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Hardware Hacking Iphone Apple Build Hardware

The Case of Apple's Mystery Screw 845

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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  • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) * on Friday January 21, 2011 @11:21AM (#34952828)

    This screw design was patented in - 1974. Yeah keep that conspiracy going, boys. Especially when the screwdriver costs $2.35.

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

    by santax ( 1541065 ) on Friday January 21, 2011 @11:24AM (#34952890) [] Don't even have to go that far! iPhone 4 opening tool for $2.97
  • by colmore ( 56499 ) on Friday January 21, 2011 @11:25AM (#34952924) Journal

    So explain the switch. If they aren't doing this to screw the aftermarket and do more costly repairs themselves, why the change?

  • speed bumps (Score:3, Informative)

    by goombah99 ( 560566 ) on Friday January 21, 2011 @11:27AM (#34952958)

    Apple likes speed bump security. They did it on the music system. THey create technical obstacles to casual piracy but don't worry about locking it down. I noticed in my imac and powerbook computers the clever use of different screw types for regions that should be easy for a user to access and ones that it would likely not be neccessary for a user to access or might contain fragile parts. very smart.

    I've also admites the way apple, unlike Dell and others, minimizes the number of screw types in use so I usually only need 2 tools to get in. this nice detail has become more consistent with each generation of mac.

    SO now we have a 5 sided screw. So it discourages casual opening but prevents absolutely no one from getting inside if they want to.

  • by joe_cot ( 1011355 ) on Friday January 21, 2011 @11:30AM (#34953016) Homepage
    A quick Google found a cheap and easy kit [] for removing and replacing these screws. You can probably get the screwdriver alone for less.

    My guess is that the point, like most roadblocks on customers, is to discourage casual hobbyists from messing with their devices. Everyone else can get around it pretty easily.
  • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) * on Friday January 21, 2011 @11:31AM (#34953052)

    I have sex in the missionary position too.

  • by swilde23 ( 874551 ) on Friday January 21, 2011 @11:32AM (#34953068) Journal
    Where in his post does he claim that wasn't the reason for the switch. It appears to me that that he was just pointing out that this wasn't some new technology... it's just an uncommonly used one.
  • by idontgno ( 624372 ) on Friday January 21, 2011 @11:33AM (#34953098) Journal

    I can't believe you passed up the opportunity. []

    And, in the spirit of actually being immediately helpful, The Register's [] article about this subject had a link [] to a kit with the appropriate screwdriver and replacement non-bondange-and-domination Phillips screws for an iPhone 4. Just don't take it to any Apple service outlet after that; as TFA points out, they'll undo your work and put those ridiculous screws back in.

  • Re:speed bumps (Score:5, Informative)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Friday January 21, 2011 @11:34AM (#34953118) Journal
    When did you last open a Dell?

    They are, admittedly, ugly fuckers; but every desktop of theirs that I've dealt with in the past 4 or 5 years has been held together with a mixture of screwless plastic pieces(they've standardized on green as a visual code for "this plastic piece is an FRU) and hex-head phillips screws that can be removed with either a phillips or hex tool. Usually all the same length, too.

    Laptops tend to have some variation in length, and don't feature the convenient dual hex/phillips; but you can take the entire laptop to bits with a single phillips screwdriver, and each screw hole is labelled with the length of the screw that goes into it(ugly, yes, convenient, also yes...)

    Toshiba, on the other hand...
  • by karnal ( 22275 ) on Friday January 21, 2011 @11:35AM (#34953146)
  • Re:Yay! (Score:4, Informative)

    by JoeRandomHacker ( 983775 ) on Friday January 21, 2011 @11:37AM (#34953168)

    Except, of course, that penta- is from the Greek; quint- would be the Latin.

  • Re:While annoying... (Score:5, Informative)

    by venicebeach ( 702856 ) on Friday January 21, 2011 @11:37AM (#34953170) Homepage Journal

    When I google "torx 5 point" sans quotes i get a ton of results for suitable bits. Does Apple have some special version that are incompatible with these?

