Apple Using Special New Screws So You Can't Open Your iPhone

from the screw-you dept

One of the interesting questions we’ve been looking at for years is whether or not a business is an enabler or a gatekeeper. Being in the gatekeeper business can work for a period of time, but it’s often difficult to sustain. Apple is an interesting company in that it certainly has elements of both, enabling in some areas, but being a very strict gatekeeper in other areas. As if to reinforce this point, Apple is apparently changing the screws on iPhones to make them much harder to open. Apparently, it’s come up with a “pentalobe” design:

Not only that, but if you bring in your iPhone for repairs, Apple will replace the old screws with these new pentalobe screws to keep you from… well… screwing around. The whole thing seems really incredibly pointless. First of all, those who really want to open the phones will figure out ways to do so. I would guess that it won’t take long for tools that work on such screws to hit the market. All this really does is frustrate iPhone owners by making life difficult for them. What possible good does it serve to have a non-standard screw system?

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Comments on “Apple Using Special New Screws So You Can't Open Your iPhone”

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johnjac (profile) says:

Device over user

This is a clear cut way that demonstrates that Apple #1 concern isn’t what’s best for the user, but what is best for the device. While this is frustrating for some users (me included) it does somehow seem to work for them.

To paraphrase a Job’s quote “It isn’ the users responsibility to know what they need/want”

I’m just glad that Android is a choice.

TPBer (profile) says:

Apple Repairs are a Joke

On Dec 24, 2010 I visited an Apple store (North Star) in San Antonio to have my unruly trackpad checked out. I was given an early appointment. They said they would replace the trackpad for $51.00 parts & $39.00 labor, I gave the go ahead. I went back 29 days later to have the repair checked out because it seemed worse than the original, and they called back and once again said it was fixed. I took the Macbook pro back home used it for about 1 hour and realized the problem is still there and somewhat worse with extended use. Went back for a third time they said they would replace it, once again to make sure it was not a hardware issue. Just picked it up today to only find out that this time was the only time they actually replaced the trackpad even though I was charged initially for a new one, the tech only attempted to adjust the original so says the Genius.

They even kept my original receipt and gave me back a bad photocopy.

The whole incident felt like a bad car repair

John Doe says:

You are blaming the wrong company...

This is not entirely Apple’s fault. They have given in to the Craftsman tool empire and developed a new tool. I am sure you will be able to get a set at Sears for $19.95 very soon.

Surely you are familiar with the power Craftsman holds over the tool industry? Why else do you think the US has not switched to metric? So that Sears can sell twice as many tools. 😉

Anonymous Coward says:

Kudos to Techdirt

Kudos for being the only article I read on this topic to not quote iFixit’s owner or provide a link to their website selling the pentalobe screwdriver. While this is a concerning issue, basing your article around someone with an obvious conflict of interest isn’t great from a journalistic standpoint.

Good job, as usual.

ChurchHatesTucker (profile) says:

Not so fast

They’re not necessarily replacing your *screws,* since their MO is to replace the phone entirely. (They then fix the phone/computer/whatever and offer it up as a refurb.)

As for the new, proprietary screws, that may well be an attempt to keep within FCC guidelines (there’s a ton of back-and-forth on that. I’m not even going to attempt to make sense of it.)

So, no you can’t currently get pentalobe screwdrivers. You may or may not be able to get them soon. You CAN get a ‘close enough for one use’ tool from iFixit which will enable you to replace them.

I’m guessing nobody’s totally happy at this point.

Zacqary Adam Green (profile) says:


Why must repair of your own electronics be a geeky thing to do, though? Millions of people change the oil on their own cars or fix leaks in their own faucets, both of which are much more involved processes than replacing a circuit board in a phone.

Disassembling your phone is a geeky thing to do now, and with this, Apple is stating their intention to keep it that way. Instead of empowering people to understand and master technology, they choose to keep the masses ignorant for their own “convenience”.


Anonymous Coward says:

Not so fast

“So, no you can’t currently get pentalobe screwdrivers. You may or may not be able to get them soon. You CAN get a ‘close enough for one use’ tool from iFixit which will enable you to replace them.”

These screwdrivers are already widely available, despite what iFixit claims. Here are two examples from Amazon, which I drummed up in about five seconds:

Steve R. (profile) says:

All Connectors and Similar Devices Should be Standard

There are times when the “free-market” fails us. It amazes me that the “free-market” can amazingly come together in the spirit of cooperation to produce a universal DRM for DVDs but then can’t seem to get its act together for screws and power cords!

