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Hardware Hacking Apple Build Technology

iFixit's Kyle Wiens On the War On DIY Electronics 760

pigrabbitbear writes with an excerpt from an article at Motherboard: "Anyone planning on buying a new iPad should know what they're getting themselves into by now. In recent years, Apple and other hardware manufacturers have made it liquid-crystal clear that they're not fond of the idea that customers can tear open and fix products without the help of licensed repair specialists. Even if it's as easy as ordering a part online and following a few instructions gleaned from a Google search, hardware companies generally seem to prefer we keep the hood closed. It should not be surprising, then, that the latest version of Apple's much-desired tablet has one 'killer' feature that's finally getting the attention it deserves: A design that stops you from getting inside of it."
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iFixit's Kyle Wiens On the War On DIY Electronics

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  • by Kittenman ( 971447 ) on Monday March 19, 2012 @10:25PM (#39409641)
    I remember my first PC had a seal over the case, with the words "warranty void if broken". Back in those days I used to hesitate. After a while I didn't (I got my confident and it was my money).

    Same rules these days - it's the consumers bucks. If Apple (or anyone) wants to say "you had someone open this who wasn't us - goodbye" that's up to them. And that person can then take it down the road to the guy who's not so fussy.

  • by Dan East ( 318230 ) on Monday March 19, 2012 @10:32PM (#39409681) Journal

    I think the problem is that even if you're careful and know what you're doing, there's still a decent change of randomly breaking the glass. According to the video in the story, iFixit originally gave the iPad 2 a score of 4 out of 10 for repairability. However they downgraded it to a 2 out of 10, which is the score they also gave the new iPad, because of the number of failed repairs over the last year.

  • eh (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Junior J. Junior III ( 192702 ) on Monday March 19, 2012 @10:39PM (#39409737) Homepage
    I understand the appeal of fixing your own stuff, being able to take things apart and figure out how they work, and making them work better, but there's some things that are just not suitable for that kind of thing. Like, you don't hear people bitching that the transistors aren't replaceable on their CPU. As other components miniaturize, it's just too difficult to effect field repairs. They become too small and too delicate and tolerances are too tight.
  • by taskiss ( 94652 ) on Monday March 19, 2012 @10:55PM (#39409825)

    I've had things like RAZR flip phones that were held together with screws and after a while they get really loose feeling. My work laptop, a 3 yr old Dell, creaks like a haunted house when I pick it up with the display open. Not my Apple equipment. My 5 yr old MacBook Pro sems as solid today as it was when I bought it. My iPhone seems to be made from a single slab of glass wrapped with a metal band. My iPad 2 is the same way - solid feeling.

    Used to be, back when the phone company was broken up, cheap home phone makers were bolting big slugs of metal in the base of their stuff to make it feel solid. Solid is good - ever slam a car door? Cheap cars have doors that rattle. Good ones don't.

    People value stuff that stays solid. As long as I can get my stuff fixed, I don't care if it's me that's doing the fixing or someone else. I used to fix my own cars, now I take them in. I can't fix the ECU and have no desire to buy the equipment necessary to be able to do so.

  • by William Ager ( 1157031 ) on Monday March 19, 2012 @11:07PM (#39409881)

    You can always make anecdotes about hardware durability. My 4-year-old Macbook Pro runs hot because of clogged fans that would require lengthy disassembly to clean, and is falling apart at seams that were presumably glued together.

    Unless you're compiling statistics on these things on a large scale, anecdotes aren't useful.

  • by Osgeld ( 1900440 ) on Monday March 19, 2012 @11:12PM (#39409929)

    I wouldn't want Joe Sixpack screaming at me for a replacement after dismantling his 500$ + toy on the living-room carpet following a 5 picture teardown and a couple paragraphs on google written by kids who got a similar device on flebay for 40$ and replaced the glass.

  • The next step (already in the R&D phase at various places in Silly Valley from what I read a year or so ago) is to print the whole thing on a web press, from the back to the front like a big electronic newspaper. All of the individual components have been successfully done this way - even most of the 'chips'. Once we get to that point, the cost of manufacturing may be so low that it's pointless to fix even if it were possible - it would be one solid unit like pages of newsprint glued together. Just grind it up, separate the materials, reconstitute and reprint a new one.

    I wouldn't be surprised if this were already possible for a lower performance device.

  • by dindi ( 78034 ) on Monday March 19, 2012 @11:15PM (#39409955)

    Interesting to mention this while the Mac Mini went the opposite direction. You needed a "special tool" (spatula) for the previous models (and literally "crack" them open - if you heard the sound you know), and since they got all aluminum you don't even need a screwdriver to upgrade memory.

