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HomePod Teardown (ifixit.com)
72 points by rbanffy on Feb 19, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 63 comments



Holy crap this is a mess. I'm assuming this is a 1/10 because their scale doesn't go down to 0.

$350 for a device you effectively cannot repair without ruining some part of it is absolutely astonishing. To anybody that says "so what?", if any part of this dies for whatever reason, not only are you almost completely out of your money, there's no way this thing is actually getting repaired by Apple. At best most of the components end up going through a recycler. At worst, that's 5lbs of added landfill.

Speakers are something that NEED to be repaired. It's one of the non-solid state technologies that we haven't found a better alternative for, and are some of the most fragile parts in systems today. These drivers/cones WILL wear out over time and the only thing you're going to be able to do is buy a new unit.


I honestly don't understand this argument. I mean for a laptop or something upgradable, sure. But realistically speaking, how soon will you need to replace any of the drivers, and by the time you need to replace them, is it really worth it to replace them? I think somethings are just not worth repairing, and the HomePod is a perfect example.


To some of us, popping 2 screws and replacing a speaker with one off of amazon or ebay is just what we do after breakfast on a weekend. There's no reason major parts of this $300+ device can't be repaired except that apple prefers you buy a new one. Same as with the batteries in the phones.

It's a complete waste of their customer's money (and thus time), as well as terrible for the environment.

Heck there are several little connectors in there that could come loose, you can't get at those either.

I can replace the screen on my e-ink kindle for $25, instead of $100 for a new one. Have done this about 8 times (lots of kindles lots of backpacking).

There's literally no reason that you can't get into this home pod easily except apple doesn't want you to. Looking at the design, there is no way you could argue that apple doesn't have the time or chops to make a repairable device. That thing is gorgeously made and has tons of completely custom components. They chose to do this.


The screws will get loose and will introduce unwanted vibrations unless the structure they're on is very firm (and heavy, and expensive). All parts that can be vibrated out of position will (this is a speaker with a long travel woofer) and on contacts oxides will form, further distorting analog signals.

Sometimes, making something easily fixable also makes it worse.

I can imagine a couple joints that would not bring too much vibration problems, but the speaker would be larger, heavier and costlier to manufacture. Soldering wires or flat pads instead of removable connectors could fix the remaining issues, but that would come at a price in the form of extra manufacturing steps.

Finally, a Kindle is a flat board with components on both sides and a plastic shell around everything. This is a mechanically complex thing, with lots of consideration paid to details.


> The screws will get loose and will introduce unwanted vibrations

Which is what they invented thread-locker and lock-washers for


Without extra care about the design of the surfaces being joined, it'll still introduce points where the structure is fixated separated by areas where the surfaces are contacting, but not pressed against each other. Attach that to a large woofer and you'll see all sort of weird harmonics.

You'll need a lot of screws, a lot of tread washers, a lot of pressure and textured surfaces with precise displacements so that everything is equally pressed together.

Either that, or just glue everything together.


This is a "smart" speaker. It's going to be obsolete long before any of its components reach EOL. I'd guess it's designed for a lifespan of 2-3 years at most.


And again that's ok?

Looks like you could easily replace the A9 and keep the rest with this design as well.


It's not that it's OK, it's that not being able to repair the hardware is not the biggest issue here.


I forgot, Internet discussion rule #1 we can only discuss the biggest issues. Obviously you do care about it since you responded to it. There are billions of people on the planet, they can care about different things. I care about this and the waste thereof of the leading style brand in electronics.


If you care about ability to repair, I don't think a smart speaker is the product for you. Even if you can keep the hardware in working order, the software will lose support and probably the whole design concept will morph so far that this device will not even have the user interface necessary to perform the functions of smart speakers a few generations from now.

IOW: repairing this is pointless. Buy a speaker. Don't buy a speaker that is also a computer, and especially don't buy a smart speaker that fills a small niche in a large corporation's vision for how to extract maximum profit from consumers by locking them into an endless upgrade cycle


So you are essentially leasing a speaker for $116/yr?


