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Is it our right to unscrew our iPhones?

iPhone 4 with screwdriver

In the past week tech headline writers must have rejoiced at the news that Apple seemed to have (ahem) screwed up yet again. It apparently made the screws on its iPhone 4 unscrewable, but should we be that bothered?

“Screwgate”, for those who have been spared an explanation of this most un-earth-shattering of global issues, centres on Apple choosing to switch the type of screws it uses to hold the magic innards of its iPhone 4 inside the sexy casing.

It turns out that Apple is shape-ist, having ditched humdrum Phillips screws in favour of a rather prettier pentalobular (flower-shaped) screw.

So is this a subtle ploy to appeal to female phone buyers? More likely is the theory ricocheting around the internet that Apple chose this shape of screw because there are no widely-available screwdrivers that can unscrew them. Thus meaning that iPhone 4s must be returned to Apple when they need mending.

“Screwgate” brings the unscrewable screw

The website ifixit, which refers to Screwgate as a “diabolical plan”, was first to uncover the issue, which apparently was not present on early iPhone 4s. It reports that recent batches, and iPhones that have been returned to Apple for repairs, sport the unscrewable screw.

Battle-hardened screw fans are no doubt now rifling through their collection of screwdrivers hunting for one that will fit.

Even I, a man who prides himself on having a tool for every job, who has recently invested in a set of star-shaped ‘Torx’ drivers to fix a dishwasher, would draw a blank when faced by a pentalobe. And that’s despite my further investment into tamper-proof bits just in case I ever needed to tamper with some tamperproof screws.

Do you want to get into your iPhone?

So, onto the main issue – do we have a right to be allowed to fix the devices we buy? I’d argue not. I think it’s a deal-breaker that Apple doesn’t let you replace the iPhone battery yourself, but aside from that, I’m not sure what I’d be able to do or fix if I managed to open one up.

Yes, there’d be a public outcry if BMW, say, suddenly put special Germanic bolts on the wheels of its cars, which only the trained operatives in Munich could remove in the event of a puncture.

But why would anyone care if they couldn’t inspect the inside of their mobile phone? And would this issue even be an issue if it were Sony Ericsson or LG who were the ones screwing us around instead?


Can I borrow your Torx bits please Al?!

This has been going on in cars for years – carmakers don’t want inexpert owners meddling with sensitive mechanicals or electronics. It’s an arms race between the manufacturers (who want to ensure only the approved dealer can work on the car) and independents (who come up with cheaper and often ingenious work-arounds).

I give it a month before a flower-shaped screwdriver becomes available on a popular auction site. Sorry, I should have said ‘pentalobular’, shouldn’t I?

I agree that manufacturers should be allowed to protect their equipment from damage caused by users and others with no expertise, though a simple seal would show if the case had been opened. Pentalobular screws are probably easier to use when reassembling equipment by hand.

Blame Apple for something worthwhile, such as the fact that the iPhone battery cannot be replaced by the user. Like other phones with large, bright screens, the battery runs down quickly. With many phones it is possible to swap the battery for a charged one. Until Apple makes it easy to swap the battery, I won’t be buying an iPhone.

Well Honda have got away with this trick for years. Ever tried any DIY on a Honda motor bike? Every task seems to need special tools which Honda only provide to their authorised dealers for at least 5 years following the launch of a new bike.

This is exactly why I will not buy Apple equipment – I’ve disliked Apple design for many years. I would not buy a car that I can’t adjust/repair either.