    Yes. This is not a Torx 5-point. The points of the star have been rounded into "lobes". The "iPhone Liberation Kit" being sold by ifixit will open the screws but does not actually fit them precisely so it will ruin them on the way out. They are selling it so you can get the pentalobular screws out and replace them. I suspect the other $2.35 tool people are linking to is the same thing.

  • by kcitren ( 72383 ) on Friday January 21, 2011 @11:37AM (#34953190)
    Gee, the screwdriver is also being sold on a site linked to in the article. []
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 21, 2011 @11:58AM (#34953582)

    You missed the point. The parent wasn't stating that the age of the patent made it niche, he was saying that the limited availability or knowledge of the alternative fastener was a poor mans security through obscurity.

    I think everyone I know, and I mean everyone, has a Philips head screwdriver. My grandmother, my boss, I have three at my desk, dozens at home. They are cheap, available, and everyone has one.

    Tri-wing, star, and other screw shapes are less common. Most hardware stores do not even carry tri-wing screwdrivers in stock. Learning devices for small children commonly use star or tri-wing screws because it makes it harder for an enterprising child to simply open the back with a tool they could find pretty much anywhere.

    These screws are more rare, and the hardware is therefore harder to come by. The only reason to adopt this screw style is to make it more difficult for the average consumer to open the device. It is clearly not intended to be a barrier for the "serious" tinkerer-- they, like me, probably have these screwdrivers already. It is intended to stop the casual teenager from opening the device to see how it works.

    It's stupid, pointless posturing on the part of company that wants to make sure it's product stays "secure", "safe", and "easy to use" for the majority of the population.

  • by morgan_greywolf ( 835522 ) on Friday January 21, 2011 @12:05PM (#34953738) Homepage Journal

    It says right on that page:

    This is NOT the correct size screwdriver for external screws on the iPhone 4. That driver can be found here: 5-point iPhone 4 driver

    Furthermore, it's clear that Apple's pentalobular screwdriver is not the same pentalobular screwdriver that was patented in 1974 and widely available today for ~$2 and that the screwdriver that you does work to take them out is less than perfect.

    We recommend you use this driver to remove the 5-point screws and replace them with the equivalent Phillips screws, and not for repeated disassembly and reassembly of your phone. This driver does not meet the quality standards we usually require for our tools, however it is currently the best solution available. It is not an industrial or heavy duty tool. May have some slight misalignment of the shaft or tip.

    IOW, GP is full of shit.

  • Re:Thieves (Score:4, Informative)

    by bhcompy ( 1877290 ) on Friday January 21, 2011 @12:09PM (#34953822)
    Auto mechanics are required to offer you your old parts back after replacement in some parts of the country. They're your parts, you bought them.
  • Re:Yay! (Score:4, Informative)

    by Phreakiture ( 547094 ) on Friday January 21, 2011 @12:24PM (#34954064) Homepage

    Correct. Latin would be something like "quitilobular" (lobe being one of those cases where Latin took a word from Greek -- lobos -> lobus)

    However, composite graco-latin words are not unheard of . . . automobile, for instance, might rather be suimobile or autokineticon, were it to be a pure construct, something that was brought to my attention here on /. when I criticized the word "pentavirate".

  • Re:Yay! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Moryath ( 553296 ) on Friday January 21, 2011 @12:48PM (#34954512)

    First, that link requires registration. Yuck.

    I prescribe Bugmenot [] to solve that.

    Second, IIRC from Pharm School, expiration dates are legally mandated by the FDA to be when the active ingredient(s) degrade to 90% efficacy?

    You're completely wrong.

    Alternate link to harvard []:

    It turns out that the expiration date on a drug does stand for something, but probably not what you think it does. Since a law was passed in 1979, drug manufacturers are required to stamp an expiration date on their products. This is the date at which the manufacturer can still guarantee the full potency and safety of the drug.

