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Apple iPhone charger teardown: quality in an tiny expensive package (arcfn.com)
275 points by pmarin 1739 days ago | hide | past | web | 167 comments | favorite



I think part of the lesson here is that so few manufactures bother to put any effort into design or quality at all that the ones who do get to name their price.


The Samsung charger compares favorably to Apple's at about 1/3 the price. It seems any "name brand" company is going to at least comply with UL rules. The no-name brands are completely unsafe, and Apple's charger may provide better touchscreen performance (for $20 more). Apple's prongs are also more overengineered than Samsung's. (Wait, not overengineered... who doesn't superglue their iPhone charger to the wall?)


> Samsung charger compares favorably to Apple's at about 1/3 the price

From this article:

“When I opened the charger up, I expected to find a standard design, but I've compared the charger to the Samsung charger and several other high-quality industry designs,[17] and Apple goes beyond these designs in several ways.”


But what he doesn't say is that Apple's charger is safer than the standard design. The best we can say for Apple is that it has cleaner power which is helpful for the touchscreen circuitry. That's why I say Samsung's charger compares favorably: it charges the device and it meets UL standards.


You said that it compares favourably and then noted that it's 1/3 the price. To my eyes that reads, "the Samsung charger is a better value", and I think that that's what you meant too, until Terreta corrected you.


I still think it's a better value. Actually, I just use a nearby computer because those are free and can charge many devices at once.


apple $20, 0.5Amp

samsung $8, 0.5Amp

HP, $15, 2Amp, plus interchangeable plugs for several countries in 1.4x size of apple's

Google, no option to buy extra power cords for nexus one, but who would? it's 1Amp and cheap components. with the cable permanently attached.


This tear down is the < 1" cube. You sure HP's is 1/4 the size?

And when I add a generic 2 prong Euro adapter, Apple's is still the smallest brand name charger I've seen.

Finally, the iPhone 4 charger torn down here is labeled 1A, not 0.5A, and certainly charges iPhone 4 in a fraction of the time of lesser chargers.

I'm amazed how much less time it takes to fully recharge from 10% - 100% the iPhone 4s versus the Samsung (Google) Galaxy Nexus. Granted, thats not just the charger.


Read again. "1.4 the size" is 40% larger, not one fourth the size.


Apple's is actually 1A (5W at 5V http://goo.gl/Fw4FB), as is Samsung's as listed on the linked Amazon page.


I stand corrected. it's 1A when used with the proprietary cable.

when used with a regular miniUSB cable , i only get 0.5A.

or the one i have from a 3Gs box is only 0.5A.


The Nexus One (european) charger that I have here is by Phihong and at least has CE and PCT labels on it, so it is not downright awful.


CE stamp is self certifying. Any manufacturer can self declare they are in compliance and affix the label, it doesn't mean any third party testing was done at all. UL on the other hand requires third party testing but isn't a mandated government label, it is just a quasi requirement as virtually all fire inspectors in the US accept it as a safety standard.


Anecdote: My 2008 charger had its "hot" prong break off. It was in a dorm, so I couldn't turn off the breaker to pull the prong out, so as far as I know that prong is still there ready to zap the shit out of some unsuspecting college freshman...


Most people would open a service request to get that thing pulled out rather than leave 120V exposed for whomever happens to be near that outlet next.

(I would have just pulled it out with insulated pliers, though.)


Absolutely, I definitely should have filed a request. I just remembered about that now in the context of this story. :( Hopefully it was found during summer room inspections.


the problem i ever had with the short outlet plugs in the US is the cable falling on it's own.

can't fathom it being stuck there in any circumstance.


fathom, unless you're seeing ghosts.


thanks, dyslexic and cellphone prediction. Not a good combination


Or maybe the point is that nobody cares or bothers to check the labels (safety? We don't need this...).

It all comes down to price and most customers (myself included in this case) do not know any better.


The consumer does not have to know about UL labels or other safety markings. If the device doesn't have the required markings, the vendor is not allowed to sell them.


This is not true. The UL label is not a "requirement". In fact Underwriters Laboratory has no government affiliation what-so-ever, its a distinct entity. UL isn't the "requirement" normally, just an "acceptable safety certification", it has just come to pass that UL is the defacto safety certification in the US, UL has cornered the market.

Safety certification of some sort is only "required" in some markets, some jurisdictions, etc. For instance a safety certification is required for devices in a public school, is usually required by the local fire inspector in commercial structures. etc.

Getting a UL stamp on a consumer device is actually just a "cover your ass" move. If a device were to short out and kill someone or set a structure on fire, the existence of the UL certification allows the manufacturer to avoid legal responsibility for damages in most cases.

The only generally applicable certifications that are actually legally required for sale to end users are the FCC part 15 electrical interference tests. Other than that, there are market requirements for schools / hospitals but those are not requirements for sale, but rather requirements for use in particular markets.


Your point does not contradict mine though. I did not say the UL label is a requirement.


I don't follow, your statement was:

> The consumer does not have to know about UL labels or other safety markings. If the device doesn't have the required markings, the vendor is not allowed to sell them.

My point was that this isn't true. You can sell devices without UL safety stamps, there is no government regulation that says you can't. If your using the device in a certain context your fire inspector may call foul but that is completely different from a consumer not being able to purchase something because the "vendor is not allowed to sell them".


The problem is, there's often too much of a focus on design. Apple's power supplies for their laptops are really expensive, yet they offer limited interchangeability for the cables, so if a plug fails (due to the design) then most people end up buying a new expensive power supply.


