The pitfalls of do-it-yourself iPhone repair

There comes a point in every man’s life when he looks at his $699 (retail) phone and says, “Phone, you are, perhaps, my only friend. And as your friend I must do the thing that friends do and tell you it’s obvious that you’ve been hitting the juice a bit hard of late. Seems like you can’t even go an entire morning without needing a nip from the dock. I think it’s time you got help. But not professional help. No, I think we can take care of this little intervention with just you, me, and a third-party battery from the gnarliest parts of China.”

And then you cry. Because you’re talking to your iPhone instead of on your iPhone.

Yes, the battery on my 18-month-old iPhone 3GS decided to go all Col. Sanders on me and went teats up. While my wife’s iPhone, purchased at the same time, continues to hold a charge not unlike my afro in a balloon-and-wool-sock factory, mine couldn’t make it through the morning without tethering itself to the grid. Weak, man. Weak. I blame too much Infinity Blade.

So, as a man who built and continues to reluctantly use a moderately stable Hackintosh (currently running System 7 with MultiFinder), I decided to put a new battery in myself. Armed with a $10 battery and kit I’d acquired off eBay, along with several helpful YouTube videos, I attacked my phone a vengeance. Assuming you define vengeance as a suction cup.

Truth be told, the procedure isn’t that difficult. Assuming you have either 20-plus years experience as jeweler or fly fisherman, are a neurosurgeon, are gifted/cursed with abnormally tiny hands and possess the digital dexterity of a sleight-of-hand man. I only qualify for about 70% of the latter. Them connections is itty-bitty. But most are standard-issue press-on connectors. Except for one, known throughout the web as iPhone Connector Number 3. Not only is it super tiny, it lurks underneath connectors 1 and 2 (all three connector attach the LCD screen to the phone).

Connector No. 3 has a locking mechanism that you must flip up before sliding a ribbon cable out. In theory, this bit is not terribly difficult. Unless your screen, after 15 minutes of trying to gently pull it away from the bezel, releases at terminal velocity, yanking all three connectors from their nanomoorings. Good times.

Fortunately, this violent act did not actually break Connector No. 3. No, that mishap would not occur until re-assembly. Bear in the mind the cable that’s supposed to slide into Sauron’s own socket is less than an inch long, underneath two other cables and soldered to the touch screen. Somehow, after much cursing my lack of Steve Austin’s bionic eye, I managed to slip the ribbon cable in just so. Sending the flip-lock level shooting into the abyss.

Fudge.

Thinking that the connector would stay in place anyway due to a lack of stress on that ribbon, I completed the assembly and booted up my phone. Which worked. Except for the proximity sensor (one of the things controlled by Connector No. 3). And I couldn’t get service in several parts of my house. And the battery wouldn’t charge. Otherwise, it was perfect.

After a full night of being plugged in, the phone had not gained a single percentage of battery power. I attempted every manner of resetting the phone to no avail. At that point, I officially gave up and hit up Google for some local iPhone repair options. Turns out, there are many sketchy-looking phone repair places littering the DFW Metroplexicon. I was just lucky enough to have one nice-looking one literally a mile from my house.

Cell Phone Repair Center opened at nine. I had a dentist appointment at nine. Bummer. However, the gentleman must’ve been impressed with my newly shined teeth as he quoted me a whopping $45 to do what he thought would be needed. And what did it need? Another new battery and a new antenna (I had apparently damaged that as well, yay me). I did not have them repair the proximity sensor because, well, I don’t care. I’m six months (or less) away from an iPhone 4 or 5, and I’ve never had an issue misdialing with my face. Yes, I have better facial dexterity than manual dexterity.

So, all is relatively back to normal with minimal financial pain. And the next time I think about tinkering, I’ll try something easy. Like adding lasers to my kids’ Duplos.

Later,

Fox

Comments closed
    • Nutmeg
    • 8 years ago

    I found this interesting: [url<]http://www.ifixit.com/blog/blog/2011/01/20/apples-diabolical-plan-to-screw-your-iphone/[/url<] Basically iphone 4s are being shipped with non-standard screws that there is no readily available driver for. The US market didn't ship with these screws, but if you take your phone in for repair, they will replace the standard screws with their "keep out" ones!!

      • Corrado
      • 8 years ago

      There most certainly is a driver available for them.

      [url<]http://www.ifixit.com/iPhone-Parts/iPhone-4-Liberation-Kit/IF182-019[/url<]

        • Nutmeg
        • 8 years ago

        Well it’s not an exact fit, more a bodge job.

          • Corrado
          • 8 years ago

          What? It is an exact fit. Its for those screws.