I'm not a hardware engineer, but I would imagine it's easier to build a device without having to make it more modular and easier to open it up and repair it.

It's just a matter of priorities and market forces. It's cheaper and easier for Apple to do it this way, and there's no need for them to not to.


> Looking at the design, there is no way you could argue that apple doesn't have the time or chops to make a repairable device

Well, it was delayed. So it could be argued that they didn't have time to do that.


What percentage of consumers fit that bill? .1%? .01%? Less? It’s almost as if highly mainstream products are not made with the technical hobbyist in mind.


Entire industries were built around repairing consumer products. For decades, people were able to start small businesses repairing televisions, radios, vacuum cleaners, watches, etc.

The average consumer wasn't able to repair their own typewriter, but they were able to pay a local entrepreneur a few dollars to do it for them.

Mainstream products didn't become disposable instead of repairable until very recently.


In general I agree with you, but the IoT is the soul of planned obsolescence. They flip a switch, and you’re the proud owner or a brick. A tractor, a PC, a cellphone? Sure, make it repairable. A networked speaker? I say that’s not a battle worth fighting.

It’s also worth noting that history is full of disposable products, but since they tare need to break or be disposed of, we focus on the outliers which remain. The old bread mixer which can run until the end of time is memorable, the cheap blender is not.


Except this is not cheap. It's sold as a $300 luxury item and marketed as the height of technological development.

Also I think the bigger picture is more worrying. Yes, planned obsolescence seems to be the soul of IoT - and for reasons perfectly understandable from the industries' PoV there seems to be immense push to make this the new norm.

So if zero reparability isn't supposed to become the norm (more than it already is), I think drawing a little attention to cases like this is justified.


I never said that it was cheap, just that it’s IoT shit. Avoid the IoT, it’s as simple as that. Nobody actually needs a networked toaster or HomePod, so don’t support it. Reforming something as born-broken as IoT is a mistake!


Yes, absolutely. I'm always saddened by that because I think the idea of having all kinds of hardware that you could link together and program would be amazing.

But of course with the current vision of IoT - where devices mostly seem to be physical extensions of cloud services - the only way is indeed to avoid them.


Look at desktop PCs. Millions sold, almost all with swappable parts. There's a difference with "not made with x in mind" and "purposefully difficult to do anything with".

If we want engineers who can build these products in the future it also helps that they can tear them apart as kids.

Again is that what you actually want to reward? Do you want to be able to use your IoT device a week after the startup goes under or apple decides that it's time to sell everyone a new $500 speaker?


Desktop PC’s are upgradeable by design, and frankly require repair pretty regularly. This is some IoT shit that will have support pulled before it can break and I suspect that you know that.


I honestly can't remember the last time I had to repair anything on my desktop PC, but I think it was a hard drive (which I promptly replaced with an SSD).

It's been running flawlessly since 2011.


While admirable, 7 years of no repair, upgrades, or replacement is not the norm.


Every desktop I've owned, I've replaced because it eventually got too slow to be practical.

I still have a 733MHz P3 and a 350MHz K6-2 somewhere, both probably still work just fine.

Computers don't just break randomly.


I have a pair of B&O speakers from 1988, with no reason to upgrade them. They still sound as good as new (and look better than newer speakers) after I installed new surrounds on the speakers.

You can choose to buy well and half things last a lifetime. So far these speakers have given 30 years of pleasure and I have parts on hand (a baggie with some extra surrounds) to ensure they last another 30 years.

You don't throw away your house when the paint peels, do you?


Those B&O speakers are likely completely repairable and came with a manual that talks about how to do so.

This home pod will be obsolte in 2 years.


They absolutely are. I have the complete wiring diagram for every piece of equipment I own.

As long as the ROM's in the master/cd players don't die on me I can replace every electronic part in them for decades to come.

Which is why I chose them, and why I'm buying more to fill the rooms in my house. I can control them, repair them and fit them to suit my tastes.


What's the max age on roms? No way to dump them?

