16 Comments

Summary:

Apple may be trying to make it harder for users to repair or upgrade their own hardware, according to iFixit. New iPhones and recent MacBook Pro and Air models are shipping with a new kind of non-standard anti-tampering screw securing their outside and battery cases.

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Apple may be trying to make it harder for users to repair or upgrade their own hardware, according to iFixit’s Kyle Wiens. New iPhones and recent MacBook Pro and Air models are shipping with a new kind of non-standard screw securing the outside and battery cases of these products.

Since the screws aren’t readily compatible with any standard screwdriver that a user may have (unlike the Phillips screws they replace), users wanting to crack the case on their own devices and effect repairs at home will be out of luck. On the iPhone and MacBook Air, the new screws will make it harder to get any access to the internals of either device at all, and on the MacBook Pro, they protect the battery, making it even trickier to replace.

The new screw type, called “Pentalobe” because of its five-pointed design, is not proprietary (used and licensed by Apple alone), but it is something you’re unlikely to find just by rummaging through your toolbox or running down to your local hardware store. In fact, iFixit reports that there isn’t even a reputable consumer channel for the exact screwdriver Apple’s own technicians use to handle Pentalobe screws, so users will have to settle for best-fit solutions. You can see iFixit’s video explaining the screws at length below.

Note also that while early iPhone 4 models shipped with standard four-point Phillips screws, if you’ve had your phone serviced recently or are planning to, Apple’s service staff will replace those with the new Pentalobe versions while repairing the device. That swap makes this new screw look like a means to well, screw consumers.

There are two possible explanations for the new screws. First, there’s the line Apple will probably take, if the company comments at all (no response received as of press time): that the screws help prevent against potentially dangerous tampering that would do more harm than good. In other word, the “we’re protecting you against yourselves” argument.

The other explanation is the one that iFixit (which admittedly makes much of its money selling DIY repair kits for Apple devices) is convinced is the real reason: that Apple wants you to buy upgrades and replacements, so it’s making it as hard as possible to repair its products yourself at home. This is definitely in keeping with Apple’s current product design trajectory. The culmination of this new design philosophy seems to be the iPad, which offers no easy internal access, can’t have its storage or RAM upgraded. Apple is approaching the same model in its notebook line with the latest MacBook Air, which now also features the tamper-resistant Pentalobe screws in addition to non-upgradable RAM soldered to the logic board, and a non-standard implementation of flash storage that makes it very hard to replace.

Apple’s newest, more closed designs arguably allow them to make improvements in terms of battery life, system efficiency and physical device size, but they also sacrifice a lot in terms of a user’s ability to customize and repair the devices on their own. The use of these screws, however, doesn’t come with a functional benefit to offset its downsides. Is it a step too far?

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  1. SO the video is an advertisement for screw driver sets. Wow. Cheap and tasteless.

  2. I haven’t seen these new screws live and personal, but…aren’t they the same ones used by hard disk manufacturers for the last plenty-of-years? If so..I can’t believe iFixIt can’t find a good screwdriver for them. And if they aren’t, what’s the difference? Because to my eyes, they look just like the HD screws.

  3. Please… no… more… puns…

  4. Ugh, I wish you could delete comments here, ’cause I’m gonna eat crow and I hate the taste lol! The screws on hard disks are regular torx screws, with 6 nodes, and not like these with only 5…so…I didn’t say a thing, never mind :)

  5. Hamranhansenhansen Thursday, January 20, 2011

    First, I categorically reject the idea that Apple has undertaken a special plan to force users to buy more of a device which they still cannot make enough of 7 months after its release. iPhone 4 is only in 40 countries even now because they can’t make enough. It strains credulity.

    My guess for why the Philips screw is being phased out is that it is often mutilated by users who only have a larger Philips head, not the small size Apple used, but have at their phone anyway. Ironically, a funky screw may make it more likely that the right driver will be used.

    Also, the problem with these small devices is not that they are too hard to take apart; it’s that they are too hard to put back together. If you get a pentalobe and disassemble your phone and can’t put it back together, you will know whose fault it is.

    The number of users who want to tinker with their phones is small. Getting a pentalobe is a small price to pay.

    You’re also not considering cases where the user is not the owner. The easy-access door on Mac Pro is awesome if you want to put in RAM, but awful when the RAM is stolen out of a Mac Pro in an office. A company that is deploying 10,000 iPhones will like the pentalobe better.

    1. I think that no real thief would consider opening up an Iphone to steal parts of it, if the phone can be put into a pocket just as easily (and much faster)?
      This “prevent unauthorized access” may be a use case if the system can not be stolen directly. But with small systems (IPhone, Mac Book,…) it does not apply at all.

  6. I am sad that Apple is becoming such a large corporation that cares no more for its customers but more about the corporation and profits it can make. You will buy Apple products, Apple service, Apple updates, Apple approved apps, just keep the money flowing to Apple and all will be fine. Apple use to say “Think Different” but now seems like the new slogan should be “Do Not Think” as the mighty Apple Machine will tell you how and what to think!
    I use to support and want apple products due to them being different and better than MS driven products. But I feel Apple is just become worse than MS with this latest ploy. At least with any PCs Laptops and other phones I can still work on them myself. As they are my property I should have the freedom to choose who and where I get my service and what apps I will use.
    Could you imagine if an auto maker, or home appliances company took this approach and made you buy support, parts, fuel, and all approved accessories from them. I doubt the consumers would put up with this lack of freedom. I guess it is just one more thing that is conditioning us all for the police state we will eventually live.
    Thanks just sick of losing freedom!

    1. Wait-a-minute, Apple isn’t doing anything more than this very site is doing. Have you noticed that a few of these articles are free, but in order to read some of these articles you have to pay a premium subscription price of $200.00?
      That’s the price of an iPhone itself!

  7. Just FYI, it’s not a “Pentalobe” but a Torx Plus Tamper-resistant 5-point screw. They are tough to get ahold of though. The size might be the problem for these needs, but the srews are used in automotives already. One driver set for larger sizes: http://www.wihatools.com/700seri/716_IPR_serie.htm

    They certainly aren’t cheap though.

  8. One more good reason not to buy an iPhone. Also a good reason to check the screws in everything you’re planning to buy from apple. My former Apple fanboy name is fast being changed to Applephobe. Why? Try Mobile Me and the lost data, Problems with iPhone 4, problems with mail and Safari that Apple won’t even talk to me about and now this!!!

  9. Apple has been using these and similar screws for years.

    The screws secure battery enclosures. They’re meant to discourage numbskulls from tampering with dangerous components. Security screws are a safety certification requirement for countries such as Japan.

    Nothing to see here. Move along.

  10. Apple has been using these and similar screws for years.

    Special screws are used to secure battery enclosures. They’re meant to discourage numbskulls from tampering with dangerous components. Security screws are a safety certification requirement for countries such as Japan.

    Nothing to see here. Move along.

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