iPad Air Retina display has fewer backlights, costs more than Apple's previous models

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The high-resolution Retina display found in Apple's fifth-generation iPad Air is more efficient, accomplishing the same level of brightness with less than half as many LED lights, according to a new teardown analysis.

Details and estimates on the components Apple uses in the iPad Air have been shared by research firm IHS to AllThingsD, which published the information on Tuesday. IHS estimates that the total cost for Apple's low-end, 16-gigabyte, Wi-Fi-only iPad Air is $274, which is $42 cheaper than the company's third-generation iPad is estimated to have cost the company to build.

Though the iPad Air is estimated to be cheaper to build, some components came with higher costs —  namely the 9.7-inch Retina display. While in the previous two generations, Apple relied on 84 LED lights for screen brightness, Apple is now said to be achieving that brightness more efficiently with just 36 LED lights.

Those lights may be brighter, but Apple is also said to be using optical film layers that distribute light across the display, according to Andrew Rassweiler, analyst with IHS. The use of these thin layers allows Apple to use fewer LEDs, which reduces device weight and power needs. The iPad Air shaves nearly a half-pound off its predecessors, coming in at just 1 pound.While the third- and fourth-generation iPad displays used 84 LED lights, the iPad Air reportedly uses just 36 LEDs.

IHS also told AllThingsD it estimates that the display and touchscreen assembly in the iPad Air now have a cost of about $133 to Apple, $90 of which is for the display alone. That's said to cost a great deal more than before, suggesting Apple managed to save significantly on other components to reduce overall costs.

Other discoveries made in the IHS teardown:

  • While previous iPad models used two panes of glass, the iPad Air uses just one, reducing thickness.
  • Apple's A7 chip is estimated to cost $18, which would be $5 less per unit than the A5 was estimated to cost a year and a half ago.
  • The iPad Air's LTE chip can support all U.S. wireless carriers, unlike the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c.
  • IHS estimates Apple achieves 45 percent gross margin with the 16-gigabyte Wi-Fi-only iPad Air, going up to 61 percent on the maxed-out 128-gigabyte LTE-capable version.