casio ruled the "smartwatch" category (see Image 1), with its trio of watches the WMP1, WPV1 and BIZX HBX-100. At the time these showed extreme promise as the devices of the future and promised to untether us from our desktop computers, as such Teardown.com tore down two out of three of these devices in our research.

Image 1: Casio’s WMP1, WPV1 and the BIZX HBX-100

Teardown Blog Smartwatches

With this trio of smartwatches Casio offered early adopters access to features like PDA, pc connectivity, built in camera technology, and music right on your wrist. Specifications for these devices included things like 32MB of memory for up to 30 minutes of music or a 28,000-pixel monochrome CMOS image sensor. While far from the technology seen on hips, wrists or ears today these were truly groundbreaking devices in the 20th Century. Yet, the demand and sales volumes for the devices originally priced between $150-350 never really materialized. It is worth noting that the watches above now sell for $200-1,000 on eBay as collectors’ items.

So why if this market kicked off over 15 years ago, why will it last now? We believe vendors and start-ups have access to chipsets and tools to design and manufacture truly innovative devices that provide a return (and value) when used. From a social aspect, in 2013, the terms Internet of Things and Quantified Self became mainstream in the technology industry and the products being produced under these monikers have quickly found a foothold in mainstream society. Innovation in this segment has also been boosted by Kickstarter campaigns which provide unprecedented crowd funding (see Pebble’s story). From a technology Teardown perspective, our Wearable and Wellness research focuses on key IoT developments in Health and Connectivity.

Our vantage point for these devices comes specifically from the aspect of the incorporation of technology, and a healthy mix of cutting edge and proven is required to both product dependable results, but also at price points that will attract a potentially broad user base. With that in mind we will compare four teardowns we’ve done over the past year. This blog discloses some of the key technology design wins and technologies we have documented in our wearable teardowns of four leading smartwatches, these include the Basis Science (now part of Intel) Carbon Steel Ed. B1, Pebble’s PebbleWatch, Qualcomm’s Toq, and the Samsung Galaxy Gear. It is interesting to note all four smartwatches use the STMicroelectronics ARM 32-Bit Cortex Microcontroller and have standardized on a Lithium Polymer battery module.

Figure 1 compares the four devices with the STMicrodevices M3 or M4 MCU, Frequency, Built in Flash, Built in SRAM, Package Pin count, cost of IC, Model MCU and Package size.

Figure 1: STMicroelectronics ARM 32-Bit Cortex MCU M3 or M4

Teardown Smartwatches Chart

At Teardown.com we see a bright future for wearables. In our research and discussions with technology research firms and the analyst community there is consensus that the value these devices bring to our connected lifestyles is unmistakable. Moreover the benefits of monitoring our personal data in a real time way to improve our lifestyle, health, and relationships, provide real value to the user. Something an APP just can’t do as easily. We’ll continue to teardown innovative product that reach the market and look at the evolving technologies and systems that are being used. You can follow our progress at http://www.techinsights.com/teardown.com/teardown-wearable-wellness-tech/  

Our Teardowns: A Quick Comparison

The Basis Carbon Steel (release date 1/3/2014), it has the most features, including recording heart rate, skin temperature, ambient temperature, walking/running movements and sweat levels. The sensors for the Basis are located on the bottom, they include optical blood (heart rate), 3-Axis Accelerometer (body movements), Perspiration Monitor (workout intensity) and Skin Temperature (exertion levels). Collected data can be transferred using Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR or USB port to a computer or laptop for uploading to the Basis server.

Image 2: Basis Science Carbon Steel B1

Teardown Blog Smartwatches

The Qualcomm Toq Smartwatch (release date 12/02/2013) is an interesting wearable and is a showcase for Qualcomm’s Mirasol display technology. The Toq pairs to an Android or IOS smartphone via a Bluetooth, receiving notifications and applet content. The Toq’s touchscreen offers to save power by utilizing front-light illumination display technology. Other features include vibrational alerts, airplane mode, and stereo bluetooth audio. Recharging is done via Qualcomm's Wipower LE wireless inductive charger.

Image 3: Qualcomm TOQ

Teardown Blog Smartwatches

The Samsung Galaxy Gear (release date 9/15/2014) uses an AMOLED display and touchscreen. This technology is also preferred in Samsung’s Galaxy smartphone products. The phone was the first to be introduced with Google’s Android 4.1.2 "Jelly Bean" operating system on an 800 MHz single-core Samsung Exynos 3 processor with 512MB RAM. Other features include two microphones, speaker, and a 1.9MP BSI CMOS camera with 720p HD video recording capability.

