How to remove the iPhone’s new “tamper-resistant” screw

Photo by Daiji Hirata

If you’ve taken your iPhone 4 in for service at the Apple store, you may have gotten it back with 2 new pieces of hardware that were changed unbeknownst to you. Though the iPhone 4 originally shipped with standard Phillips #00 screws, they’ll replace them with an obscure type called a pentolobular screw if you take it in for service (current iPhone 4s come with the screw already installed).

Photo by iFixit

Though pentolobular screws look an awful lot like a standard Torx screw, this diagram by iFixit clearly shows how the pentalobe is more rounded and has one less point. Unfortunately, if you want to find a proper pentobular screwdriver, you’ll need to fork out some cash and be an authorized Apple service provider.

If you want to disassemble your iPhone, but the lack the proper credentials, you can still remove the screws using a TS1 Tamper Proof Torx screwdriver, which is just like the standard Torx, but with 5 points instead of 6 (this type of screw has been employed by some other electronics manufacturers to prevent people from “tampering” with their own stuff). Since the points are sharp instead of rounded, it’s likely to strip the screws and make them unusable, so the workaround is probably only useful to remove the screws and replace them with standard ones. There are a couple sellers on Amazon selling these screwdrivers, but marketing them as pentolobular screwdrivers (they’re clearly not) for $6.99 and $5.99, respectively. Alternatively, iFixit is selling what they call an iPhone Liberation Kit for $9.95 that comes with the 5 point Torx screwdriver as well as a standard Philips #00 screwdriver and accompanying replacement screws.

The iPhone is a complex piece of machinery, and any attempt to make modifications or repairs to the device on your own shouldn’t be taken lightly. You really are taking things into your own hands, and if you screw up and break something, you shouldn’t reasonably expect Apple to fix it under warranty. That said, this move to an obscure, and difficult to remove screw is just the most recent in a series of moves that Apple has taken to make their products less serviceable by the end-user. As Matthew B. Crawford writes, “what are the attractions of being disburdened of involvement with our own stuff?” Are we really being saved the time and effort of trying to understand how our things work, or are we merely becoming more reliant on a corporation for maintaining the things that we own?

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