Regretfully, this seems to be a case of necessary government regulation. The use of proprietary screws, power cords, and connectors hurts both the economy and the individual.

Anonymous Coward says:

Don’t you see the AMAZING opportunities given by Apple for new businesses ?
Thank to Apple, the monopoly of a few screw designers is down, in fact they OPENED the locked market of screwdrivers !
Think of all these jobs that this decision will create in various fields : Designing screwdrivers, building factories, operating factories…

hegemon13 says:

All Connectors and Similar Devices Should be Standard

“…and power cords!”

Actually, a large number of mobile phone manufacturers have agreed on standardized phone chargers, using a standardized voltage and amperage, and a micro-USB socket.

Besides, this isn’t the “free market” failing anybody. This is competition. If you want a device with non-proprietary parts, you can buy something else. It’s not like Apple is the only option for a mobile phone. That’s what the free market is about: options.

Aaron (profile) says:


My guess is that they did this because they don’t want customers opening up the devices when they break and further break them. They would rather just replace the device with a new one and send the broken one back to be refurbished. Then they can do the refurbish faster, because you did not break more things when you opened it, and make more money on selling the refurbished phone.

Anonymous Coward says:

Not so fast

“There’s a lot of caution about these drivers, since none of them show a closeup of the head.”

You’re absolutely right on this point. I did not intend to show those two links as reputable sellers, but rather to demonstrate that alternatives to iFixit’s screwdriver exist. My original point still stands, which is that iFixit is grossly exaggerating the unavailability of this screwdriver.

ChurchHatesTucker (profile) says:

Not so fast

“My original point still stands, which is that iFixit is grossly exaggerating the unavailability of this screwdriver.”

Well, iFixit states that the driver they’re selling isn’t an actual pentalobe, it’s just a workalike (i.e., close enough for one use.) I suspect that the other retailers are just not quite as upfront about what they’re selling.

Nick says:

Suddenly this is a big deal?

How many countless products before the iPhone had weird screws like this? Videogame consoles and/or cartridges, portable CD and cassette players, irons or other appliances, etc. This is kind of a decades old thing isn’t it? So why is it that because it’s an Apple product it is suddenly an insidious way for those dastardly folks in Cupertino to screw your phone (and you)? (to use the language of the BoingBoing/iFixit headlines I saw last week)

So, iFixit finds (manufactures) a HUGE problem that, conveniently enough, can be solved very easily by sending them $10 for a “liberation kit”. Wow, that is so compelling I can’t even think straight right now.

Anonymous Coward says:

Replacing screws

I can guess the reason why they replace the screws.

On at least the N900 (which by the way uses a more common screw type), if you remove and replace the same screw a few times, the screw will break (as reported on a few forum posts floating around the Internet). The service manual (which one can find floating on the Internet if one looks hard enough) says explicitly that the removed screws should always be discarded and replaced by new ones. That is, the screw is much more fragile than the part it is in. Which makes sense if you stop to think about it – it is much better to have to replace the very inexpensive screw every time you do maintenance on the part, than to risk wearing out the screw hole threads on the more expensive body part, so the screw is designed with less hardness (the N900, much like the iPhone, is an expensive phone).

So what probably is happening with the iPhone is quite simple. The service manual probably says explicitly to discard the used screws and replace with new ones (else the screws would end up breaking). ALL the new screws for that part are of the new uncommon type. So, whenever the phone is opened, the screws get replaced with the new “special” ones. No malice needed to explain the screw replacement.

The place where one could find malice, then, is only in the choice of the new kind of screw for that particular set of screw holes.

weneedhelp (profile) says:

Apple Repairs are a Joke

NEVER let the store do the repair. Ask for them to send it in for a depot repair. 99% of the time we get the machine back within 24 hours.

“even though I was charged initially for a new one, the tech only attempted to adjust the original so says the Genius.”
Call Apple directly and report them.

Jiminy Cricket (profile) says:

Suddenly this is a big deal?

You are missing the point. If I need my sleep button repaired, and I go to an Apple Store, they take out my PERFECTLY WORKING phillips screws, and replace them with pentalobes. Why? Why is there a need to take an affirmative action that PREVENTS me from repairing the device on my own in the future? If my home button breaks, I can fix that easy. Well, except in my above example, they removed the screws I could remove, and replaced them with ones I cannot. That is the definition of a jerk move.

