iPad Pro 13’s Hide a Repairability Win, Still Hard to Fix

iPad Pro 13’s Hide a Repairability Win, Still Hard to Fix

We’ve spent the past few days examining the new iPad Pro 13 and boy is it an impressive bit of technology. I don’t want to wax poetic about the user experience though, I’ll leave that to the tech reviewers. What I want to talk about is the hardware and the one major improvement in the iPad Pro’s repairability: The battery replacement experience.

The Ultra Retina Display

But let’s start from the top. First off (pun intended) is the beautiful Tandem OLED aka Ultra Retina panel. Just like its LCD siblings, the internals of this new iPad are only accessible through the screen.

The glue holding the screen down isn’t terrible but make no mistake, this repair is not going to be for the faint of heart. I guarantee that this Ultra Retina panel is going to be expensive to replace long after the battery starts showing signs of wear and opening the device up will certainly risk breaking it.

The new panel is an impressive bit of engineering. The Samsung and LG manufactured Tandem OLED panel provides a peak SDR brightness of 1000 nits which is a significant increase over the SDR brightness of 600 nits on the 6th generation iPad Pro’s. The contrast ratio is doubled too, meaning brighter whites and darker blacks.

So how does it work? Apple’s presentation appears to have been delivered with the intention of explaining the technology in the simplest terms possible but it’s a little misleading. The image of two OLED panels working on top of each other is technically incorrect. Rather, the traditional OLED stack (the individual diode itself) has been altered to increase the number of electroluminescence layers in the vertical stack of each diode. Kodak filed for a patent for a similar technology back in 2005.

Image credits: Research Gate (left) & Daken Chemical (right)

This increases the amount of light and color each diode can transmit. The result is akin to having two OLED’s stacked on top of each other but it’s still a single OLED on the board, not a whole OLED panel stacked onto another OLED panel. Tandem OLED’s also benefit from a longer working lifespan which makes the use of the technology a no brainer.

Currents of Change

With the panel out of the way, let’s talk about the repairability win. For the first time in an iPad Pro, we’re able to remove the battery immediately after removing the screen. Well, immediately is relative here. There’s still some screws and brackets but this is a major improvement over previous generation iPad’s where a 2-3 hour ordeal saw the logic board and the kitchen sink removed before the battery could be accessed.

This is a huge win for the simple reason that we can see legislation and public opinion finally affecting change in our consumer products. Remember, this is a “size zero” device that’s the thinnest thing Apple has ever produced and yet they still prioritized the replacement of the battery in their designs. If that isn’t a win, I don’t know what is. 

The battery itself comes in at 38.99 Wh which is slightly smaller than the 6th gen’s 40.33 Wh. It’s also gone from a four cell battery in the 6th gen to two 19.91 Wh cells. And these things are thin.

The Cost of Size Zero

And while we can celebrate this one victory, it’s inevitable that an even thinner product would come with some majorly unrepairable compromises. Those compromises are usually sticky ones too. 

From the daughterboard to the speakers and coax cables, we found a whole bunch of stuff that’s glued down because there just isn’t enough space for screws. That means speakers will get destroyed if you try to remove them, the daughterboard gets bent out of shape if you look at it the wrong way, the heat sensitive cameras are subject to a risky prying operation to remove, and all sorts of other shenanigans.

All this to reduce the thickness by another 1.3 mm. What’s ridiculous is that this is nearly imperceptible even if you place the 6th generation iPad Pro 12.9 next to it. Literally nobody asked Apple for an even thinner device and had Apple not made such a big deal of it, nobody would have noticed unless they had calipers to hand.

The Logic Board

The chip on this board shall be that which is two more than M2 but one less than M5. Yeah, we skipped the M3 entirely. Apple’s M3 chips are on TSMC’s N3B process node and the new M4 is on the N3E process node. Both are on the 3nm process but the latter trades transistor density for a slight improvement in power efficiency and lower production costs. They could have called this an M3 and nobody would have batted an eyelid but the slight efficiency gains are definitely welcome.

Flash Storage

It’s worth mentioning that the base model 256GB iPad Pro 13 comes with a single NAND flash storage chip. If you recall the brouhaha over the M2 Air, this does impact your read/write speeds and there’s evidence out there that the 1TB outplays the base model 256GB. This is not likely to be a concern because it’s still an iPad. Anyone doing heavy duty transfers between the device and external storage though should bear this little tradeoff in mind when deciding which model to get.

Apple Pencil Pro

The Pencil Pro may be mightier-er than the sword but it doesn’t hold a candle to the pencil for one simple reason: It’s a disposable piece of crap once the battery dies. That is a huge shame because it’s an amazing little tool that unfortunately favors smooth lineless aesthetics over longevity.

Our teardown of the Pencil Pro was so rough that I literally bled all over the table trying to get the battery out without causing irreversible damage to the electronics. And despite the blood shed, I still failed to avoid breaking it. 

The lack of repairability aside, the technology that went into making this device is still fun to look at. From the inductive charge coil to the repositioned magnets, the redesign made it possible for the Pencil Pro to inductively charge while mounted against the now portrait positioned front facing camera. This is an upgrade over the iPad 10’s redesign which sacrificed the inductive charging mechanism for the repositioning of the camera.

There’s also a new MEMS sensor in this pencil that uses a gyroscope to enable what Apple calls the “barrel roll” feature. No, this isn’t something you do after you accidentally puncture the battery and set fire to your Pencil Pro when tearing it down. It’s a feature that allows the Pencil Pro to track radial movement which allows for some fun and stunning artistic flourishes.

Can You Fix Thin?

Everyone is already celebrating the technological wonders of this device, it is without a doubt a thing of beauty, but we’re also happy to see Apple prioritize repairability. It’s great to see the battery being designed for accessibility and replacement and yet that victory is soured a bit by the compromises required to create a needlessly thinner device.

We’ll continue to watch how the iPad line develops. Perhaps Apple’s engineers can innovate themselves towards repairability even at these extremely tight tolerances.