Another example: an old Macbook with a dead battery is extremely prone to being accidentally powered off by knocking the magnetic connector.


Counterpoint: The reason that old Macbook is still in good shape may very well be because it wasn't pulled of the work surface and onto the floor by a stoutly plugged, tripped-over cord.

The benefits of the magsafe connector far outweigh the hazard in the uncommon scenario you've described. Those benefits are reaped over the entire life cycle of the machine itself. The hazard you're describing only occurs at the end of the life cycle of a relatively inexpensive and user-replacable subcomponent.

Design is very much about tradeoffs, but one would never trade off such vast benefits to ameliorate such a limited hazard.

Plus, you'd be using the hardware beyond its designed intent. This is very similar to never checking or changing the oil in your car, and complaining that the engine has seized after years of use. Just stop deferring basic system maintenance: go buy yourself a new battery!


But while your Macbook's battery is not dead (which I would hopefully presume is for most of the time you're using it), the magnetic connector is quite useful to have. It's got both great form and function. At least, until you come to the unfortunate side effect you've mentioned.


Actually I'm referring to a Macbook whose battery is permanently dead (or removed). It's also a problem when the battery is fully drained.

I don't find it useful at all really. It's very neat but I've never had problems with the power plugs of any other laptop.


I broke a few DC plugs by tripping on the cable. Or stretching it to reach a power outlet and picking up the laptop still plugged in. Or getting tangled in the cable on the couch and such. These things break when you're not carful with them.

In fact I don't remember having a laptop charger break for any other reason. It's always the DC plug or cable.


Every laptop I've ever owned that wasn't a macbook (4) had complete hardware failures related to the damned DC power jack in the side of the laptop. Without fail the damn things always shorted out and/or just stopped working.


The standard DC connector also has pretty good function. Humans have been putting things into holes for a very long time and we've gotten pretty good about it. I estimate I use 0% of my mental capacity to plug in my Thinkpad.


So glue it in. Your situation is rare.


I don't think a laptop with a dead battery could be considered rare.


Having been in both situations, I'm pretty certain the magsocket has saved more in avoiding damages than I could reasonably expect to lose on those that are already battery-dead. And if it's a permanent failure, epoxy or sugru or something will probably serve you just as well.

I don't know if Apple hold significant patents on the idea, because I'd absolutely love to see it applied to other connectors, especially headphones and wired ethernet leads.


Not "dead" as in "has no charge". "Dead" as in "This battery is no more! It has ceased to be! 'E's expired and gone to meet 'is maker! 'E's a stiff! Bereft of life, 'e rests in peace! If you hadn't nailed 'im to the perch 'e'd be pushing up the daisies! 'Is metabolic processes are now 'istory! 'E's off the twig! 'E's kicked the bucket, 'e's shuffled off 'is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin' choir invisibile! THIS IS AN EX-BATTERY!!"


Wow! Awesome!


Someone made a USB plug hook that holds the magnetic power cord in with more friction. Googling it has not proven easy, so I'll have to just leave it at that.


Are you referring to the engineering of the power supply specifically, or to Apple's reputation for focusing on industrial design and quality products? Because I don't think they're able to “name their price” because their power supply is better engineered, because only a tiny fraction of people will ever know that it's better engineered.


The thing is, Apple get away with charging a premium on its products because they are very well made. I'm no Apple fan but I admit the stuff that Apple produces, especially in hardware, is extremely well built.

In my own opinion, Apple products are probably about 30% better than competitors, but probably have 20% less features, however because they're simply better, they can charge probably 70% more than competitors simply because a lot people want and are willing to pay for the quality.

(Please dont read into the figures i've just used, i pulled them out my arse, they're for illustration purposes only.)


Having had piles of apple kit over the years, I can assure you that the quality is an illusion generated by the high price.

Here's what has died on me just outside a year since 2006 MacBook pro (logic board failure), iMac (won't boot), a MacBook (won't charge), just about every damn usb cable they've ever given me (broken at type a connector), airport express (melted). A friend of mine's MacBook pro caught fire. I won't even bother to catalogue the 22 dead iPhones my company has...

My iPod nano and a 2009 macbook are still fine.

conversely, my circa 2007 Lenovo t61 cost around $100 2 years ago and has been dropped, yanked off tables and has a couple of drinks in it and it just stares at you and takes it. It had a new battery last year and a new power connector (self installed) with no problems as they have full service manuals available.

That's engineering and service.

(I am a qualified EE so will not comment on the initial article as it makes me squirm a bit)


You clearly have a large pool of hardware. Your numbers mean nothing without knowing the hardware that DIDN'T fail.

To give a more useful metric, for the last 4 years I have maintained a company have about 150 machines. 50% are Macbook Pros. 50% are Lenovos. I saw, on average, 5-6 Lenovos have some sort of hardware failure per year. The Macbook Pros would see 1-2 hardware failures per year. The Macbook Pros were also giving about 6-12 months of extra life before needing to be replaced. The external packaging of the Lenovos would produce MUCH more wear year over year than the aluminum Macbook Pro.


I believe the Lenovo is just a terrible hardware producer. I got a T410S when I started at my new company. It was brand new. 3 months later the screen had a 1" thick white line on the monitor. I treated the thing like royalty. A few months later the plastic casing started to crack despite the lack of obvious impacts. 6 months later, a fan error prevented it from booting. I bought a mac book air at the same time, and it's still looks/works like the day I bought it!