Michael Long (profile) says:

Suddenly this is a big deal?

As mentioned above, if you’re phone is broken they probably will not fix it in the store. They’ll swap SIM cards and give you a new (probably refurbished) phone.

And funny how you mention the home button, as that may well be the ONLY part you could possibly fix on your own. Unless you have a stock of proprietary iPhone motherboards, displays, and batteries on hand, of course.

Michael Long (profile) says:

Device over user

What’s best for most users is to bring the phone in for repair by an authorized dealer and not make matters worse by opening it up in a dusty, non-static-free environment.

The Retina screen is custom, the motherboard is custom, the battery is custom, and all of them are shoehorned into a space that couldn’t even hold a spare business card. In short, there’s practically NOTHING a typical user (or even a typical geek) could repair or replace anyway.

TPBer (profile) says:

Apple Repairs are a Joke

It was a nightmare but I really wanted to fix the trackpad since they said they would actually replace it, I should have been suspicious of the alleged Genius 🙂

They actually wanted to give me a refund by having me drive from the Schertz area (20 miles round trip) so they could credit my card, I replied by telling them to keep the money and I will report this on TechDirt.

Maybe this will get their attention.

TPBer (profile) says:

Apple Repairs are a Joke

I did report it and specifically requested no contact from that store in any way. Guess what, 20 min. later the store manager called and tried to back pedal saying they did replace it even after the tech this am told me all the initial tech did was to attempt to readjust the orig.

I should have asked for the original part just like I would to an unknown auto mechanic.

Anonymous Coward says:

Kudos to Techdirt

“What’s ironic, is that you’re saying kudos to the site, while you actually mean the opposite.”

How do I actually mean the opposite? My post was not sarcastic. I really did mean to give kudos to Techdirt for not including iFixit’s spurious claims like all of the other articles I read.

Again, my original comment was not sarcastic. Are you so thin-skinned that you see an attack in a comment that only makes positive remarks?

Jesus Christ, I regret trying to make a nice, honest statement on the fucking internet.

Cynyr (profile) says:

Device over user

I would just like to point out that just about every other smartphone sold these days has a user accessible battery. With daily charge cycles(probably the norm on the iPhone as well) how long will the battery continue to hold a charge? With my phone I simply buy a new battery from a host of suppliers and go on with my day. Also I can buy a second battery, keep it charged, and be back up and running in the time it takes to reboot the phone. Not 3-5 hours while the phone charges, longer if all i have is normal computer based USB to charge from.

BTW, the MT4G(t-mobile MyTouch 4g) is only 1.6mm thicker than an iphone4, it is, however, slightly wider.

iPhone 4: 5.4″x2.31″x0.37″ 4.8oz 4.6153 cu-in
MT4G: 4.8″x2.44″x0.43″ 5.4oz 5.0361 cu-in

Overall there is 0.4 cu-in more space in my phone and under the cover is access to the uSD card, and SIM.

So in short apart from making the phone very very slightly smaller there is not reason for the non-removable battery, or the lack of uSD storage.

Anonymous Coward says:

One reason why they are doing this:

To detect phone tampering.

Lets say you buy a phone and then open it up and mess with it, and you fry it. You take it back to the store and say it fried, they replace it under warranty.

With these kind of screws, they can see tool marks and tell the phone has been opened and potentially tampered with, and investigate further.

I wouldn’t be shocked if they are doing it due to an increase in insurance claims on them or something as well. I know of a few people who have had older phones who wanted to trade up, and couldn’t, so they purposely broke the phone in a way that wasn’t obvious to collect the insurance on it.

Ok, its a bit far fetched, but if there is a sudden increase in returns and stuff, doing something like this could be to make sure the returns are for legit problems.

Nick says:

Suddenly this is a big deal?

No, I am not missing the point of the article. I understand perfectly well that people do not like the weird screws, and I understand WHY they do not like them. However, I was not commenting on the morality of pentalobe screws. I was asking why it is suddenly such a huge issue.

If you read some of the headlines last week and watched the iFixit video, you would think that these screws mark the entrance into all-new territory of corporate evil. They were actually using language like “diabolical” and “insidious” and bullshit like that. Fortunately, the comments on these websites were choke full of artfully constructed arguments and presented with great tact and consideration. *eye roll*

I was asking why, after many years of many companies making many products that have weird screws and are difficult to take apart and so on, is this suddenly some new level of evil being imposed on customers? Especially since the solution is to buy a $4 screwdriver, which the iFixit people are more than happy to sell you as part of their “liberation pack”.

