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So What’s Apple Trying to Hide?


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.