I have a Lenovo-built T60p, built in 2006, I own it since 2008, works like new and looks much better than you'd expect a six-year-old laptop. Anecdata!


And I assume those 50% Lenovos were in the MacBook Pro price range? Meaning, just the Xs?


I listed all the hardware I personally owned. It is all caveated on IMHO.

Lucky you :)


My experience is the same. I recently pulled my x220 off the table onto a hard floor. My first thought was, "what an idiot!" My second thought was, "oh, it's a Thinkpad, nevermind". The laptop is obviously undamaged. (I will admit the display is rather flexible, but so are all Apple laptops. Gone are the days when you could run over your laptop with a car, sadly. I guess being so cheap that you can replace them without caring is better peace of mind than any magnesium roll cage.)

I am a qualified EE so will not comment on the initial article as it makes me squirm a bit.

I'm not, though I did take a lot of EE classes in college, and I think the article is fine. He took the thing apart and noted which components Apple used. He's not telling anyone how to engineer their own power supply.


I wouldn't say those days are gone. A buddy of mine accidentally ran over his MacBook pro a few years ago. Granted, it was in his backpack at the time, but still... that sucker just kept on trekking. Looked awful though. Bent the whole thing into a slight curve, pulled apart some of the seams, etc, but it still worked.


[deleted]


There is no single fault that can cause short between primary side of transformer and the output connector casing, so it's OK. Also, isolation distances on orders of millimeters are relevant for open air or PCB breakdown (with PCB-air interface having lower breakdown voltage than air or PCB alone due to possible water condensation) and not for isolated wiring inside transformer. It's pretty hard to imagine any failure mode that would cause short between connector casing without also causing breakdown between transformer windings. The whole thing looks slightly over-engineered (L6565 seems to me as a bit of overkill for this application), but safe.

It's interesting to note that most cheap replacement chargers don't have significant safety issues but produce harmful EMI, on the other hand it's not too hard to find name brand power supply which have significant safety issues (eg. low impedance connection between otherwise unconnected ground of EMI filter on primary side and output ground), often caused by combination of safety, EMC and design/size requirements and weird interactions between them and between requirements of different jurisdictions (EMC, ESD and safety requirements of EU sometimes tend to be contradictory).


Note that many of the pictures don't include all the insulation. (I mention this in Footnote 5, so it's easy to miss.) In particular, there was a black plastic insulator over the USB output plug that only appears in the first picture. And there are several layers of insulating tape around the transformer. This should meet the safety standards; if it didn't, they wouldn't approve it after all.


UL didn't seem to mind. There is a lot of insulation between the primary and the USB socket: tape, plastic, the secondary winding, more tape, and so on. I can't imagine a failure mode for this system that would occur in normal use.


Tape melts, emits gas which is poisonous and is more conductive than the plain air gap. There's your failure mode.

Bear in mind my Airport express melted and blew my circuit breakers so shorts are definitely a possibility.


It also fails if subjected to a large amount of shrapnel!


USB cable ends fraying has nearly always been undue strain or user error, in my experience.

I've seen literally thousands of Apple USB cables in my work, and, while they probably won't hold up against heavy abuse as well as a rubbery booted end, they tend to either be totally fine or fraying at the ends.

The funny thing is that people with fraying ends tend to have all their cables fraying, whereas those with undamaged cables tend to have all undamaged cables.

There's something about use case here where Apple's cables just don't hold up to common (mis?)use case by a subset of their users.


Undue stain? If they're fraying then it's bad engineering plain and simple.

A $5 set of Sony earphones goes through several orders of magnitude more shearing, twisting and pulling and last years. Why can't apple do that?

Because it looks pretty before it has sound engineering.


Apple builds bulletproof, toughly built stuff when they need to - for example the "pulling out the prongs" example in the discussion root article, or devices like the original "toilet seat" iBook models.

Apple doesn't do it for everything for mainly aesthetic and packaging reasons - iOS 30 pin cables are much smaller than they used to be before the iPhone came out, to fit in even smaller packaging.

I'm sure there would be complaints about the "big, ugly cable" if Apple beefed up their cables ends, especially if the only benefit would be to the 20-30% of the population that is hard on their gear, and even in that case the enhanced durability would only increase the cable's lifespan slightly.


Please feel free to send me comments on the parts that make you squirm; I would be happy to update it and learn what I got wrong.


It's just the gushing over the thing that does me in. It's pretty standard for a vendor shipped item and TBH the only reason it's like it is, is due to the fact the last one they shipped was a pile of shite.

In the EU we have quite hefty electrical safety laws and I doubt it could be CE marked or approved in the UK at least based on the line voltage isolation.


I've gone through my fair share of Apple HW. I'll agree it's not without its failures. Broke a Powerbook G4 logic board, a MBP screen and one old iPod (abt 30% of what I've owned of Apple HW). What I've found which makes me happy though is they've always fixed it without charge and with no AppleCare, at least so far. I'll admit to only owning my own custom built PCs (and Nokia & SE phones) before that, at least for 10 years prior so I've nothing to compare with.

(Also an EE by education if not by trade, though that doesn't really count here)


I will say that they replace earphones readily. Unfortunately my dead MBP resulted in me being pretty much told to F Off depsite being literally 2 days out of warranty.


I come from an industrial (rather than consumer) background in electronics. There is nothing really interesting or impressive about this power supply. This is how you do it, you'd find similar designs in a wide range of industrial products.