Sure, it’s an inconvenience (albeit a VERY minor one), but the level of outrage is manufactured. With the iFixit people leading the charge in the hopes that you’ll be angry enough to send them $10 for a couple screwdrivers.

Atkray (profile) says:

Device over user

A nod to beauty being in the eye of the beholder, but if you had ever seen the inside of a transmission on a new car (I do quite regularly) you would have picked something else. They are not at all pretty and the lubricants being used these days all have very disagreeable odors, some strong enough to make you want to puke.

Amazon has the screwdrivers for these.

Chris Maresca (profile) says:

Device over user

I’ve done both (transmission and really small electronics). I have a bench full of electronics testing & manufacturing equipment (more than any Apple repair facility… I seriously doubt they have reflow ovens) and a shop full of CNC machines capable of making pretty much any part in any piece of machinery new or old.

Are you telling me that I can’t fixing [insert widget here] I bought or at least break it trying?

Sorry, no. That’s just a stupid attitude. Esp. since I have all the tools to _machine_ a bit for the ‘security’ screws…

Ben (profile) says:


This is not a non-story, it is a long line of examples of Apple’s increasing lock down of their products. Many people repair phones, swap old batteries, and replace broken components. No different than doing so with computers and laptops. Before the iPhone I repaired my Blackberry quite often and there are many others as well. The iPhone was by no means a watershed moment for taking apart phones.

First, the problem was I never had to buy some geeky tool to disassemble my phone. The screws used by every other major manufacturer were pretty much Phillips or Torx. I have been using the same precision set of tools since I was a kid. The move to new screws is just another roadblock Apple throws up for no other reason then to prevent people from opening up their phone and doing their own repairs: another example – integrated batteries on Macbooks and over engineered cases on iMacs (much more difficult to swap drives these days).

Second, they are changing the screws on the phone when they repair it. So if there was something I wanted to repair under warranty they would be now putting up another roadblock.

If I had done a warranty repair recently and they replaced the screws and I hadn’t noticed (more than likely), I would have been pissed. A couple of days ago I dropped my iPhone 4 in a puddle outside work by accident. Luckily I was able to get it inside and take off the back case and remove the battery because the screen stopped working and I couldn’t power it down. I used my same old trusty set of precision tools, took off the back, removed the battery connection (screwed in by the way) and proceeded to take the phone apart and dry it out. I got out all the water, and the phone after reassembling works perfect. Now if they had those stupid new screws and I hadn’t known, I would have had a dead phone. Instead I was able to use my existing industry standard tools to fix my own phone. Big warning flag for me.

That is why this is not a non-story. Every year Apple pushes the envelope of what they lock down. Step by step, they make it harder for regular people to do simple repairs and funnel more and more people to Apple stores where they can make a buck off you. Apple products, Apple store, Apple screws, Apple Apps etc. further and further down the lock down hole making it harder for people to switch or repair phones. I like Apple products, but if they continue to do these sort of things, my iPhone 4 will be the last Apple product I buy.

indeciSEAN (profile) says:

Device over user


I’ve seen lots of people up in arms about this, and I just can’t wrap my head around their whining and entitlement issues to appreciate it as a real concern.

I don’t work for ’em, but I’ve spent enough time over the years on hold with Apple Care or waiting in line at the Genius Bar to have a bit of sympathy when it comes to the volume of troubleshooting they’ve got to do…..and how much of that troubleshooting is with complete morons who don’t know what they’re doing and break their device. I know multiple people who’ve decided it’s not worth being without their phone for a day or two, and take it upon themselves to “fix it”…and then when they do REAL damage, go in to an Apple Store with an attitude — wasting the employee’s time, AND the time of people like you or I.

Like software modding, if you want to take the risks involved with it, you’re responsible for whatever happens……if you want to muck with your hardware/glass/case/whatever……go buy the $5 screwdriver and don’t take it out on everyone else if something goes wrong.

BTW, I’m not saying Apple is infallible, but this just isn’t a hill worth dying on in my opinion; I’ve seen lots of “this is the LAST straw” and “I’m done with Apple because of this, you shouldn’t keep me out of MY device that I PAID for” type commentary…and…well…I guess be thankful your life’s easy enough that such concerns are the biggest problem you’re living with?

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