    • Voldenuit
    • 8 years ago

    I’d also like to point out that aftermarket batteries are sought after not just because they are cheaper, but also because some are available in higher capacities than OEM batteries. Especially for phones and cameras, some users take the risk of buying aftermarket parts (and I freely acknowledge there is always some risk) because the benefits (longer life, more use) are useful to them.

    I actually don’t use any, but many of my photography acquantainces buy aftermarket batteries for their DSLR(s) for this express reason.

    • potatochobit
    • 8 years ago

    most men who look at a 699$ phone buy a contract instead
    time to get with the program
    I already knew that battery was cheap to replace from all the bad press over the years

      • Jason_Fox
      • 8 years ago

      Do you mean a carrier contract or extended warranty? Wait, I did both. So no, I didn’t pay the $699, but that’s still what the phone retails for. And I didn’t use my SquareTrade warranty because it has a $50 deductible and requires me to send the phone in — I bought it for catastrophic failures. And doubt that I’ll buy another one with my next phone.

    • derFunkenstein
    • 8 years ago

    So I take it that this never came to fruition?

    [url<]http://reviews.cnet.com/8301-19512_7-10115789-233.html[/url<] Not that Apple would have to have user-replaceable batteries in the US because of an EU requirement, but doing so would save R&D costs and production costs associated with two different lines using two different methods.

    • ThorAxe
    • 8 years ago

    No offense intended but this is pretty funny: [url<]http://www.cafepress.com.au/+hipster_doofus_iphone_4_slider_case,484822041[/url<]

    • Taddeusz
    • 8 years ago

    In reference to the people on this site I don’t understand what’s so difficult about replacing the iPhone battery. It’s pretty much cake as long as you have the right tools. Which the right tools amount to a small Phillips head screwdriver, a suction cup, and a small plastic pry tool of some kind. As long as you’re careful and take your time getting it apart and back together is not at all difficult.

    On two iPhones I’ve replaced two cracked screens and a battery. The screwdriver I already had. The rest of the tools (including a crappy screwdriver) came with the first replacement screen.

      • Jason_Fox
      • 8 years ago

      It was pretty easy. Except for that one connector. If it hadn’t been for that little bugger, I’d have been in and out of my phone in under 20 minutes with nary a story to tell.

        • Taddeusz
        • 8 years ago

        Before starting anything like this I always go check out iFixit first. It lets you know what you’re getting into before you actually get into it.

        And as far as sourcing the parts I prefer iFixit. They are a bit more expensive on some items. Particularly the screens. The screens actually come with a warranty which I have yet to see anyone else offer. Well worth the price.

        I actually got burned (a whole $12 burned I might add) on the first iPhone 3G screen I ordered through Amazon. I got it installed perfectly only to find out that there was a dead zone in between the lower half of the screen. After inspecting the tiny connector I noticed that two of the leads were shorted together. Second go-round I ordered the part from iFixit and it worked perfectly.

        Not to say that the cheap parts are all bad but they are certainly hit or miss. I later ordered a screen for a 3GS through Amazon for $15 that works perfectly.

        Batteries I’ll only order from a reputable source though. There’s no reason to skimp there.

    • link626
    • 8 years ago

    don’t you just hate planned obsolescence….

    • glynor
    • 8 years ago

    iResQ did an awesome job repairing the smashed glass on my old iPhone 3G. It was finished, good as new, and back in my hand only 3 days after the fateful drop that broke the display (outside on a -10 degree day onto asphalt and gravel).

    I build all of my own computers and am not half-bad with a soldering iron. But after watching the digitizer replacement operation on YouTube (including pulling out a hair dryer to slowly heat and pry a thin plastic film away from the now-broken glass), I decided that some things are best left to the professionals.

    • dpaus
    • 8 years ago

    I’m suddenly feeling very smug about my Palm Pre and its Touchstone charger, not to mention easily consumer-replaceable battery with multiple size options readily available.

    This is one aspect of Apple that puzzles me. Yes, I understand the attraction of the locked garden, but to then also lock the well… What would have been the downside of allowing the consumer to pop off a back cover that only gave access to a plastic-lined battery compartment, so that they could replace the batteryÉ

      • Corrado
      • 8 years ago

      What would be the downside? A veritable cornucopia of crappy 3rd party Chinese batteries that may or may not be safe, and may or may not provide adequate user experience.

        • wibeasley
        • 8 years ago

        I expect there would be other available options. Such as decent 3rd party Chinese batteries that cost $7 more than the crappy ones.

          • Corrado
          • 8 years ago

          I’m sure there would be. But as it stands, Apple doesn’t have to field the support when such a product explodes, swells, doesn’t work right or flat out somehow destroys the device.

