If you've recently had an iPhone 4 serviced or replaced, you might have notice a tiny - very tiny - change in how the device is put together. Apple has switched over to a new tamper-resistant screw impossible to remove with anything but a proprietary tool. Now iFixit has come out with what they call the "iPhone 4 Liberation Kit
" including a tool to extract the new screws so you can replace them with easy-to-remove Phillips screws.
Kyle Wiens at iFixit noticed something odd when he flew to Japan to do the first iPhone 4 teardown. Rather than the standard #00 Phillips-head screw on the case, there was a mysterious, never-before-seen screw that's similar to the one used in the new MacBook Air. These screws were not used on US iPhones, but are starting to show up on devices returned for service. Wiens says that Apple calls this a "Pentalobular" screw in their service manuals. Unable to resist the obvious pun, he recently wrote a blog post
calling the new tamper-resistant screw "a diabolical plot to screw your iPhone." Apparently Apple is also replacing the outer screw with the weird, flower-shaped Pentalobular in new MacBook Pros, iPhone 4s and MacBook Airs, and older computers are also getting the Pentalobular treatment when they are sent in for service. "We've spoken with the Apple Store geniuses tasked with carrying out this policy," Wiens writes, "and they are ashamed of the practice." Only the bulwark screws are Pentalobulars, so the intent is clearly to prevent third-party repair.
In response, iFixit put together the iPhone 4 Liberation Kit, consisting of a driver that will let you extract the Pentalobular, standard #00 Phillips screws and a driver to go with them. The extraction tool is not a true Pentalobular driver, which is only available directly from Apple to authorized repair centers. It may damage the screw head when you remove it, but the intent is to get the Pentalobular out, throw it away, and replace it with a #00 Phillips to you can actually get back in if you need to.
Apple partisans have attempted to defend
this policy, suggesting that it's just Apple's desire for quality control, and that people could otherwise open their iPhones and mess them up, then "go to the Apple Store, complain that it stopped working, and demand a free replacement." But it's not a difficult thing to determine when someone taps a factory-installed screw: look at any product with "no user-serviceable parts inside." There's either a warranty seal or something on the screw itself that makes it tamper-evident. There's no need to use special hardware if all you want to do is determine if a piece of equipment has been opened.
The motivation, as should be obvious, is financial. Apple takes a percentage of all service work done at authorized service centers, and using the Pentalobular means that all
service work in iPhone 4s now has to be done by authorized service technicians who are the only people allowed to have Pentalobular screwdrivers, which they are prohibited from re-selling. "Apple sees a huge profit potential," Wiens notes. "A hundred dollars per year in incremental revenue on their installed base is a tremendous opportunity." The iPhone 4 Liberation Kit is just $9.95