I just finished overhauling a 12" craftsman lathe tonight. It's from 48. The company who bought out the lathe business from sears still makes and sells the parts for it.


> Speakers are something that NEED to be repaired

Is that true? If there's one component that's stood the test of time in my home theater setup, it's been the speakers. I've purchased a ton of speakers in my time and I'm still rocking some 15 year old Kenwood speakers in the living room.


And that's fine, I have some Dick Sequerra MET-11's that have been around for many years before I was born and I only had to repair the tweeters two years ago. However these were high quality expensive speakers when they came out. Cheap drivers were not used. Looking at the HomePod and the processing hardware and their margins, there's no way the drivers they are putting in this thing are any better than what you'd find in a cheapo HTIB system.

The way I see it, these speakers are great for somebody that wants to remain in the Apple ecosystem and has $350 to drop on something that's going to be obsolete and incompatible in a few years. So yeah maybe these drivers won't need to be replaced, but that's only because the software driving them has a shorter life expectancy.


Indeed, as pointed out by the Accidental Tech podcast and others, even if the speakers hold up, what is going to kill it for longevity is the lack of a line-in. It is very unlikely that HomePod's version of AirPlay is going to be supported for more that 10 years. If the device had a line-in, it would still serve as a fine speaker beyond that. But now it is practically useless, even when you are in the Apple ecosystem, once Apple deprecates AirPlay 2.

In the meanwhile, I enjoyed the Altec Lansing speakers that my parents bought in the 70ies for quite some years.

(We were interested in the HomePod, but the lack of a line-in, and low-reparability has made the choice difficult. Added to that, I don't really like that it has so many Mics. 2025's Apple could be 2015's Lenovo, there is no guarantee that they will keep focusing on security & privacy, nor that they will resist government surveillance.)


Why do you assume that? AirPlay has been around for more than 10 years. You can still use a 15 year old AirPort Express with AirTunes the same exact way as when you bought it.


Except that you cannot configure it anymore unless you have an (insecure) Leopard or Snow Leopard machine on the same network [1]. Snow Leopard was released in 2009, the first generation Airport Express was sold 2004-2008 [2]. So Apple is not unwilling to axe support for a product rather quickly.

If they plan to support the latest AirPlay on the HomePod for 10 or 15 years, why not just state this? If you are not doing that, you want to keep the possibility to end support earlier.

[1] https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT201519 [2] I know that you could install the old Airport Utility unofficially for a while.


The thing that's frustrating about it is that there's no way to use it as a speaker without multiple seconds of latency.

Getting rid of line in would be fine if you could still use it as a speaker with a modern wireless protocol, but this is just a regression in functionality.


> I'm still rocking some 15 year old Kenwood speakers in the living room.

I swiped a record cabinet from the 1960s out of my grandma's basement when she moved into a retirement home. To my surprise, after replacing the needle it still works and sounds great! These are 50 year old speakers stored in terrible conditions, yet they still work.


my senior citizen parents have surround sound speakers and the left rear is blown out. Drives me crazy every time I go there but they don't seem to notice it.


Though this thing does not seem remotely repair friendly, the guide looks wrong. There's no need to cut through the mesh and their video (in the same guide) even shows it: https://youtu.be/ArH41WyUt28?t=62

edit: the fact they have to use an ultrasonic cutter next in the video is insane and makes no sense. Is it possible that iFixit is simply missing the correct way to open this?

edit2: Summary of the video concludes that "Even though there looks to be an easy way inside, we failed to decode it. Without a repair manual, your odds of success are slim". Hence the 1/10, which makes sense.


Or perhaps the official apple repair, if under contract, is to hand you a new unit and throw the old one into the melter? There's no storage on the thing beyond its own id, is there?


It has 16GB of flash storage, who knows what it's for. I agree though, likely gets sent off to be recycled and the storage destroyed.