        • Pettytheft
        • 8 years ago

        Do you think he was having a adequate user experience with his phone before replacement? Someone who buys a cheap knockoff won’t complain when it doesn’t last as long. They’ll just get another cheap knockoff or but the real thing.

          • Voldenuit
          • 8 years ago

          There are also aftermarket batteries that are better than the OEM originals. Happens all the time.

          • Corrado
          • 8 years ago

          Heres what could happen. I bought a chinese magsafe charger for my macbook pro 15″. It didn’t work, and I re-read the description. Although it says its 85w (the wattage for the 15 and 17″) the fine print on the site said ‘For 13″ MacBook and MacBook Pro’. So I gave it to a buddy of mine who has a 13″ MacBook Pro. He plugged it in, and it didn’t work. Plugged in his OEM charger, and it wouldn’t charge. He took it to Apple, and they had to replace the entire power supply board inside. They did this for free because they didn’t ask questions. So a 3rd party piece of crap charger because I wanted to save $50 (This one was $25 shipped), cost Apple a good deal in support and warranty repairs.

            • d0g_p00p
            • 8 years ago

            sounds like some pretty good fiction.

            • Corrado
            • 8 years ago

            Except it actually happened. I bought the adapter here:

            [url<]http://www.dealextreme.com/p/replacement-85w-power-supply-ac-adapter-for-apple-a1172-a1184-macbook-13-more-25213[/url<] Thing looked just like an Apple adapter if you wouldn't have had it next to an OEM one. The dimensions were slightly different, but all the text and logos were there.

            • Voldenuit
            • 8 years ago

            The key to buying aftermarket parts is research. If you buy cheap junk at random, chances are you’ll get cheap junk. Doesn’t mean that all the stuff on the market is cheap junk – you have to look hard for the good stuff.

            • Corrado
            • 8 years ago

            Never said it was. But it becomes a problem when you have millions of people, and most of them don’t do research. They look to save $3 or 4, or worse yet, just happen to pick the wrong product despite price. And it becomes even WORSE when the 1st party company ends up having to pay, and the customer gets mad at who? Right, the 1st party company. “Oh my iPhone is a piece of junk, the whole thing just fried one day when I put it on the charger!” Again, see my story. Now, my buddy is intelligent enough to realize that this wasn’t Apple’s fault, but it also still cost them money whether they know it or not. I’m smart enough to see the reason why they chose to do what they did. Anyone tech savvy enough can replace the battery if they really want to.

            • indeego
            • 8 years ago

            [i<]"The key to buying aftermarket parts is research."[/i<] Do tell what type of research then? What reputable site will have 1+ years of historical data on their non-OEM batteries? We use UPS's on every machine in our office, and I will no longer purchase non-OEM batteries. Even brand-name OEM-equivalent batteries (like American Battery Company) didn't work to their own warranty length, and bloated after install. IMO 3rd party batteries are not something you should ever screw around with, lead acid or Li-Ion or otherwise.

            • Voldenuit
            • 8 years ago

            I have no experience on UPSes, but I’m active in camera forums, and there is a lot of information passed around on aftermarket batteries.

            Similarly for phone batteries.

            I don’t see how having brand name batteries fail on you is evidence in support of avoiding third party batteries. Shouldn’t you be avoiding genuine batteries then? Or should the rightful conclusion be that every purchase carries with it some risk, hence the age old adage [i<]caveat emptor[/i<]?

            • calyth
            • 8 years ago

            If we’re honest, the original story went downhill as soon as Fox said that he bought a $10 USD battery.
            Also your buddy was just tempting fate with a bad charger. Most of us who played around desktops for a while should know that power supplies are quite important items, and they’re nothing that we should easily overlook.

            However, I do not agree with the policy of locking in laptops / phones so that the user cannot replace the battery. I encountered one of the newer white cheap macbook with an integrated battery. It happens that the device cannot recognize the battery.

            With how MacBooks and iPhones being such an common item, if they had a replaceable battery, I could just find an authentic battery to isolate the issue. Integrated batteries don’t allow that.

            Us consumers should care about our own benefit. Apple makes enough money that they won’t flinch when an odd person fry their power circuit with a lousy charger. Nor do they seem to care too much about consumers in the first place, if you ask me. There are so many people walking around with extended batteries for their iPhones in Hong Kong, it’s not even funny.

            • Voldenuit
            • 8 years ago

            Yes, it’s even worse when some manufacturers put DRM on their batteries.

            I hacked the firmware on my Panasonic camera to undo the DRM lock out of principle, even though both my batteries are genuine OEM.