What the real story is, is how cheaply power supply circuits are generally done in consumer electronics. They cut all kinds of corners and are quite amazing and often frightening. I actually find the cheap, hideous designs more impressive in some ways.


As an EE myself I completely agree, this is a textbook SMPS topology used all the time, nothing technically special about it at all. The only interesting take away is that they didn't cut corners as is normally done in consumer gear.


They cut all kinds of corners and are quite amazing and often frightening. I actually find the cheap, hideous designs more impressive in some ways.

Indeed. Mad Man Muntz (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madman_Muntz) is alive and well and living in China.


Teardown of a cheap power supply, from Mike's Electric Stuff: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T88ej64aXUM


They aren't really that well designed compared to the competition. Apple can only focus on one thing at a time (and cutting corners on everything else).

Example: LED backlight cinema display? Neat! Then they cheap out using a glossy coating, not even a HUD, no scaler, no inputs, the worst stand in the market for a prosumer monitor etc. etc. etc. You'd think that a company claiming to be focusing on quality actually cares about ergonomics, but apple only care about looks and perceived quality. God knows how they can uphold that image when peoples devices fail constantly, I don't even know of anyone that own a working iPod anymore.

They can't even design the cooling for their laptops decently. They are hot and they are noisy (no margins at all), and it's not like you get anything in return. Buying an apple product you should just be happy if you can even exchange the battery.

As always, there is one thing they do right. On laptops it's the trackpad. But the rest just doesn't impress and is at best on par with the competition (but lacking the extra features (which isn't really a bad thing (most of the time) - but it makes you wonder what you pay for).

Apple has obviously gone to extra effort to reduce EMI interference, probably to keep the charger from interfering with the touchscreen

I've yet to encounter problems with any mobile phone during charging, so that makes you wonder whether apple uses a cheaper touchscreen than everyone else, or if other charges are just as good in regards to the EMI interference or if apple has higher margins than everyone else (which I highly doubt considering the problems apple create just to look good (cable strain relief springs to mind)).


This is a silly comment. Apple's laptops are widely regarded as the best in the industry and have been for quite a few years. The cinema displays are not just displays either—they also include 2.1 speakers, a webcam, and an ambient light sensor, all in a package that looks really nice in a house or office. This is a package that other display manufacturers are yet to produce.

It's nice to oversimplify for the sake of argument, but these kinds of non-reality based posts just show how polarizing Apple is.

Good design is important to most.


> Apple's laptops are widely regarded as the best in the industry and have been for quite a few years.

Oh, well in that case. Sigh.

Speakers, webcam and ambient light sensor... Those are the kind of non-features that you typically don't have to deal with on an apple product, if you care about a crappy webcam, inbuilt speakers in the monitor etc. you most certainly should buy a PC - they are crammed with useless stuff like that.

These kind of non-reality based post just shows just how blindly loyal the typical apple customer is.


There are two main purchasers of Cinema Displays: those who own an Apple laptop and want to use the display as a docking station with the laptop in clamshell mode, and those who own a Mac Pro or Mac Mini. In both use cases, having a display that integrates a webcam, speakers, and ambient light sensor is hugely beneficial.


Does any consumer display come with an appropriate stand? For me, a high-quality monitor arm is something you buy when you buy a desk, and when you buy a new monitor, you don't even bother to look at the junk stand the monitor includes. Stands just don't have the adjustability necessary to be comfortable. So, including a cheap stand seems like a good engineering compromise; it's just going to get thrown away, so why bother making it good?

(Oddly, I seem alone in this view. At Google, where a monitor stand is just a helpdesk ticket away, I've only seen about five other people that use them. Some people even use big stacks of paper to support their monitors. It's crazy!)

I also agree about Apple hardware running hot. I have a new mac mini on my desk and that thing is always very hot to the touch and often makes a lot of noise while under load. (To compare, I never hear a peep out of my generic 6-core tower, and that thing is always under heavy load.)


IPS monitors typically have decent stands. The Dell ultrasharp series for example are quite good in my opinion.

I don't think I've seen a cinema display with a monitor-arm, I'm a bit skeptic that people that buy the cinema display could ruin the aesthetics of the display with an arm (not that the cinema display is that good looking anyway).

I don't feel that an arm is needed when a good stand is included, and a good arm can easily cost as much as the monitor in the first place. Better to buy two monitors with good stands than one monitor with a crappy stand and an arm - in my opinion.


My MBP becomes a jet engine when under load, but I've honestly never heard the fan in my various Mac Pros after 5+ years.


When I plug my Galaxy S2 into a cheap generic USB wall charger, the touchscreen is almost unusable. The problem certainly exists and is not limited to Apple hardware.


Some of it is well-built. But IMHO charger cables are not among them. Every charger for Apple hardware I used had cables to break down after less than a year of use, and I had to repeatedly replace them. The reason is the design of the connector that is very fragile and not resistant to constant bending and moving around that is common for a mobile device. When I used laptops from other providers, chargers - including cabling - lasted for years without any substantial wear - it was common to retire a laptop but the whole charger was still working as new. For Apple ones, it's definitely not the case. Cables are very weak and new L-design laptop connector is worse than old T-design and breaks twice as fast in my experience. They made it look much better than ones from, say, Thinkpad, but at the cost of durability. So here's a part that is definitely worse than the competitors.


I agree with this. I have several IBM/Dell/Lenovo adapters and they are all in fine shape. My Apple adapters? Not so much -- they're all in various stages of cable breakage.

