How the iPhone 5 is made

By , Sep 12, 2012

The iPhone 5 is made with a level of precision you’d expect from a finely crafted watch, not a smartphone, says Apple’s marketing collateral. It ain’t just marketing talk. From these gorgeous shots to hands-on reports, everyone seems to agree that Apple has outdone itself with this year’s iPhone in terms of shininess and smoothness.

In order to avoid being leapfrogged by competition (the Galaxy S III feels pretty solid in one’s hand, doesn’t it?), Apple really upped the ante on build quality, traditionally its area of expertise. The manufacturing precision and craftsmanship that go into mass-producing these new iPhones is enough to give any gadget maker a pause.

From the handset’s lightly textured back to its highly polished chamfered edge with a nice sheen to it, Apple felt so confident in its manufacturing prowess that the company saw fit to brag about the unique production techniques it developed itself in order to build this phone…

Jony Ive, Apple’s SVP of Industrial Design, shed more light on the iPhone 5 production process in Apple’s presentation video.


Is it just me or did Ive put on a few pounds?

He said:

To create the new iPhone, we began with the design that we really loved. But to build it, to implement it – we had to look way beyond what we knew to be possible.

It took all of our learning, our best thinking, to realize something so simple, so clear and yet so truly extraordinary.

In order to build a product with this level of fit and finish and manufacturing sophistication, Apple had to develop production processes that Ive says are its “most complex and ambitious”.

Take the iPhone’s Unibody enclosure and the mirror-like finish of its diamond-cut beveled edge.


Starting with the aluminum, we machine all of the surfaces of the enclosure.


We then polish and texture them.


We then use crystal and diamonds to cut the chamfers.

The end result: the near-mirror finish of the iPhone’s beveled edge.

The two-tone metallic backplate?

According to Apple:

The back of iPhone 5 is made of anodized 6000 series aluminum — the same material used in Apple notebooks — with inlays along the top and bottom made of ceramic glass (on the white and silver model) or pigmented glass (on the black and slate model).

Production of the iPhone 5 inlays and fitting them together posed a whole new set of challenges as parts have to match perfectly. Otherwise, customers would notice and feel imperfections where the inlays meet.

So, how did Apple solve this challenge?


With the part on the conveyer…


…two high-powered cameras take pictures of the housing (and by ‘high-powered’ Apple means a whopping 29-megapixels…


…and instantaneous analysis is done…


…and then the best match out of the possible 725 cuts is determined.

Having this many pieces seamlessly come together results in the manufacturing precision where the variances from one iPhone 5 to another are now measured in microns – that is, one-millionth of a meter.

The in-cell process for the Retina display on the iPhone 5?

Here’s from Apple:

Making a thinner, lighter iPhone meant even the display had to be thinner. Apple engineers accomplished that by creating the first Retina display with integrated touch technology.

Which means instead of a separate layer of touch electrodes between display pixels, the pixels do double duty — acting as touch-sensing electrodes while displaying the image at the same time.

With one less layer between you and what you see on iPhone 5, you experience more clarity than ever before. All on a display that’s 30 percent thinner than before.

Yet another example: sapphire lens cover on the iSight camera.

Why sapphire?

Because sapphire is thinner and more durable than the cover glass on your iPhone 4/4S and because keeping optics in pristine condition is crucial for camera performance.

Here, a few snaps of the sapphire lens cover production.

By the way, hardness of sapphire crystal is second only to diamond (on the scale of transparent materials), which means that the surface of the lens on your iPhone 5 is far less likely to scratch.

But why agonize over such mundane things many won’t appreciate fully?

I mean, it’s just a phone, right?

We believe that going to such extreme lengths is the only way that we can deliver this level of quality.

We’ve developed manufacturing processes that are our most complex and ambitious. Never before have we built a product with this extraordinary level of fit and finish.

Fit and finish, materials and manufacturing processes are Jony Ive’s life.

But what’s in it for us, the consumers?

These techniques create a dramatic distinction between the product’s lightly textured back and its highly polished chamfered edge.

Most people don’t ever think about the difficulties Apple faced to make possible that smooth feel to the iPhone 5 in your hand.

To me, this obviously means Apple did a terrific job. People only pay notice of build quality when they pick up a crappy handset with ugly design and plasticky feel to it.

That’s when I begin to ask rhetorical questions, like “gee, they did this high-powered handset with a massive display and I can still hear the plastic cracking in my hand?”

Wrapping up, what makes the iPhone 5 so unique from manufacturing standpoint “is how it feels in your hand: the materials is being made with, the remarkable precision with which is being built”.

Bottom line: no details is too small and everything matters in an Apple product.

If you’re eager to learn even more about the iPhone 5 production process, Apple’s web site is your friend.

And no, it’s not about the looks.

Design is how it works.

So, materials and build quality…

Would you say this is something you take into consideration when choosing a smartphone?