            • Corrado
            • 8 years ago

            We didn’t know it was a bad charger. How would we? It said it was for a 13″ Mac Book Pro, but was 85W. I took a chance and it did nothing on my 15″. I figured this was by design, as the same thing happens if you plug the OEM 65w (what comes with the 13″ers) into a 15″. It doesn’t charge. So I figured I’d give it to him if he could use it.

            So again, people buy a cheap product because its cheap, and it could damage their system to the point Apple ends up doing warranty work/support. Its not an exact 1 to 1 anecdote, but it does show the dangers of buying cheap 3rd party Chinese products that are all over Amazon and eBay. What if someone says ‘oh an OEM iPhone battery is $30, and this one here is $15. Says they have the same specs’ and puts it in their phone. Then it damages the phone. Who ends up fielding support for that? Generally if its ANY handset manufacturer other than Apple, its the carrier. With Apple, its Apple. No one goes to the HTC Store when their Evo stops working, they goto the Sprint Store. When people have iPhone issues, its Apple that, more often than not, fields the support.

            On top of which, as shown here and by the plethora of user reviews on Amazon for such products, most people don’t have any problems replacing their iPhone screens or batteries by themselves. So whats the harm in the way they do it?

            • Squeazle
            • 8 years ago

            I don’t know why you think other people would blame apple for their mistakes when you clearly didn’t.

            Also, I know it is not that easy to get information on new tech sites and peddlers, but dealxtreme? Really? Just going off the name, I am going to go out on a limb and tell you that you probably shouldn’t even trust your dusty gameboy with their products.

        • derFunkenstein
        • 8 years ago

        Yes, the Chinese batteries they’re using right now are so stellar. 😉

    • Corrado
    • 8 years ago

    Luckily, with the 4, its cake to replace the battery. 2 small screws (That they’re now replacing with a tamper proof screw, but the driver is available for $2.50 online) and slide the panel up. Everything is easily accessible.

    • just brew it!
    • 8 years ago

    With pretty much everything having internal lithium-ion batteries these days, this sort of issue is only going to become more common. This post reminds me of the DIY Sansa Clip repair I blogged about a while back…

    Someone really needs to come up with standardized form factors for small, user-replaceable Li-ion battery packs. The current situation amounts to little more than planned obsolescence (which pisses me off immensely).

      • Voldenuit
      • 8 years ago

      Apple seems to be the only offender. Everyone else uses easily replaceable batteries on their phones.

      On really small devices (like the iPod Touch, nano, shuffle etc and other PMPs), the cost of making the battery user-replaceable (harder to engineer, doors add bulk and make case flimsier, replaceable batteries are bulkier, etc) may offset the benefits.

        • [TR]
        • 8 years ago

        Well, for Apple’s business plan of “Buy the new one every year!”, things like this are no problem.
        Except for the people that are over the adolescent drive to not care about the stuff they buy and manage to keep the devices working well for quite a long time – minus the battery part (weakest link and all).
        Then you have something that you still use, don’t really need/plan to replace, but “#$&%!!1!!!11!, that damn battery is really getting on my nerves!!!”.

        But, you’re right, for these kinds of things portability is more important than being able to replace a battery. And if you can find places that can do it professionally for ~$50, I think that’s a good compromise.

        • ludi
        • 8 years ago

        I dunno, the only thing that really needs to be done for a replaceable battery is to make the device clamshell into two pieces. A couple screws on one half of the device (hidden under a one-time breakable seal for verifying warranty eligibility) and a hinging clip on the other half should be sufficient. A silicone gasket around the two halves pretty much eliminates squeaking and reduces the risk of moisture incursion. The battery can half a short ribbon cable assembly, if need be, to minimize its own size.

        IMO the reason this isn’t done more often, has more to do with bottom-dollar assembly techniques and vendor lock-in than anything else. Given Apple’s typical product pricing strategy, the former is inexcusable and the latter is obnoxious.

          • Voldenuit
          • 8 years ago

          The replaceable battery needs its own casing, which a non-removable battery doesn’t, at least not to the same physical specifications (including industry safety standards). For instance, the iphone 3GS battery can get away with a foil package, whereas a user-replaceable battery would typically use a much more substantial stiff plastic case. This can (and does) mean the difference between a thin device and a thick one.

        • derFunkenstein
        • 8 years ago

        That has nothing to do with jbi’s point – that the batteries need to be a standard form factor.

          • Voldenuit
          • 8 years ago

          And my observations – that choosing to use user-replaceable batteries has unavoidable consequences in form factor are still valid, whatever standards (or not) are used.

