Inside the Apple iPad: how one company got the photos first

The iPad finally hit US stores last Saturday, but the race to unlock its mysteries started several weeks ago in San Luis Obispo, a picturesque college town roughly 200 miles south of Apple’s Silicon Valley headquarters.

On March 12, Kyle Wiens and Luke Soules woke up before dawn. Their plan demanded that they be among the first to get their hands on the device.

Armed with heat guns, suction cups and other tools of the trade, the duo set out to reveal some of the tablet’s most closely guarded secrets

So at 5.30am, the minute Apple began taking iPad orders on its website, Wiens and Soules – do-it-yourself repair evangelists and co-founders of a company called iFixit – placed theirs. As delivery addresses, they entered several US locations where their research determined the iPad is likely to arrive soonest. They could tell you which ones, but they’d have to kill you.

Armed with heat guns, suction cups and other tools of the trade, the duo set out on Saturday to reveal some of the tablet’s most closely guarded secrets: the design and components that make it tick. By the time the lines outside Apple Stores started to thin, iFixit had provided a blow-by-blow account of its “teardown” to the world, complete with a photo montage.

Apple iPad open

Such details are manna for the Apple faithful, and iFixit has made a name for itself in technology circles by providing them fast. To do so, Wiens and Soules must above all make sure they are among the very first people to be in actual possession of these hotly anticipated gadgets. And this being Apple, one of the world’s most secretive companies, each launch presents a different set of challenges.

Apple’s mostly unsung suppliers, which are barred from talking about their most famous customer, will admit in private that they love these teardowns by iFixit and others. The spectacles trumpet to the world that a manufacturer is good enough to make it into an Apple product. In late 2006, the mere rumor that a component by Skyworks Solutions would be in the original iPhone was enough to boost its share price.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Apple, which declined to comment for this story, does not like anybody monkeying around with its devices. This after all is a company that won’t even let users change their iPod and iPhone batteries. It has fired executives over leaks and sued bloggers to halt their revelations.

But there is nothing Apple can do about teardowns. “What we do is completely legal, but if they could stop us they would,” Wiens, 26, said with a touch of pride. He said that iFixit has had no formal contact with Apple.

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