Teardown reveals iPhone 15 to be series of questionable design decisions

High cost and hard to work with? Yep, that's Apple all over

Video The launch of the iPhone 15 may have been underwhelming – there's only so much one can do with the standard smartphone formula – but now iFixit has stuck its screwdrivers in a Pro Max, are there any big surprises inside?

Well, no. Not really.

Just like the iPhone 14, the teardown terrors noted that the 15 can be opened from both the back and front, which scored the previous model repairability points. Most manufacturers stick to one or the other, though depending on the entry route this can make either battery or screen replacements more difficult. In the 15, the components sit behind the screen rather than the back glass.

iFixit observed that this "new internal chassis architecture that makes iPhone more repairable" was the first time Apple had mentioned the touchy subject of fixing its handsets at a launch event. iFixit said this was an "achievement," while noting that having to remove the display makes battery switches riskier because the screen has to be taken out instead of the back glass.

"The nod goes to the 14 for being slightly more risk-tolerant, but they're both good designs. Why didn't the 15 Pro adopt the 14's design? We're not sure," iFixit admitted, although said it could be because of the larger camera array.

Everyone knew that USB-C charging was coming to the 15 thanks to legal efforts by the European Union to enforce a standard for mobile devices sold in its territory. Although Apple was starting to look more repair-friendly as a result, previous examples show how the iGiant continues to exert control with parts pairing of components.

iPhone 15 teardown

iPhone 15 guts splayed out. Credit: iFixit

iFixit was able to refute rumors that the charge port would be subject to these software locks – "swapping two ports maintains full functionality" – and that Apple would limit throughput.

"The A17 System-on-Chip (SoC) adds a USB 3 controller, enabling USB 3.2 Gen 2 10Gb throughput. Because the non-Pro iPhone 15 models inherited the older A16 Bionic, they only support USB 2 and are limited to the same transfer speeds as previous devices with Lightning," the teardown states.

Moving to the battery, iFixit described the 15's 2.3 percent capacity increase over the iPhone 14 as "anemic," and not ideal when the A17 is so power hungry. "Early reports are that the phone gets hot and stays hot, with a corresponding drop in battery life," the repair biz said.

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Alongside USB-C, the other new aspect of the iPhone 15 is the titanium shell, which has shaved off 19 entire grams compared to its predecessor. iFixit questioned the wisdom of this decision "not just because it's expensive but because it's notoriously hard to work with," and asked why the midframe was still made from aluminum, which then has to be thermo-mechanically bonded to the titanium.

"High cost? Super-hard metal? Difficult job? That sounds like something really up Apple's alley," iFixit japed.

It's a step backwards in terms of sustainability too, because recycling centers are familiar with steel and aluminium but don't normally take titanium. iFixit also pointed out that despite the metal's hardiness, the outer coating scratches easily.

As The Register reported, Apple has extended Qualcomm's 5G modem contract out to 2026 while it still has nothing to show for trying to bring the work in house. The US chip company's Snapdragon X70 modem is present and correct in the 15, as is TSMC's 3nm process for the A17. The SoC is "unlikely to be beaten by anything else anytime soon as Apple simply bought out the entirety of TSMC's capacity for the year."

The 15's main camera is also supposed to be a headline feature with its optical zoom increasing from 2x to 5X, a far cry from the 10x on Samsung's S23 Ultra, but how this was achieved is noteworthy, according to iFixit.

The "tetraprism" – Apple marketing for "four lenses" – periscope is a single element that reflects light multiple times to increase focal length and a neat solution under the shrinking real estate of a smartphone handset.

However, making the phone's internals easier to access and replace than before is undermined by Apple's insistence on parts pairing. Just last week iFixit found itself in the unenviable position of having to downgrade the iPhone 14's repairability score from a 7 to 4/10 after careful consideration of the software locks preventing straightforward swaps of components.

"That dystopian future that science fiction authors warned us was coming, where DRM infected every part of our lives? We're living in it," iFixit said. "The result of these extensive limitations is a major infringement of ownership rights and amplification of the e-waste crisis."

Accordingly, iFixit was unable to award the iPhone 15 family anything better than 4/10. ®

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