I really do not care how the connector sleeves look on my cables. I'd prefer them to last longer than a year or two.


90% of me thinks that maybe 70% of the figures you quoted are 40% pointless.


I agree with the gist of your post, however I must say that in my experience Apple products are manufactured to a standard that is 170% that of competitor's (really, just put a Macbook next to a Dell, or an iPhone next to a Blackberry and pore over the differences). On the features, I would say that roughly 75% more features are accessible to a casual user: you can simply do more without even thinking about it. However, to the professional user, only 15% of the features are available. (!) A professional user who got a degree in this subject can simply do literally six and a half times as many things on an Android or on a Linux desktop than with an iPhone or Mac OS X.

On pricing, I don't have any figures but do not consider it out of line to consider an Apple product as being a durable replacement for several cheap plastic versions. An investment in OS X in the guise of a $1800 MacBook Pro could easily take the place of a $700, a $500 and a $600 laptop bought over the same period of time. By the end of the period the specs of the MacBook would be severely out of date, however in other respects its usage may be preferable to the usage of the new $600 laptop. If you are not comparing on this basis, Apple products may be up to 300% as expensive as their competition, again as shown by the laptop example.

These numbers are scientific, have high statistical confidence, and good to eighteen decimal places. I show them with only one or two significant figures, however the full figures are going through a process of peer review and should appear soon in the IEEE Spectrum. Or not...


> A professional user who got a degree in this subject can simply do literally six and a half times as many things on an Android or on a Linux desktop than with an iPhone or Mac OS X.

I almost agree with you on Android/iPhone (though 6.5 times is a big, big exaggeration, more likely 40%), but absolutely disagree with you about OS X/Linux. To me (I don't do kernel debugging, but use tons of 'pro' development tools daily), they're on par, with Linux a tiny bit (a few percent) in the lead. OS X is more shiny and is more pleasant to use as a development machine, but in Linux your hands are freeer.


If only Mac OS X ever got a proper packaging system (one not for installing nice GUI apps, but for deploying infrastructure things like libraries) - then it would be on par. Right now, unfortunately, it's still subpar - doing the same things takes more time. I know theres ports and fink and homebrew, but each of them has its deficiencies, and they regularly step on each other's toes and make a mess of the system.


I might be out of line here but it sounds like you may not have given homebrew a decent enough chance. Fink and macports have always had problems, but a fresh Lion install + homebrew has about the same number of issues as a package manager as apt-get/dpkg on a stock Debian system, which is to say, not many. It definitely doesnt mess up the system without a great deal of willful effort to do so. Give it another chance.


I had a lot of trouble explaining homebrew difference between i386 and x64 builds and getting it to build the right ones. It does not mess up the system by itself, but getting it to do the right thing requires some serious digging into the config formats - or at least it did when I needed it about a year ago.


There's a simple answer to that one. It's "don't use multiple package managers, you numpty". Use Homebrew. If it's missing a package, write a formula. Fork the repo on Github, brew-tap it [1], and if you think other people could use it, open a pull request.

[1]: https://github.com/mxcl/homebrew/wiki/Homebrew-0.9


> If it's missing a package, write a formula.

That's exactly the problem. I don't want to write formulas. Just as on Linux I don't have to write RPMs - I just download them and install them. Yes, I can write a formula. Yes, it is not hard (in 90% of the cases). But it takes time, and I don't have extra time for it. And it takes learning yet another thing, which I don't need - and I have enough things to learn already that I do need.

I don't want to spend mental energy on it - I just want it to work. Linux achieved it, to a great degree, and Mac OS X still didn't.


> A professional user who got a degree in this subject can simply do literally six and a half times as many things on an Android or on a Linux desktop than with an iPhone or Mac OS X.

They offer degrees in using a smartphone? Amazing that I've been able to get along with one for so long.


The cost of products doesn't just come from the raw material used in it. What about R&D cost for example? There's a lot more to establish a product price than simply summing up material cost.


Good point. A quasi-resonant switching power supply takes about 10 person-months of development to get to production (according to "Power Supply Cookbook"). Multiplying by the cost of an engineer and dividing by 100 million chargers, works out to less than one cent for R&D. (Also, I expect STMicrosystems and Flextronics are doing most of the R&D.)


That's correct. In my experience, with such high volume opportunities, most semiconductor suppliers will provide their engineering expertise in doing (or supporting) not only the development but the reliability processes.


Unrelated to the OP, most normal people (rightly or wrongly) tend to ignore the value of time in general.

That's why people who otherwise make >$30 an hour will line up for 30 minutes for gas to save maybe $3 when they hear gas prices will go up the next day.

That's also why your relatives think nothing of your time before asking you waste several hours of your precious time to help fix their malware infested PC.


I hear this argument a lot but I just don't get it.

In almost every case the time spent doing those things (queueing for gas or fixing someone's PC) could, or better yet, would not have otherwise been spent making >$30/hour.


That's true, but relaxation time has value too.

You could make the case (for argument's sake) that someone who works 8h/day for $30/h and sleeps 8h/day has an an awake time value of $15/h.

While this is definitely a frivolous and arbitrary calculation, it can be a useful metric for a busy person to figure out what his/her time is worth in terms of prioritizing activities. For example, waiting 30 minutes in line to save $3 in gas vs waiting 2 minutes and not getting the $3 savings.