          Most companies use a small selection of battery form factors in their products, as it is cheaper than manufacturing or sourcing a new battery form factor for every new product (unless you are Apple and sell millions of every new model). But manufacturers will never embrace a single universal standard as ubiquitous as, say, AAA, because space, shape, voltage, power and various other requirements are just too varied in these devices, and because packaging is very important in getting their devices small enough to be attractive to consumers.

    • ew
    • 8 years ago

    Apple is implementing a fix for this kind of problem. [url<]http://consumerist.com/2011/01/apple-switching-to-new-kind-of-screw-so-you-cant-open-your-iphone-and-other-gadgets.html[/url<]

      • derFunkenstein
      • 8 years ago

      ifixit already has a kit to get around this.

      [url<]http://www.ifixit.com/blog/blog/2011/01/20/apples-latest-innovation-is-turning-planned-obsolescence-into-planned-failure/[/url<] I'd be super-honking annoyed if it was my device, though.

    • thesmileman
    • 8 years ago

    Fox,

    I had a lot better luck with replacing my 2G iphone’s battery. I know there is a big difference between the original and the 3GS. I have found with disassembly of electronics it is better with another set of technical eyes making sure you don’t screw it up (I have done it a number of times). Let me know if you need another set of eyes. I live in Richardson.

    By the way when are we going to have a TR Dallas/DFW Meet uup / BBQ?

    • tone21705
    • 8 years ago

    Fox,

    I am in the same boat (I am usually at 40% before 2pm) and am interested in switching it out also.
    How is your battery now? Do you notice a significant difference? I have heard many shops will put in cheap parts that do not function as well.

    Thanks

      • Jason_Fox
      • 8 years ago

      Actually, my new battery is still draining rather quickly. I haven’t had a chance to reset the phone to factory defaults, but I think there’s some software bugaboo at this point. Of course, with only a few months left on my contract, I doubt I’ll mess with it too much. You’re right about some places putting in cheap parts, though. The place I went to said my new battery (the one off eBay) was probably bad from the get-go. Don’t know if their replacement was much better, but at least it worked.

    • blitzy
    • 8 years ago

    Do other phones like Android or Nokias allow an easy replaced battery? Thats one of the few points of criticism I have for the iPhone, but do other phones actually do it better?

    [edit] thanks for the feedback, I think thats a pretty good selling point because battery problems are really quite common [/edit]

      • cookwithvette
      • 8 years ago

      Droid (and Droid II) and HTC Incredible have slide off battery doors. If I wanted to replace the battery in my Droid, the actual swap itself would take less than ten seconds. Many other Android phones are just as easy, these are the only ones I’ve actually had my hands on.

        • Synchromesh
        • 8 years ago

        I concur. While my HTC Eris is a tremendous POS it was easy to pop a hi-cap battery in. Unfortunately, that’s one of only 2-3 good points about the phone while everything else is awful.

        I did take apart an iPod Touch before to help a guy fix the main button. Took several hours of screwing including disconnecting the battery to do a real reset on the phone. At the end it worked ok but it was one of the most difficult and annoying fixes I ever had to do.

      • Voldenuit
      • 8 years ago

      It’s fairly straightforward to replace the battery on the Nokia N8:
      [url<]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=voHj0kvvdKQ[/url<] All you need is a Torx scredriver, and the battery slides in and out without having to fiddle with connectors. Don't unscrew the screws all the way like the presenter did, though (they have a plastic locking cap at the other end that falls off if you do). The C7 has a slide out battery cover and user replaceable battery, which is even easier. As I'm getting 4-6 days' charge out of my N8 with normal use, I haven't had to access the battery myself. PS A very amusing read, Jason. I'm glad you could find the humor in your situation to keep us entertained (and hopefully, informed).

      • funko
      • 8 years ago

      My Nexus One, along with every other android ive encountered, including the Hero, Galaxy S variants, Nexus S, Moto Droid, Droid X, Droid 2, Droid Incredible, Evo 4G, Mytouch 4G, G2 etc, has had the standard battery door, and user replaceable battery.

      • Disco
      • 8 years ago

      HTC Hero and Desire in my home. Both have a very easy to replace battery.

    • derFunkenstein
    • 8 years ago

    You might wanna just get a spare hard drive and reinstall OS X on that Hackintosh. Using iBoot and MultiBeast, your system should do everything right – Time Machine, all the network stuff (including Bonjour), Software Update (so long as you upgrade to each point release manually rather than via Software Update, that is, and even if you forget booting with iBoot and running MultiBeast again is easy) and all that jazz. I know you followed the Lifehacker guide available at the time with the MyHack installer, but MyHack is no longer the best way to do a Hackintosh.

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