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Hardware Hacking Iphone Apple Build Hardware

The Case of Apple's Mystery Screw 845

Posted by Soulskill
from the licensing-the-operation-of-the-circuitry-inside dept.
Pickens writes "Network World reports that in the past if you wanted to remove the outer case on your iPhone 4 to replace the battery or a broken screen, you could use a Phillips screwdriver to remove two tiny screws at the base of the phone and then simply slide off the back cover. But now Apple is replacing the outer screw with a mysterious tamper-resistant 'pentalobular' screw across its most popular product lines, making it harder for do-it-yourselfers to make repairs. What about existing products in the field? Pentalobular screws might find their way into them, too. 'Apple's latest policy will make your blood boil,' says Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit. 'If you take your iPhone 4 into Apple for any kind of service, they will sabotage it by replacing your Phillips screws with the new, tamper-resistant screws. We've spoken with the Apple Store geniuses tasked with carrying out this policy, and they are ashamed of the practice.' Of course, only Apple-authorized service technicians have Pentalobular screwdrivers and they're not allowed to resell them. 'Apple sees a huge profit potential,' says Wiens. 'A hundred dollars per year in incremental revenue on their installed base is a tremendous opportunity.'"
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The Case of Apple's Mystery Screw

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  • Yay! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Pojut (1027544) on Friday January 21, 2011 @11:20AM (#34952798) Homepage

    Thanks, Apple! I love being told I'm a fucking idiot and shouldn't be allowed to open my PURCHASED device, should I choose to do so.

    Yes, that goes for all companies that use screwy screws like this.

  • Re:Yay! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nicholas22 (1945330) on Friday January 21, 2011 @11:23AM (#34952862)
    To be brutally honest, you shouldn't have purchased an Apple device if you valued your freedoms THAT much... It is a well documented and thoroughly slashdotted subject this.
  • Thieves (Score:5, Insightful)

    by orzetto (545509) on Friday January 21, 2011 @11:25AM (#34952912)

    Apple technicians have been ordered to replace the Phillip screws with Pentalobular screws in every device they service, according to Wiens. Apparently, you won't get your Phillip screws back.

    Isn't that called theft?

  • by Dunbal (464142) * on Friday January 21, 2011 @11:25AM (#34952920)

    type pentalobular screwdriver in google - how fucking hard can that be?

  • by gurps_npc (621217) on Friday January 21, 2011 @11:28AM (#34952976) Homepage
    1. Blacksmiths still exist. As do metal workshops. I live in Manhattan and have made simple tools. It is not that hard to create your own screwdriver - even of odd shapes.

    2. Yes, special screwdrivers will stop the casual tinker, but not a business man, or any other determined person. This is why most normal businesses do not use weird screws as security. The idea just pisses off your customers WITHOUT in anyway affecting competitors.

    3. Apple has always been a control freak of a company. Luckily, their are other products out there that are cheaper, just as well built, that encourage more tinkering (aka android).

  • Re:Pentalobe... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by KDEnut (1673932) on Friday January 21, 2011 @11:29AM (#34952990)
    Meh, I made one using my dremel and a spare hex shank from a driver set. If any DIY'er can't do THAT then they probably don't need to be inside their phone anyway.

    Or be called a DIY'er, come to think of it.
  • Funny (Score:5, Insightful)

    by alvinrod (889928) on Friday January 21, 2011 @11:29AM (#34952998)
    The funny part is that if you read TFA, you'll notice that for $10, they offer to sell you a screwdriver to "fix" this problem.

    So go ahead, set your iPhone free with our iPhone 4 Liberation Kit! Rid your phone of those terrible Pentalobe screws forever. The $9.95 kit includes a Pentalobe driver, 2 replacement PHILLIPS screws, and a regular #00 Phillips screwdriver.

    I suppose they weren't selling all that many of these so they decided to go ahead and do some mud-raking to generate sales. You can even get one of these screwdrivers for less if you shop around. How about iFixit's diabolical plan to screw you out of a few dollars on tools?

  • Don't buy Apple? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by nikomen (774068) on Friday January 21, 2011 @11:30AM (#34953036)
    Just another reason to buy an Android phone and not an iPhone. Maybe I'll buy a PC laptop instead of that MacBook Pro I was thinking of buying in case they decide to pull crap like this on their other lines of products.
  • Re:You know (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dunbal (464142) * on Friday January 21, 2011 @11:33AM (#34953090)

    If Microsoft did this, somehow the screws would allow hackers to remotely take over your system. Five years from now a patch would be applied in the form of masking tape over the screw heads.