Those 28 minutes could have been spent doing something else, such as quality time with the kids (priceless?), etc.


or to spin it back the other way, the psychological impact of "Hooray, I just scored a great bargain", even if actually provably false, might also provide a boost of happiness beyond the nominal opportunity cost. I wonder if there's a market in placebo coupons? :)


Placebo coupons -- isn't this essentially what drives Farmville's virality?


But they still value aesthetics over quality. The lack of strain relief causes increased wear on the cable ends.

http://www.geek.com/articles/gadgets/a-kickstarter-project-a...


After one of my Apple cables started fraying, I preemptively wrapped the ends of the rest with Sugru in hopes that it will help. Worked well so far, sucks that I had to do it at all.


The issue isn't as much strain relief as it is people disconnecting the cords by yanking them by the cable instead of the connector.


Which is what a "strain relief" is for.

Strain reliefs are used because you have to assume that users will apply strain in every direction imaginable, and some that aren't.


No, that's not the reason. Repeated bending of the weak connection point is the reason, and there's no reinforcement there to protect it.


The class action over the mag-safe connector shows that the strain relief was inadequate.


A class action lawsuit over strain relief shows one thing: that lawyers see Apple as a nice juicy target. Smaller companies have made much worse connectors, but nobody cares, because there is no profit to be had from suing them.


You do realize that kickstart project failed horribly and it was actually useless. Look at reviews.


I don't know the first thing about how the project went. The project wasn't the point. The motivation of the project is what I'm talking about.


Didn't they recently fix this?


But they are aware of the problem and trying to fix it. The strain relief of this year's iPad cable tripled in length compared to last year.


They are aware of it and still build inferior quality cables. This is a problem across their entire product line, from MacBooks to iPods, iPhones and iPads.


The commenter you responded to did provide a case for Apple trying to fix that though, didn't he? I'd expect it to be rolled out across the next refresh of the product line. Might be naive?


they were designing for 1yr of life. people complained, they changed the design to last 2yr of use.


the entire cable will become strain relief and then the problem will start again!

I've had the same problem with all apple cables. Design over substance.


Can you hear that sound? It’s the sound of my eyes rolling.

So, uhm, I’m not exactly sure what you want. Why are you so convinced that this updated design will also fail?


So, uhm, I’m not exactly sure what you want.

Well, it'd be nice if the high-$$$ Apple cable were as reliable as the one on the latest $1.99 gray-market gadget off the boat from Shenzen.


Why? Just buy the $1.99 gray-market gadget off the boat from Shenzhen.


History repeats itself. Apple cables have been fraying since FireWire ipods. I've heard the promise so often its now boring me.


There's a fairly obvious way to see that the Apple one is higher quality than the Samsung one, if you happen to own both, like I do. Plug them both in and be quiet. You can hear the Samsung one making a high pitched ring, while the Apple one is silent. This is probably due to the superior diode bridge snubbers in the Apple design (if, indeed, they exist at all.) Having a high-speed diode connected directly to a transformer is an almost guaranteed way to setup an oscillation, which can lead to audible sound, and always leads to electromagnetic interference.

And the sound is really annoying.


I've noticed the same with the Kindle charger (silent) and HP Touchpad charger (mosquito whine). The Kindle charger is a lot more compact. Doesn't provide enough juice to charge the Touchpad though.


That's fascinating. I now fault Apple a tiny bit less for its extremely-expensive peripherals.

Does anyone know of a good disassembly of 'MiniDisplay_Port/Thunderbolt -> VGA/HDMI/DVI/...', or 'iPad Smart Cover' (like this one) that justifies their premium price?


Note the section "Apple's huge profit margins".

Samsung produces a similar product with components costing about $1 lower than Apple's. However, Apple sells their charger for $20 more.


Do note also that Apple's device contains far more filtering compared to Samsungs design.


You also have to put in the time and resources that Apple spent into making this. Samsung's came out after Apple brought it out to the market.


Apple sold 156 million iOS devices in 2011 alone. Multiply that by the $20 difference and you get 3 billion dollars. I have to assume that R&D of the power adapter cost less than that.


Interesting thoughts.

But is it an accurate analysis when considering the costs of R&D?

As an example, Dropbox may invest $X in their product so that they could deliver $Y, but Box.net is more expensive... So if they make more money they must be exploiting us, right? Of course not... we hope :)

In this case it seems clear, Apple appears to have some unique R&D in this component... which may justify a (albeitly unknown) premium for the product.

Is the price right? I'm not sure. But they certainly seem to have an interesting edge with the tech.

That said (and the real point of my thought), I do wonder why we in the tech world place such a difference in R&D between HW and SW. If a HW company finds a niche, and does interesting tech, we still seem to devalue it compared to SW Dev (yes there are exceptions, but as a rule we seem to throw HW under the bus).

What's the difference? Why are these dichotomies acceptable in the software world but not the hardware world?

If Apple delivers a product that (apparently - without considering or understanding the actual R&D cost) costs less than competitors it's a problem... But in the SW world we barely bat an eye.

Is R&D and creativity in HW design is a valid cost?

Anyway, I'm not harping on your comment (which is valid in it's own right); I'm just curious and interested in the apparent difference in SW and HW innovations...


Well, they include these adaptors with iPhones and iPads. Only iPod touch users have to buy them, or those iPhone/iPad users who broke theirs! I had iPod touches for 2.5 years and never needed to charge them using an AC power adaptor, and now that I have and iPad & an iPhone, I still rarely use them. So your calculation of a $3B margin is off by (almost) two orders of magnitude.


iFixit tore down a smart cover a while ago: http://www.ifixit.com/Teardown/iPad-2-Smart-Cover-Teardown/5...

