Apple has turned to using hard-to-find, tamper-resistant screws in some iPhone 4 handsets, says iFixit, the repair site know for its teardowns of popular devices. The move, says iFixit, is all part of a "diabolical plan" to prevent iPhone 4 owners from accessing their personal hardware.
In a Jan. 20 post, iFixit blogger Kyle writes that the screws aren't a standard Torx, or really even a security Torx - Torx screws have six points and a pin in the center. The new screws, officially called "pentalobe," have no center pin and five rounded lobes, making them look like a child's drawing of a daisy. (Which is maybe too sweet a description for what Kyle refers to as "an evil ascending.")
"There isn't a single reputable supplier that sells exactly the same screwdrivers Apple's technicians use - which is Apple's point," he writes. "They picked an obscure head that no one would have. This new screw defeats even our vaunted 54-bit driver kit, which until now we've been able to claim that it's all you need to disassemble just about any consumer electronics."
Many non-U.S. iPhone 4 units have shipped from the factory with the pentalobe screws, and in the United States, when a user brings his or her iPhone 4 in for repair, the device's more standard screws are said to be matter-of-factly replaced with this tamper-proof variety.
According to iFixit, the pentablobe screws first appeared in the mid-2009 MacBook Pro as a fastener for the battery, and is now also used on the lower case of the 2010 MacBook Air.
Additionally, Apple uses three different sizes of the five-pointed screws. The largest version, called a "Torx Plus Tamper 6" by Apple, was used in the mid-2009 MacBook Pro, though Apple has since switched to using tri-wing screws in the notebook. The current MacBook Air also uses a five-point screw, though one larger than the MacBook Pro.
By contrast, the screws on the iPhone 4 are teeny-tiny - "one of the smallest we've ever seen," writes Kyle. It's so tiny, he continues, that the "shape looks a little rough, because this tiny screw is giving Apple's manufacturing process a run for its money."
In a video on the site, iFixit's M.J. spells out her frustrations with Apple's "insistence on baby-proofing our phones."
"You're going to need an entirely different driver for these pentalobular screws... [and] these drivers are really rare, and expensive, and usually require proof of Apple certification just to purchase them," she says. While she appreciates the thoughtful design of her Apple products, she adds, "once I've purchased it, it's mine to do with as I please."
To that end, iFixi is now selling an "iPhone Liberation Kit." It includes a driver that can take out the pentalobe screws - not a true pentalobe driver, as it's more star-shaped than flowery, but one good enough to get the screws out once. "We don't recommend it for repeated use," the site explains. "It's really just a hack to get the screws out and then replace them with standard screws."
It follows, then, that the kit also includes two replacement Phillips screws and a regular #00 Phillips screwdriver.
Apple chose the new screws because they knew the repair tools would "be both rare and expensive," writes Kyle. "Shame on them."