  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn&gmail,com> on Friday January 21, 2011 @11:37AM (#34953186) Journal

    This screw design was patented in - 1974. Yeah keep that conspiracy going, boys.

    I don't know what the screw design patent has to do with it, it's more the fact that the average household does not have a pentalobular screwdriver. I'm reminded of Tim Wu's proposition that there were two Apples [slashdot.org]: Steve Wozniak's and Steve Jobs'.

    There is no conspiracy, it's just another omen that we have moved so far away from Wozniak's Apple that we are seeing this in Jobs' Apple. There's no question who's been making the most money but the days of Apple encouraging the user and hobbyist to open up their products and tinker and learn are over. Wozniak's Apple is dead. This is no conspiracy. This is simply fact; the final screw in the hobbyist's ass is yet more unneeded evidence indicating this.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday January 21, 2011 @11:43AM (#34953296) Journal
    I can understand switching away from Phillips, since those suckers strip pretty badly even in larger sizes, and strip like it's their job in smaller ones; but switching to some totally oddball screw type, as opposed to one of the various fairly standardized strip-resistant heads already in use in electronics and elsewhere seems like a dick move.
  • Re:Yay! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 21, 2011 @11:44AM (#34953324)

    Don't be defensive and taking it personally. They don't REALLY think you're an idiot. They don't REALLY think you'll break your device.

    They just want to CHARGE you for 100% of device maintenance and support. It's $$$, not smarts.

    Making these things about skills and smarts is a disservice to ALL CONSUMERS b/c it gives CREDIBILITY to the company's bogus argument that this prevents unskilled consumers from causing damage and driving up support costs for everybody since #1 most consumers skilled or not will never open the device anyways and #2 of the ones who do, the % who open the device, break it, AND then try to get free support is VANISHINGLY SMALL in actual honesty.

  • Re:Thieves (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jayme0227 (1558821) on Friday January 21, 2011 @11:46AM (#34953352) Journal

    Not if you agree to it in the service agreement they make you sign.

  • Re:Pentalobe... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by idontgno (624372) on Friday January 21, 2011 @11:57AM (#34953562) Journal

    The hardcore DIY community isn't the target of this change. They'll do whatever it takes.

    Don't forget, Apple is not really a computer company any more. It's an consumer electronics company. They sell to consumers, not geeks. (Geeks buy anyway, because the engineering is great, but again that's clearly the minority case.)

    Consumers have Phillips screwdrivers in the tool box. Consumers may try to save a few dozen bucks trying to replace the battery in their iPod or upgrade the mass storage in their iPad. Apple doesn't want that to happen, for a variety of reasons. For instance, most Apple products truly have no user-serviceable components at the skill level of most Apple customers. Apple probably wants inept DIY attempts to fail as expensively as possible--full-price off-the-shelf replacement ("You voided your warranty, and killed your iPhone. You'll have to buy anew."), expensive service work, etc. And in the few cases where there are genuinely user-serviceable bits in the product, Apple still wants to capture the service money.

  • by danielsfca2 (696792) on Friday January 21, 2011 @12:05PM (#34953728) Journal

    the average household does not have a pentalobular screwdriver... the days of Apple encouraging the user and hobbyist to open up their products and tinker and learn are over. Wozniak's Apple is dead. This is no conspiracy. This is simply fact; the final screw in the hobbyist's ass is yet more unneeded evidence indicating this.

    The average household? Seriously? The average household has never stocked ANY tiny screwdrivers, be they Phillips like the old screws, Torx, or this "new" one. The average household has a #2 Phillips, an old fashioned slotted screwdriver for stupid things like switchplates that still use them, and a hammer. Probably a few leftover allen wrenches from Ikea. Anything more exotic than that pretty much requires a trip to Radio Shack, or a $5 order from some website. Therefore, almost nothing has changed. In fact, I got a nice little screwdriver for FREE with the kit the times I changed batteries and screens and things. The average household doesn't disassemble electronics, not least because they would rather not void their warranty.

    Quit being so dramatic. "Wozniak's Apple," as you put it, existed in a world where computers cost a lot of money, were only purchased by skilled electronics experts or those planning to become experts, and needed to be modified to do pretty much anything. That world has been gone for more than 20 years. Today, computers (and tiny computers called "smartphones") are a mature technology, of which the target market is 99.9% made up of NON-experts, who don't take things apart and don't want to. The fact that it's been this long and you still expect there to be some kind of huge "enthusiast" contingent who are soldering things onto the boards of their Apple IIs, just ends up sounding naive.