    Most of what is known about drug expiration dates comes from a study conducted by the Food and Drug Administration at the request of the military. With a large and expensive stockpile of drugs, the military faced tossing out and replacing its drugs every few years. What they found from the study is 90% of more than 100 drugs, both prescription and over-the-counter, were perfectly good to use even 15 years after the expiration date.

  • by denzacar ( 181829 ) on Friday January 21, 2011 @01:19PM (#34955136) Journal

    From TFA: []

    This isn't the first time Apple has used screws to gain an advantage. Apple had been using 5-point Torx screws for its MacBook Pros, not standard 6-point Torx screws."We did a little bit of research and found out that this particular screw has been patented," Wiens says. "It is illegal to import screwdrivers that can open this screw into the U.S. unless you buy it through Apple's sales channels. Apple sells the screwdriver for $40." (Wiens doesn't know if the Pentalobular screws have been patented.)

    So I guess if you smuggle one of those penta(hahaha)lobular screwdrivers into USA you'll be an OUTLAAAW! []

  • Re:Yay! (Score:5, Informative)

    by LynnwoodRooster ( 966895 ) on Friday January 21, 2011 @02:37PM (#34956564) Journal

    iTunes is not their best work, but is far superior to Windows Media 1-99 (whatever version we are up to now).

    Except that I've never needed to use Windows Media Player to update ANYTHING on my Windows Mobile phone. In fact, I can simply drag and drop whatever I want, just like the phone is another memory device... Why do I need a special program to access my phone in the first place?

  • Re:Yay! (Score:3, Informative)

    by BitZtream ( 692029 ) on Friday January 21, 2011 @04:17PM (#34958186)

    Except this has been done time and time again, and Sony has already been on the bandwagon, and Apple has certainly done the same thing in the past for opening Mac products.

    How quick we forget.

    Got a Wii? Custom screw heads. Guess what, when you but any 'repair kit' most will have the option to bundle the special 3 blade funky looking screw head with the kit. Thats just the first popular thing that comes to my head that slashdotters will know of for sure. I have a Hitachi Plasma TV, want to replace the bulbs? Its got some funky screw I've never seen before ... looks actually like its just begging to have the head stripped out due to its design. Ever worked on a car? There are thousands of places that require special tools to do the work properly in your car, some of them for engineering reasons, many of them because it limits what the owner can do without any experience.

    Lots of products do this, it takes exactly 0 seconds from the time the product is released to the time you can buy a screwdriver to unscrew it. Seriously, I'll even do the work for you: []

    You'll find that its rather crowded with stupid crap relating directly to apple at the moment due to the silly buzz about this, but once that dies back down you'll find a nice list of places to buy the screw drivers. If you bother to wade through the results now, you'll already have found a place to buy it by the time you reach the third link as I write this.

    'special tools required' for disassembly is not a new practice, Apple didn't invent this, Sony has done it as well.

    Nor did they invent a 'new screw head'. They took advantage of something that was already there, just rare, made so intentionally for this VERY purpose by the manufactures of said screws. Rare, but not so rare as to be unavailable or to have no tools source.

    I can remember the same thing 25 years ago with Torx head screws and bolts. Torx drivers were hard to find in the US so the end result was the same, it made it so Joe the Plumber couldn't just go take apart the device, unless he happen to have a set of Torx drivers or bits ... which certain people had ... and you could buy from Montgomery Wards if you just bothered to open the catalog and order it.

    Could we please stop submitting stories that treat standard operating procedures as new and wholely evil things just because they happen to occur at a popular company? ITS NOT EVEN NEW FOR THE FREAKING COMPANY THE ARTICLE IS ABOUT.

    Just because you found some new reason to rage against the machine today, doesn't mean its actually new or news to anyone else. This particular bit of asshatery on Apples part is common practice and knowledge. If we're going to have news for nerds can we please not bring up something that every geek that qualifies for a geek card has known for most of her/his life as it was new ... especially when its been going on longer than we've all been alive. Yes, even the original Ford assembly line used rare tools to slow down casual tinkering and IP theft.

"Never face facts; if you do, you'll never get up in the morning." -- Marlo Thomas