There are two kinds of DisplayPort adapters, some which have are active devices that have a chip that does the conversion, and some which are passive that rely on the computer/video card to output the other formats. All of Apple's are the former.

I tend to get my converters from MonoPrice which is far less expensive than from Apple.


To all the people complaining that Apple charges too much: don't buy their products! If you don't see the benefit in using Apple's peripherals or cables, there are plenty of cheaper options, albeit usually of lower quality.


My rabbit chews a lot of cables. He chewed iPhone charger - I almost cried. He chewed other cables too - I've bought them just round the corner at thrift shop dirt cheap.

I've seen at least 2 iPhones breaking beyond repair just by falling.

My SGSII flew around 4 or 5 times, not a scratch. It does look and feel cheap though. So do Lenovo ribcage plastics as opposed to aluminium shells.


I've seen at least 2 iPhones breaking beyond repair just by falling.

I doubt this. Nothing in the iPhone is beyond repair.


Agreed - the only iPhone I've ever seen DOA-for-real was one immersed in dirty water for most of an afternoon, and I have a feeling that that was reparable if somebody really wanted.


This is an incredible write up. It's no surprise that the insides of these tiny cubes are well engineered, but it is very interesting to see, and learn, the schematics that make it work so well.

I think it's worth the price tag. Guaranteed clean and even 5v power is extremely useful. I use that cube to charge everything. Phones, Kindle, etc.


It feels like it is over-engineered. If a cheaper charger does the job (assuming it's not so cheap it violates safety regs) isn't this a case of over-optimisation?

PS: I'm not an electronics engineer so please educate me, on why this "filtered" and "cleaner" power supply is necessary to charge a phone?


Bad power really messes with the touch screen. Capacitive touch screens need to sense pico-Coulombs of charger, and this is really hard when the power supply (and the display) create tons of noise. This is a bigger problem as phones get thinner because it's harder to shield the touch screen. For details, see http://www.cypress.com/touch/Noise_Wars_Projected_Capacitanc...

My totally hypothetical theory is that Steve Jobs tried a prototype charger, the touch screen didn't work well, and he said to do whatever is necessary to make sure that didn't happen again.

(edit: more info)


but that does not help if the customer buys a 2nd 5$ charger and uses that e.g. at work. Then the touchscreen will behave less good and the customer will blame Apple...


I doubt the customer will blame apple if all that's changed is the new $3 charger.


Not necessarily the case here, but "go with the cheapest thing that doesn't violate regulations" tends to get combined with "this regulation is inconvenient, let's get rid of it - if it were actually unsafe, nobody would do it" which doesn't end well for anyone (except, maybe, the lawyers).


Noisy power supplies interfere with capacitive touchscreens so you can't use the phone while it's charging.


Apple probably doesn't care about the 1c saving by cutting component to bare requirements to be safe. Also you need to include the engineer's time.


They link to another tear-down of a fake charger that takes potentially dangerous shortcuts. Also, it generates noise which can interfere with the touch-screen.

http://www.arcfn.com/2012/03/inside-cheap-phone-charger-and-...


I submitted that 1 month ago - http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3903705 - and my nick ranit8 has been killed.

I found a possible reason yesterday, it was a duplicate of http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3699293

Damn, you are dead since 3 days thanks to this: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4027951 . And you are much more active than I am.


They should just conform to EU standards and adopt a micro-USB charger.


The charger itself is a usb charger, the cable on the other end has a 30 pin connector. Nobody is stopping you from using the iPhone charger to charge other things via standard usb cable.


Congratulations for completely missing the point. Every manufacturer shipping for the EU market is using a standard USB cable on both ends.

Apple says they will follow the EU guidelines and then they ship a crappy Apple-to-USB adapter in the box...


Am I missing something here? The reason they use this non-standard 30 pin connector rather than a standard USB connector is because their connector /does a lot more/.

Looking at a pin-out table, it seems it also does (or can do) video (composite / s-video), audio, and has pin(s) for adapters.

USB doesn't do that. I have an Android phone, which is perfectly nice, but it's just not as capable as the iPhone - it doesn't have these capabilities, because it just has USB.


Most Android phones have MHL or MicroHDMI and most of the other stuff mentioned can be quite happily accomplished over USB.


http://pinoutsguide.com/PortableDevices/micro_usb_pinout.sht...

http://www.allpinouts.org/index.php/Apple_iPod,_iPad_and_iPh...

Apple solve the manufacturing problem by having one port on the device to do the job. This also serves an aesthetic purpose. The adapter that Apple have produce to ensure compliance with the EU regulation as actually an excellent solution to the problem. I would also argue that the regulation suffers from typical political myopia in that it only really considers the notion of charging a device.


I don't understand how a hard to plug in 30 pin connector solves an aesthetic problem when the alternative is smaller, at least somewhat shaped for differentiation and can/does do the same things at the protocol level (or via MHL via the same connector...).


Smaller != better/prettier and the 'hard to plug to plug in' comment is your own opinion. The micro USB format does not do the same thing. It does a few similar things. I don't understand why an adapter from Apple is inadequate.


> the 'hard to plug to plug in' comment is your own opinion.

Sure. Right on, man.

>The micro USB format does not do the same thing. It does a few similar things.

I never claimed they do the same thing. I said it's capable of doing the same things with MHL wired to it.

>I don't understand why an adapter from Apple is inadequate.