…drivers/cones WILL wear out over time…

Maybe, but it is a version 1.0 device in a new market for Apple. It will be functionally obsolete by the time it wears out. I mean this in the kindest sort of way. Consider a version 1 iPad. I have two or three of them stored somewhere. They were great for a couple years then got completely eclipsed by even greater things once Apple figured out where to take the product category. Of the five version 1 iPads I can remember family members owning, I don't think any of them ever needed a repair, they just lived their quiet service lives and finally slipped the surly bonds of tech.


> Speakers are something that NEED to be repaired.

I get the landfill argument, but I have not needed to have any of the speakers I have owned over the last 25 years repaired.


In comparison, a Google Home gets an 8/10. Echo a 7/10.

Apple plain doesn't care about repairability.


That was made clear when they try to shut down unofficial repair shops.

https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/nz85y7/apple-is-l...


They never tried to shut down unofficial repair shops and you're doing a disservice to the whole idea behind "right to repair" by saying that. The only thing Apple has publicly done is disagreed with and lobbied against the current "right-to-repair" legislation that's going on. They have publicly stated that they're not against the concept of people repairing their own devices but that what they're actually against is the requirement that they provide, without cost, the tools and instructions necessary for a third-party to perform the repair. Apple only cares that the repairs are done correctly. They don't care who repairs it as long as the repair doesn't cause the mistaken perception that the phone itself is faulty or poorly manufactured. They allow any third-party repair center to get certified to be an authorized Apple service center. To ignore that huge chunk of the reasons why is to be disingenuous or ignorant. They have a completely valid stance about the current bills.


Since you can't adjust the volume of the speaker to a level where it would blow the speakers inside, when are you realistically going to NEED to repair this? I get that it's nice to have the comfort of thinking you're going to save yourself $150 at some point in the future to repair a piece of this but, with electronics that are this complicated, it's not a simple task to actually do this repair, as we see here.


If you watch the video review, the one point it got was for robustness and quality of build which they thought should preclude the need for repair work for a while.


>These drivers/cones WILL wear out over time

Modern drivers with butyl rubber surrounds don't really wear out, they last decades easily.


Here's a little doc Vice did behind the scenes of iFixit

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tx-9LkVIdz0


That was a really fun watch. Thanks for sharing!


For all the talk from Apple about recycling, they sure love to design disposable products. I say this as a HomePod owner.


Recycling generally refers to the component materials, not reuse of the finished product. That's why the green mantra is "reduce, reuse, recycle" (in preferential order).


Right, it refers to recycling the component materials AFTER I part with my laptop. But maybe I wouldn't have had to part with my laptop for another 4 years if the RAM wasn't soldered on. Thus overall reducing all the processing needed.


Far more interesting

"Apple is operating at a 38 percent margin – which is significantly smaller than the margins on iPhone and Apple Watch.

For comparison’s sake, Google sells its Google Home smart speaker at a 66 percent margin, while the Amazon Echo is sold at a 56 percent margin"


This is also the first generation of the device. These things tend to scale up.


Maybe. But I am surprised it came from Apple. It feels very unfinshed for an Apple product.

Just obvious things like a physical mic mute button for example.

The most surprising is doing features without the security yet available needed with the feature.

So no voice ID yet you can get text messages read back.

Been a long time Apple fan but honestly of late it is really hard to understand what is going on at Apple.


Does this margin include savings from economies of scale?


The quality of this product aside, I want to comment on how great iFixIt is. With their guides, I've been doing my own phone repairs recently, which helps me keep my phone in working order for longer rather than buying a new one all the time. They're a great resource.


It's pretty telling that one of the "Tools Featured in this Teardown" is a hacksaw.


They give a Surface a 0/10 in repairability. They give the HomePod a 1/10.

They had to to use a hacksaw and knives on the HomePod.

What?


To be fair, when you send in a Surface for repair, they just send you a new unit because apparently even Microsoft can't repair the device!


Likely this applies to this device too, and I expect they reuse the internals for new devices or use a new casing.


I'm wondering how it even got a 1. Any device that requires a Dremel tool to saw through it just to get at the insides should get a 0.




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