    The market has gone towards simple, integrated, and (especially in portable devices like laptops and cell phones)--SMALL. You can't have those things and still be "tinker-friendly." Will a few people still take these devices apart to tinker and to perform some repairs (like the battery) more cheaply? You bet. I do it too.

    I think if Apple were trying to screw those people, they would seal the iPhone completely so that you had to break plastic to open it, and, coat the board in epoxy like they do with some consoles [xbox-scene.com].

  • Re:Yay! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mark72005 (1233572) on Friday January 21, 2011 @12:20PM (#34953998)
    I think this is deplorable too, but:

    Isn't it really just a matter of (very little) time until ebay and many other websites are flooded with the new tool available for purchase?

    I mean, I don't think Apple can invent a geometric figure for a screwdriver point that no one else can manufacture.
  • by swb (14022) on Friday January 21, 2011 @12:23PM (#34954052)

    It's just my opinion, but Philips screw heads are only slightly better than slotted heads. It's still very easy to torque out of the opening. Square drive, Hex/Allen, Torx all allow much more torque to be applied to the screw without stripping the head. I notice in commercial applications, where driving a large number of fasteners quickly is important (home decking, trailer flooring) you almost always see square or Torx drive heads due to the positive driver/head linkup and the high torque that can be applied.

    The non-conspiracy version of this story isn't that Apple's trying to screw the end user, but that they're using Loctite or some other screw fixative on the screws, the screws are torqued in tight and they have a history of stripping the screws to get them out.

    I just find it curious they would use pentalobe instead of Torx, or to demonstrate some meanness, security torx.

  • Sony Screwdriver (Score:3, Insightful)

    by GrantRobertson (973370) on Friday January 21, 2011 @01:25PM (#34955266) Homepage Journal

    What? You never heard of a Sony screwdriver? When I worked at the California Museum of Science and Industry in LA back in the late 80s, they sent me to a training class to learn how to work on the Sony 3/4 video tape players - which we used a lot in the museum because they had better video quality and were built like tanks. Anyway, only people who had attended that class were allowed to purchase a special screwdriver that would work with certain screws in that VCR.

    Tamper resistant screws have been around for ages. The problem isn't the screws. The problem is using them to jack up revenues at the customer's expense for things that could otherwise be easily done by an average customer or electronics technician. In Sony's case the screws only protected parts of the VCR that one would not know how to adjust properly if one had not taken the class. In Apple's case the screws only protect Apple's bottom line.

    In the years since the iPod came out Apple has shown their true nature. Anyone who has purchased an Apple product since then deserves what they get and should not complain.

  • Re:Yay! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mister Whirly (964219) on Friday January 21, 2011 @01:50PM (#34955752) Homepage
    You may be able to patent the screws, but I doubt you could patent the removal tool so much that no third party could manufacture them. (Apple once again showing their brilliant "security through obscurity" ideals.) I can guarantee that within months there will be multiple companies manufacturing these pentalobe screwdrivers, and selling them publicly to anyone. So congratulations Apple, you are pissing off your loyal customers to gain a small time frame when the tool is hard to come by. And switching out existing customers standard screws if they bring in their phones for any type of service? Tsk tsk. That is pretty underhanded.
  • Re:Yay! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NevarMore (248971) on Friday January 21, 2011 @01:59PM (#34955924) Homepage Journal

    Yea because the Chinese manufacturers and Harbor Freight and eBay are going to be on the ball at keeping penobular tools out of their inventories.

    Lets not forget that its a standard screw. The only reason its hard to work with is that its on a relatively fragile and expensive piece of electronics. Dremeling a slot in it might damage the device, but a small counterclockwise drillbit or screw-out tool and a steady hand will git 'er done too.

  • Re:Yay! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by JPLemme (106723) on Friday January 21, 2011 @02:10PM (#34956070)
    Honestly your post looks like someone who was set in their ways and simply unwilling to do things differently.

    Would it be unsporting to point out that you responded to an anecdotal argument ("Repeatedly my iPhone has been wiped when connecting to iTunes") with an anecdotal argument ("I have never had my phone wiped by connecting to iTunes"). If you're going to accuse the GP of being unwilling to do things differently, you might want to try doing something differently.

    I have never owned an iPhone, and therefore conclude that Apple has never sold one. Did I do that right?
  • Re:Yay! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by shmlco (594907) on Friday January 21, 2011 @06:50PM (#34960414) Homepage

    The Retina screen is a proprietary part. The motherboard is custom and proprietary. The battery is custom and proprietary. Just what in the hell are you going to "repair" even if you managed to get the darn thing open?

    The whole thing is overblown.

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