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An article that originally appeared on Reuters and picked up by Yahoo News is stating that U.S. Apple stores are replacing screws on iPhone 4’s brought in for servicing with tamper-proof screws to prevent anyone else from opening the device. Pentalobe screws are similar to a common Torx screw, but have five points instead of six, requiring a screwdriver that is not commercially available. The same screws can be found in MacBook Pro laptops and MacBook Air notebooks.

Kyle Wiens, chief executive of iFixit, a prominent Apple repair and parts supplier, said the purpose of the new screws is to keep people out of the iPhone and prevent them from replacing the battery. He said he noticed in November that screws were being switched.

"If you took your car in for service and they welded your hood shut, you wouldn’t be very happy"," he said, comparing it to shutting owners out of their iPhones.

According to two people with first-hand knowledge of the practice, when a customer brings an iPhone 4 into a U.S. Apple store for repair, tech staff swap out commonly-used Phillips screws, with which the device is shipped, and replace them with so-called "Pentalobe"

Wiens said that with the old screws the iPhone 4 battery was easy to change although that was not known to many customers. "Apple wants to be in the business of selling you the new battery," Wiens said.

Wiens said iFixit, which sells repair kits for iPhones and other Apple products, searched everywhere for a Pentalobe screwdriver before specially commissioning a supplier to make one for them — and even that is not a perfect match, he said.

Apple had no comment for this story, but it is well-known that Apple discourages individual modifications of its products.

I suppose Apple’s motives are sincere, as opposed to sinister (as in trying to keep you away from the radioactive isotopes in their extraordinary battery – which would probably also be sincere in a way), but it just irks me when any company deliberately tries to keep me out of something that “I paid for”. Tamper evident screws are fine for voiding a warranty, but using a technology that is not accessible to “prevent” me from doing something is just wrong. Are their profits not high enough that Apple wants to make sure they also get their full cut on a replacement battery. While I have the highest regard for the quality of Apple’s innovative devices, this is one of several reasons I will never own an Apple product. I may only be purchasing a “license” to use their software, but I believe the physical product changes ownership when I run my credit card through the card reader. What I choose to do with a device after that point is my business.

It’s unfortunate that Apple is so paranoid about their technology or lacks confidence in their customers to be responsible, but no worries. I am sure some factory in China is already churning out Pentalobe screwdrivers as we speak and they should probably be available on eBay in the not too distant future for about $4.95, with free shipping. Then again, maybe Apple holds a patent on Pentalobe. Good luck with that.

9 COMMENTS

  1. Well they have been doing that for years with their high profit margins. But now they have something that you can touch and feel.

  2. There could be reasons we don’t know about that would make a bit more sense if we did. For example, when I was a kid I found out how to modify one of those little DTMF tone dialers you use on a rotary phone by opening it up, clipping out some diode and soldering in a 6.5536MHz replacement then programming the speed dial buttons to make a tone five times in a row to get the device to make the perfect pitch and delay pattern to match the analog signal the payphone makes to the long distance carrier to signal when you’ve inserted a coin and which coin. Free long distance.

    Also remember the modified emergency radio scanner, like $40 from Radio Shack which when you popped open you could do a similar procedure and be able to listen in on cell phone conversations which were at the time analog.

    The iPhone is an even more sophisticated device than those, who knows what the hell one can do with the lid open. Maybe they don’t know of anything. Maybe the government insisted. Maybe they don’t want people gutting broken phones and selling the processors. I don’t know but they have nothing to gain, other than maybe one in ten thousand lost customers like you, by leaving it open, and either something specific or something unknown, they’ve got something that’s provoked them to make a special screw, arm their stores with special screw drivers and screws .. I don’t know. Maybe it helps to deter counterfeiters.

  3. Or maybe they are just control freaks who MUST have everything their way. But once again, Apple is the innovator. What will they think of next.

  4. There are little elves in there moving around the tiles. Apple is afraid you’ll take out the AT&T elves and replace them with Verizon elves. Even though the Verizon elves can’t think and speak at the same time.

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