Sensors include a 6-axis MEMS gyroscope and accelerometer. Connectivity is provided by Bluetooth Smart 4.0 and NFC. Featured apps include Atooma, which enables the connection of software and hardware sensors on the Galaxy Gear with hardware sensors on other smart devices to create context-specific operating instructions; Banjo, a social discovery app; Evernote, for capturing images, taking notes, and syncing files across devices; and Glympse, a real-time location app.

Image 4: Samsung Galaxy Gear

Teardown Blog Smartwatches

The PebbleWatch(release date 1/23/2013) originated from a Kickstarter Campaign. It can be argued that the Pebble reignited this nascent market and the interest of billions. It communicates via Bluetooth 4.0 low Energy with most iOS or Android-based devices. The display is made from e-Ink imaging film to deliver ultra-low-power performance. The Pebble will notify you of messages such as incoming caller ID, email, SMS (text messages), iMessage (IOS only), calendar alerts, Facebook/Twitter messages, and weather alerts. Sensors include a 3-axis MEMS accelerometer with gesture detection, 3-axis digital magnetometer, and ambient light sensor.

Image 5: Pebble PebbleWatch

Teardown Blog Smartwatches

From a design win perspective Suppliers that offer greater chip integration of connectivity as well as low power computing solutions will be best positioned as key suppliers to the Smart Watch market. These include Qualcomm, STMicroelectronics, and TI all of which have a stake in these products. Emergent technologies such as flexible substrates and displays will undoubtedly find a home in this market for obvious reasons.”

Samsung Galaxy S5 Teardown

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Announced at Mobile World Congress the Samsung Galaxy S5 is the latest evolution of the Korean electronics manufacturer’s market leading Android-based device. TechInsights’ Teardown.com got our hands on one of the ‘early’ release versions and were excited when we found ours contained Samsung’s latest version of its Exynos processor, the Exynos 5422 with its 1.6 Ghz 8-core architecture. This processor replaces the Exynos 5410 we found in our teardown of the Galaxy S4 and has 4 ARM Cortex A15 cores and 4 ARM Cortex A7 cores.

The phone also shows off Samsung’s SuperAMOLED display architecture, increasing from 5” to 5.1” with resolution remaining at 1920x1080. The phone also comes with a bevy of new sensors and we were excited to discover Maxim’s new Heart Rate Biosensor OS21A in our device. In addition to the Maxim socket win we found leading parts from Invensense (MPU-6500 6-Axis integrated gyroscope and accelerometer), Silicon Image’s Sil8240 MHL 2.0 Transmitter with HDMI input, the NXP PN547 NFC controller, and two wins by Intel with the X-Gold 636/PMB-9820 Baseband Processor & Power Management and the SMARTi UE3/PMB 5745 GSM/WCDMA RF transceiver.

The Galaxy S5 is so loaded with sensors that it lists a class best functionality by cramming all the following into its tiny chassis. This included WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, WiFi direct, Bluetooth V4.0, NFC, GPS, USB V3.0, compass, gyroscope, accelerometer, barometric sensor, humidity sensor, Infrared, Proximity/Gesture, Heart rate, and (take a breath) a Fingerprint Sensor.

Even with all these sensors, a bigger battery (2800 mAh versus the S4’s 2600 mAh), and the slightly bigger screen Teardown.com’s costing estimate is only $207.00. Please note this is the Exynos version with GSM not LTE. With over 14 variants of the phone expected to hit the market we expect to teardown several other versions in the coming weeks. Nonetheless, based on announcements and our costing database of current Qualcomm LTE (Snapdragon parts) we expect the cost of that device to only increase by about $10 to the US$215 range.