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  • http://twitter.com/esemchoy Esme Yungao

    I hope to get one ASAP. :D

  • http://twitter.com/MCaudebec Maxim∑

    As usual apple build high quality products

  • http://twitter.com/randomprice Sol Estravís

    That’s one of the things I love and at the same time hate about apple. I love their attention to detail, and how picky they’re about design, at the same time one feels like they should add more things to the phone itself and stop focusing about such minor things probably most customers are not going to notice.

  • http://www.facebook.com/randle1 Phil Randle

    thats what I have always loved about Apple, They concider design first and build products of quality, they take into account that the iphone should be used with one hand.

    The build quality between the iPhone 5 and any other phone on the market is drastically different, apple uses materials that no other manufacturer would even touch, and you notice that when your holding it in your hand, to me thats what is important, its like my car, I drive an Audi and the last thing I would want would be drastic changes all the time, it about knowing your getting quality.

  • http://twitter.com/just_win_baby24 Fidel castellanos

    1question,HOW MUCH RAM?

    • http://twitter.com/Tkf530 Tristan

      1GB.

      • http://twitter.com/e420kush e420Kush

        is that for sure? Apple never tells us how much ram the iPhone has. We usually have to wait for an iFixit teardown to find out. But yes I would guess and hope for 1GB also.

  • http://twitter.com/just_win_baby24 Fidel castellanos

    HOW MUCH RAM?

  • @dongiuj

    Lots of parts from other companies and thrown together in sweatshops?
    Sorry, didn’t read the article.

  • Mohammad Ridwan

    They explained all that is the video…

  • Jesse

    What I don’t like are the inherent inconsistencies that exist when parts come from 3 different manufacturers. It just makes you wonder if you have a shite iPhone.

  • http://twitter.com/RadTech5000 Zander

    Nice article but I think it was inappropriate for you to comment on Ive’s weight. Quote: “Is it just me or did Ive put on a few pounds?”
    Who cares?

  • http://www.facebook.com/ed.ba.925 Ed Ba

    As usual Apple launches a product with a lot of hype and no substance. Please tell me one single breakthrough Apple made with iPhone 5. Being a manufacturing professional I can tell you there is nothing special about 6061 aluminum, anodized finish or diamond cutting tools. These technologies have been available to any mom-and-pop machine shop for at least the past 20 years (as much time as I’ve been making a living out of manufacturing).

    • StraightTruth

      And yet you dont get it!
      Ask yourself, if this technology is widely available, WHY were we still tinkering with plasticky Nokias and filthy LGs? Got it?

      • Smoke

        Probably because they are about half the price or less than tha of the iPhone and most of us care more about whats INSIDE the phone that what it looks like… if I wanted something pretty for 300-400 dollars I would buy a painting.

      • cellmaker

        Yes, but what’s inside the phone is iOS.

  • Bellroth

    German TV ran a programme last night comparing a German bought IPhone to a Chinese blackleg copy. They were to all intents and purposes identical both in looks and performance. There really didn’t seem to be any difference at all. Except in price. The Chinese copy cost a fraction of the price, less than a quarter of what the real one cost. My question is simply, “How do they do it?”.

    • http://www.facebook.com/roman.sanine Roman Sanine

      Perhaps because Apple had to invest loads of time and money into R&D, while the knockoffs obtained the final designs for free. SImply.

  • oliwer

    the biggest thing about apple products is that the front glass brakes very easily

  • lukman

    i want laern how to manufacture

    • Pali Klair

      Going to have to learn how to spell first!

    • kutha

      dumb bastard…

  • http://twitter.com/jaycaron87 Jay Caron

    Its not just the materials. The main thing is how does the phone impress consumers. Back in the days, the iPhone was amazing and also iOS. Now look at it. What can Apple do? Make it lighter, thinner and faster and improve the camera. Is there anything good on iOS 6? I was well into iPhone in the past (when Steve Jobs was alive). It was so good and iOS was amazing. I have purchased Samsung Galaxy Note 2 and I didn’t know that Andriod was so amazing. It has loads of features that iOS 6 doesn’t have and the User Interface is so beautiful. However, I truly believe that Microsoft will be in lead with their windows phone in the future. This is because at the moment they don’t have many well known apps or games but then it will soon become popular and top developers will start creating apps and games for windows phone.
    R.I.P Steve Jobs. If you were here, Apple would have been leading with their iPhone.

  • Bubba_O_Reilly

    Awesome but,….it will be out of date within months so………you buy a really high quality, high priced, item that will be a dated product before your cell contract expires!

  • http://www.facebook.com/sarithkoottalakkal Sarith Koottalakkal

    build quality really sucks… Crystal cut, anodized or aluminium, whatever. after 3 months use it started scratching the edges of the phone(Black) and the black is becoming white. We cannot expect such ridiculous and pathetic quality from apple that too we are paying plenty of bugs for this crap. Buying it for 700USD, use it 6 months and throw it.. is that apple thinks about their customer…

  • Trg

    I just bought the 5 yesterday. The back seam, where the glass inlays and the metal méet is raised, you can feel it. Anyone know if this is normal?

  • Chris Bryan

    Precision? Its made in china.

  • smily face

    apple is the best selling product

  • smily face

    poeple choose APPLE nothing else not even samsung