Didn't say it is, I just find it funny that there are excuses for Apple not going with the interoperable standard and instead going with something that only they produce and can gouge you for.

There is a legitimate argument to be made that there is simply more bandwidth available in their connector, but I don't know of any peripheral that utilizes it that wouldn't work perfectly fine with USB.


Please. Continue downvoting, it makes you right. Don't dare tell me why I'm wrong, especially when it's apparent that sbuk was missing the point as he didn't even know what MHL was or that it uses the same port at the USB host.

Sorry for questioning the genius of Apple following NIH policy. I won't question them in the future or wish they would go with industry standards and interop.

The 'v' button does not mean, "I disagree". It doesn't mean "This makes my opinion right over his, without needing to justify it". Assholes.


I know what MHL is. I suspect that the majority of HN reader know what it is. It doesn't change the fact that the Apple 30 pin dock connected offers Apple a greater scope in terms of future proofing that a potentially shortsighted standard.

As to the votes, I personally don't have the karma to do it and wouldn't if I did. I guess they are coming because of the petulant and rude tone of your comments.


People are fixating on the price but I don't see people lining up to buy $30 apple chargers and earbuds or paying top dollar for them on ebay. I'm sure Apple sells a fair number due to the inelastic demand curve (people who lose theirs need a new one now) along with the branding, convenience factor, lack of choice at Apple store etc. but in the grand scheme of things they aren't in business to sell these, in fact they give them away with the phone.


Pricing is never only about quality. Suppose symsung produces an equally well made charger, it won't be able to sell well with same price. There is a trust in the brand that can not be measured by figures. That is not fanboism. Trust could bring in buyers who like pay higher prices to stay out of trouble. So even i know it is probably economically wise to buy a TP over MBA, i would still turn to the latter 100% of the time, because I don't want trouble. Trust is also very real. I have used quite a lot of laptops from various vendors over the years, and apple just stands out.

I am not saying only Apple could do this. Amazon has even bigger trust from me. I would still buy books from them even it is a little more expensive just because I have very few trouble over the years with them.


samsumgs is already as well made. have you read the fine article?


That's not what the OP said. The point being made is that it's perceived that Apple generally have a better reputation for build quality which in turn goes to support a premium pricing model. While this isn't easily verifyable fact and it is conjecture on the part of the OP, it isn't worthy of a snarky 'RTFA' type comment. Incidentally, the article says as much. It also points out that Apple's charger has a better build quality and proffers the benefits to the average consumer.


Great job on iPhone charger analysis. Just wanted to add my idea why the .28 mm air gap in xfmr. The air gap prevents core magnetic saturation. Thus less chance of overheat also widens feedback regulation control. Thanks for the cool write up with great photos. Marv


Good to know. Though, $30 still feels kinda high


But much more reasonable now, I used to think that this were technologically the same as cheap chargers. It's good that's not the case :)


Yeah totally, i thought that they just sold $2 LG chargers in pretty packages :)


I got one with my iPad. If you don't like the idea of spending $30 on a power adapter, perhaps spending $500 on an iPad and getting a free adapter would work better, psychologically speaking? :)


Right after the iPad 1 came out in the US, I was in Thailand on vacation and didn't have my cube charger with me. I was hoping I could get a 10W iPad charger at the big electronics mall, looked...and they were $79. While grey-market iPads were actually selling for about $650. (I just charged using my laptop).

Apple chargers are one thing which I like to buy used; especially for magsafe, I haven't found any counterfeits. Being able to have 10 extra chargers around home/office saves a lot of hassle, and when they're $25 it's reasonable to do that.


If you're going into market charging more than everyone else and making a massive profit - it's only possible to have a clear conscience when the consumer is indeed getting something better, and not merely an ordinary design with a higher price.


That assumes that charging a high price for something involves conscience or morals whatsoever.


Corporations don't have to worry about a clear conscience. They have to worry about support costs and customer happiness affecting repeat business.

When Apple ships a charger that makes iPhone touchscreens work poorly, customers get irritated and either figure it out and cost Apple money at the Genius Bar or don't figure it out and don't buy iPhones.

The higher price is because people are willing to pay it.


Corporations don't have to worry about a clean conscience, but some of them do.

Certainly, some of their employees care a lot. And in Silicon Valley, the people building this stuff have a lot of options. Apple has managed to attract a bunch of people who like making great stuff. Some of those people would find jobs they liked more if Apple tried to make things that were too junky.


Looks like Samsung has about $15-19 of conscience more than Apple by this measure.


Impressive article!

The blue "Y" capacitor reminded me of http://backtothefuture.wikia.com/wiki/Flux_capacitor

Kind of adds to the magic of those charges :).


This is truly amazing, the detail put into something we All take for granted is truly mind boggling


Anybody know of a teardown of the UK iPhone charger?


Has anyone tried running these in parallel to get super clean bench top power?


That's an interesting idea, but it would probably be cheaper to buy a real bench power supply, e.g. Mastech. Also paralleling probably wouldn't work well; for instance you might end up with one power supply providing most of the power. For details on running power supplies in parallel, see http://www.weidmuller.ca/system/files/webfm/downloads/pdfs/l...


Or worse, since the supplies' outputs will not be precisely identical or vary over their tolerance range in in sync with each, one supply could end up injecting current into another and cause damage. Such power supplies are generally designed for a specific load impedance, and connecting the supply outputs in parallel can effect a smaller load impedance than tolerable.


Thank you for the link. Been looking for this for a while.




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