Other design wins included chips in our Galaxy S5 SMG900H model included the Skyworks SKY77615 GSM power Amp, the Wolfson WM5110E Audio Hub codec, Maxim’s MAX77804K Power SoC, STMicroelectronics LPS25H Pressure Sensor, Yamaha’s YAS532B 3-axis electronic compass, and Broadcom’s BCM47531 GPS receiver. Click here to for design wins, teardown sequence photos, board shots, component identifications, an estimated bill of materials and cost comparison to previous Galaxy models

Bluetooth Smart at Teardown.com

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Low energy compliant Bluetooth (Bluetooth LE) technology was originally introduced by Nokia under the name Wibree in 2006. In June, 2010, it was adopted into the Bluetooth Special Interest Group’s specification 4.0, enabling the expanded use of Bluetooth technology in the areas where optimizing power consumption of portable devices is key. The focus initially on the role of this technology in benefiting mobile phone battery life. In 2011 we began seeing BLE being more commonly referred to as Bluetooth Smart.

Beyond mobile phones Bluetooth Smart is really empowering designers and architects of the Internet of Things phenomenon. At TechInsights’ Teardown.com we teardown nearly 400 devices a year and over the past three years we have seen Bluetooth Smart go from obscurity to mainstream in mobile devices and become a standard in Wearable and Wellness technology research.

Given this, Teardown.com decided to take a quick look at the Bluetooth Smart adoption rate in the consumer electronic devices we have analyzed. Since January, 2011, Teardown.com collected data on 547 Bluetooth enabled devices ranging from cellular handsets, tablets, computers, gaming machines, set top boxes and more. Bluetooth ICs were identified and categorized by Bluetooth specification 4.0 compliance.

Bluetooth Smart as seen in Adidas MiCoach Smart Run G76792

Teardown Blog Adidas MiCoach

Our findings illustrate the fast adoption of this technology. In early 2011, the application of Bluetooth Smart was captured in approximately 10% of the devices we analyzed. This increased by during the following 12 months to 56% of devices. For the entire year, the adoption rate was 34%. This adoption continued to accelerate, 2012 saw the usage grow from 53% to just over 80% with a yearly adoption rate of 68%. In 2013, the trend became a standard with the yearly average at >85% of phones, tablets, wearables and more using radios built on the Bluetooth Smart standard developed by Nokia

Teardown Blog Bluetooth Smart Devices

Drawing conclusions from this data, we expect to see full or nearly full adoption rate in 2014 and beyond as both Wellness and Wearables continues to expand. From a market leadership standpoint, three vendors have quickly broken from the pack in the Bluetooth Smart race. In products released in 2013 we found Qualcomm, Broadcom, and MediaTek as the providers of this technology in nearly 90% of devices we analyzed. Where Qualcomm and Broadcom are primarily seen in the Global who’s who of mobile devices, MediaTek has ramped quickly and is seen in the leading Chinese devices. Our data also shows Broadcom aggressively pursuing this market in China as well, especially with what we consider the high end Chinese Smart Phones.

Teardown Blog ZTE Nubia Z5S

Teardown Blog Gionee Elife E3

December 2013 also ushered in the new Bluetooth 4.1 specification, which is intended to improve usability, empower developer innovation, and enable the Internet of Things.

Radio Chipset Trends at Teardown.com

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Since July 2012, TechInsights’ Teardown.com has performed nearly 400 teardowns on mobile handsets and tablets, roughly 100 of these included full bill of materials analysis and costing analysis. Of these devices, 10% were WiFi only tablets, the remaining 90% were units that contained a cellular chipset (from 3G to LTE) of some kind inside. Based on our on-going research, the following provides a quick overview of our observations of major players in the area of cellular modem ICs, cellular RF transceiver ICs, separate applications processors, and WiFi/Bluetooth enabling ICs/modules.

Teardown Blog Cellular Tranceivers

Of the ~80 units we analyzed, Qualcomm was present in 70% of the devices making them the undisputed leader in our sample. This is also reflective of the vendor’s market share and their own claims as the leader in this space. While Qualcomm is the leader, however, this doesn’t mean they don’t have competition. In our teardowns, we also documented ICs from Intel (15%), MediaTek (10%) and 4 units were powered by other chipset vendors.

For RF Transceivers, we again documented Qualcomm appearing 76% of the time (some units had more than one part), followed by Intel (13%), MediaTek (9%) and Broadcom with the rest.

Qualcomm Intel Die Images

For separate processors, not integrated into the cellular modem IC, we see roughly half with separate applications processors. The bulk of these, 18 units, are of the Qualcomm APQ80xx family. Samsung Exynos processors account for ICs in 7 devices, Apple for 6, Nvidia for 5, Intel for 4 (tablets) and Texas Instruments for 3 (2012 vintage units). At that rate it isn’t surprising why TI exited the mobile application processor market in 2012.

