Apple's iPhone 4 Screw Job

By  |  Thursday, January 20, 2011 at 1:19 pm

Apple has been notoriously antagonistic towards do-it-yourselfers, preferring their customers have their equipment serviced through the company’s official channels. The Cupertino company may have found another way to foil these handy folks: using rare, hard-to-find screws.

Called “pentabular” screws, their pattern looks similar to a Torx screw, yet different. The best way to describe it probably is flower-shaped. Drivers for these screws aren’t readily available–making it more difficult to perform DIY repairs.

Pentalobe screws are nothing new for Apple: they first appeared on 2009 MacBook Pros to secure the battery, and are currently used to attach the case to the chassis of the MacBook Air. Kyle Wiens at iFixIt, who was first to publicize this issue, accuses Apple of doing this “because [the screw] was new, guaranteeing repair tools would be both rare and expensive. Shame on them.”

He says the screwhead is new, and up until recently the only company with the right tools to remove them was Apple itself. Which would mean you’dl be visiting Apple for any repair, no matter what it is. Cracked screen? No more saving money by getting the parts from a third party.

In true capitalist style, iFixit has used their post to sell an “iPhone Liberation Kit,” which includes a pentalobe screwdriver and two phillips screws to replace their harder-to-remove cousins.  It costs $9.99.

Is Apple within its rights to keep do-it-yourselfers out of its devices? I’d say yes. While I guess you could make the argument that its improper for the company to do so with its computers (which would essentially force obsolescence), with phones the devices were never meant to be upgraded.

What are your thoughts. Is this a screw job on Apple’s part?



14 Comments For This Post

  1. DaleyT Says:

    Of course it's a screw job. As far as I know we are not just licensing the computers or phones from Apple, so they are yours. To do with as you please, including opening the case if you want. Why is this even a question?

  2. @NerdUno Says:

    Once a Soup Nazi, always a Soup Nazi.

  3. Valashtar Says:

    Yes, they are your devices, to do with as you please, up to and including voiding your warranty. One thing to consider is that these screws are only protecting hardware that apple does not consider user-replaceable. You can still add ram and upgrade hdds on macbookpros/iMacs, for example.

    Yes, it is a way to keep people out – opening these screws violates your warranty. I take care not to mess things up, but not everyone does – and not everyone would be honest about doing so. If it’s harder to get into then it’s less hassle for apple to figure it out, and people who are going to void their warranties will do so regardless of the screw type. The truly determined will file down a small flathead and get in no matter what Apple does, just as iFixit did.

  4. @daveycarson Says:

    It's typical, Apple really wants to have control over your user experience, and that means no third party access 🙂


  5. Chris Donahue Says:

    Lowes and Home Depot carries some of the bits(Torx and Torx Security). Not sure about the Pentalobe or Torx Plus though). I've had to use the Torx bits for hard drive disassembly.

  6. @johnbaxter Says:

    Apple can build them the way they want (safety issues as in the 6xxx boxes with the sharp edge above the memory slots aside).

    Would be customers can decide whether or not to be customers.

    And everyone can complain.

  7. Ed Oswald Says:

    John it wouldn’t be news about apple without Somebodys panties in a bunch! Apple’s definitely the new Microsoft when it comes to that.

  8. ahow628 Says:

    Just wait. Next go round, they will put the screws in then drill out the threads. Then the only thing you can do is buy a new one. Boo to Apple on all accounts.

  9. David Says:

    So Apple should make decisions based on whether or not it is easy for customers to access the internals? Are these DIYers strong enough to not pester Apple if they screw something up?

    Here is the thing, how may of the people complaining about this complain about the same thing with respect to their TVs? Their cars? Their appliances? Their game consoles?

    Tell you what, go try to change one of those various embedded chips in you car and see how far you get? Will you go "Booo Ford!"

    Nope. Know why? Most of you know dick about cars so you don't complain even though there are a variety of items you cannot change or would void the warranty if you did.

    This is much ado about nothing.

  10. Rob Says:

    There are good reasons to use the three Torx variants. Torx is better than Phillips because there are more contact points so it slips less, which is why Phillips is better than slotted. Torx Plus may be better than Torx, but I'm not sure there's much difference. Torx Security is used to keep urchins from disassembling public restroom dividers, for example.

    Arguably, the Pentalobe head is stronger than Torx because more of the screw head remains after carving out the cavity for the screwdriver. Given the diminutive size of the screws needed in order to minimize footprint, there might be justification for the design. However, it also occurs to me that the Pentalobe shape might be better suited for automation. The rounded edges might allow a robot to more easily engage a driver to secure the phone's case.

    All of that aside, it may well be that Apple was just looking for a way to keep folks out of their phones. Clearly, determined souls will get in regardless of the screws Apple selects. Maybe Apple just wanted to keep naive folks from making a mess of things which perhaps had led to more service demands than they wanted to handle.

  11. The_Heraclitus Says:

    Here ya go

  12. John del Says:

    You can buy that screwdriver on amazon for $5.99

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