90% of the teardown candidates came with WiFi, Bluetooth or both functions incorporated into the IC. The dominant player for these combo radio ICs was Broadcom (33% units) followed by Qualcomm (25%), Murata (10%) and a few others. It should be noted that Broadcom was the dominant IC that was integrated into our decap analysts of the modules made by Murata and others, having their WiFi/Bluetooth die embedded in the suppliers package.

Teardown WiFi Bluetooth

Teardown Broadcom Qualcomm Die Images

Clearly, Qualcomm is a dominant player, but they are not the only player. Samsung has been keen to marry up their high end Exynos processors with relatively inexpensive HSPA/HSPA+ cellular modems in some HSPA devices or use Exynos in their WiFi tablets. Qualcomm has yet to win the WiFi/Bluetooth space, but they are catching up to leader Broadcom.

For our next blog entry, we will go over other connectivity and sensors observed.

Automotive WiFi Security in the News (Again…)

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Recently, the team here at Teardown.com engaged in a discussion regarding a Forbes.com article which argues that a connected car can be easily hacked by a small hardware device.

This iPhone-Sized Device Can Hack A Car, Researchers Plan To Demonstrate


Auto makers have long downplayed the threat of hacker attacks on their cars and trucks, arguing that their vehicles' increasingly-networked systems are protected from rogue wireless intrusion. Now two researchers plan to show that a few minutes alone …

Full article found here

Articles such as this have created an atmosphere of concern about the digital security of a "connected" car. Given that we have over 14 years’ of teardown experience with a wide variety of devices ranging from cameras to cars, I sought input from one of our analysts concerning this subject. Based on our discussion, we determined that while security with wireless strategies is an issue going forward, the implied simplicity of hacking is overstated.

Clearly, the issues raised in this article have been around for some time (the article quotes a wireless attempt from 2011). The original CAN bus (Controller Area Network) was developed by Robert Bosch GmBH in 1983 and, as a low level protocol, does not employ security measures but leaves that up to the application developer to implement. Based on our analysts’ knowledge, and a fact that was admitted to in the article, hacking into a vehicle's CAN bus first requires physical access. This contradicts the hacker's standard operating procedure of REMOTE access which, by its nature, leaves them relatively free from discovery by law enforcement. So, ignoring the major obstacle of physical access, it's pretty safe to say that most vehicles with a networked communications bus would present a potential target for hackers.

It should be pointed out that we do NOT want to downplay the importance of this potential security issue. Opportunities to hack into a vehicle's communications network do exist, but as we progress toward autonomous vehicles of the future, wireless technologies are becoming tightly integrated into critical safety systems, and security issues will be resolved out of necessity.

We at Teardown.com believe the reason this issue has garnered so much media attention recently is due to a heightened awareness of the lack of security for personal information, as well the proliferation of wireless vehicular communications via WiFi, Bluetooth and cellular connectivity. Possibly exacerbating this concern is the upcoming, overdue decision by the NHTSA on whether to mandate vehicle-to-vehicle communications (V2V) in all new vehicles, the technology of which is partially derived from the popular WiFi 802.11 standard (802.11p).

At Teardown.com we're focused on increasing our involvement in automotive teardowns. To date we have complete analysis of the Chevy Volt (from battery subsystems to infotainment ICs) as well as numerous other ECM, BNCM and GPS systems. We are excited to see what the future will bring and look forward to delivering the latest developments from worldwide leaders in automotive technology.







Our First Blog Post

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I must say it is tough being the one tasked with writing our first official blog post, but I know once I break the ice, I soon will be accompanied by some of Teardown.com’s best. It is our intention to have key staff contributing to this blog on an on-going basis.

While I will be blogging about our company, what we are working on, recently completed teardowns, and industry trends, our Engineers and Product Analysts will be sharing their interesting discoveries made while performing teardowns on the latest devices that the internet of things, wearable technology, mobile devices and digital home industries have to offer. Oh, and we can’t forget about “Throw back Thursdays.” With our 15 years’ experience analyzing high tech devices and systems, our library is quite extensive and dates back to the late 90’s – this should make for some great vintage content.

Our plan is to create some great customer interaction on the blog. If you have any thoughts, questions, or feedback, please comment on our posts. We would love for you to join the conversation.

I am really looking forward to building this community.

Thomas Gallant
Product Marketing