    And to all the commenters complaining about how big of a pain it is to upgrade an Apple product: you are comparing desktop PCs to compact machines and laptops. My Macbook pro was easy to take apart, my macbook (older white) was a little harder. I had to change a cooling fan on the latter and unlike my Toshiba, it survived the procedure, and without a scratch... still my media player...

    Funny how people complain about "closed systems" too recently. These are the people who do not understand, that you can develop whatever the hell you want for your devices... the distribution is Apple's..... most of my smaller problems can be solved by "web apps" - controlling my appliances, cameras, lights alarms etc .... jqtouch or icefaces take you far-far without writing native code ... unless you need a real app...

    Just my 2c. I really have a feeling the people criticizing haven't owned a recent-day mac or iWhatever.

  • by Alex Zepeda ( 10955 ) on Monday March 19, 2012 @11:22PM (#39409999)

    Mod parent the fuck up. People like sleek, "sexy" designs. This comes at a price. Swapping hard drives on a MacBook Air is going to be far more difficult than on a Mac Pro.

    That said, ease of service comes and goes with Apple products. Ever try to get at the hard drive of an iBook? I gave up after about forty screws. Try it on a "classic" MacBook. Three captive screws and a pull tab. Easy as pie. I just replaced the top case on said MacBook when the keyboard died. I'm not happy that the keyboard/trackpad/case are all one piece (plastic welded together), but it was actually a pretty easy repair (and the iFixit guide got a number of key details wrong).

    On the plus side I now have fifteen extra upper cases...

  • Re:follow my lead (Score:4, Interesting)

    by pecosdave ( 536896 ) * on Monday March 19, 2012 @11:40PM (#39410105) Homepage Journal

    Actually I buy exclusively Pilot G-2 pens, I go out of my way to get the short ones when possible so they fit in my jeans pocket without breaking. They are technically refillable, but they do tend to crack after being carried for months while working so I do discard them when they finally run dry, more likely I lose them before then. I buy a new box every two years or so, they hold up incredibly well and I'm not that bad about losing them. Unless it's a receipt to sign where someone handed me a cheap one for temporary use or a specialty situation like my Thomas and Betts Nylon marking pen they're all I use.

    My factory Evo battery stopped working well after 10 months of use, yes it was premature but I do tend to work in less than ideal environments and everything electronic that stays on my person tends to suffer for it. My EVo is nearly two years old and I've only had the screen replaced once.

    I like quality. I spend extra for quality. Don't think I have fancy and expensive mixed up with quality, sometimes the best item is the cheapest but least flashy, sometimes the best is the most expensive, but normally the best quality item is a bit more than average but not on the stupid side of expensive. I cook in cast iron, my belts are real leather, and my watch is a Casio I've beat the hell out of for six years. Yes, I drive stick shifts exclusively.

    I like things to last, but I don't hold on to them past the point of being stupid to hang onto them. One of the most reliable computers I ever owned with an AMD K6 233 on a board with an Intel chipset. Despite being rock solid and reliable for years I finally tossed it due to being beyond reasonable to continue using. This is why my still perfectly functioning Toshiba laptop with an Nvidia chip but is heavy and out of date is taking a back seat to my netbook. These items served their purpose well but it was time to go. I consider the fact they're still working perfectly upon retirement a good thing, not a side note.

  • by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Monday March 19, 2012 @11:46PM (#39410147) Homepage Journal

    Given the time period (1980s), I'm guessing the GP was talking about the early Macintosh, not the Apple II series. Many of the classic Macs could only be opened up with a super-long-stemmed torx wrench and a special case cracker tool, and once you got inside, there was still no way to expand their RAM without a soldering iron (if at all).

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Monday March 19, 2012 @11:57PM (#39410207) Homepage

    It's a great time to build electronics. Digi-Key and Mouser will sell you a huge range of parts and get them to you overnight. Lots of places will make your PC boards for $50-$75 for a small board. Oscilloscopes are cheaper than they used to be. DVMs are really cheap.There are whole ecosystems like the Arduno, with free, user-friendly tools. Even most of the micro controller vendors now offer free compilers. There are useful web sites, IRC channels, and hacker spaces. You can afford to dedicate a PC or a phone to controlling or displaying out from whatever you're building.

    None of that existed 20 years ago. I had to struggle to convince Hamilton-Avnet to let me buy from them, and they required a credit check. Having a PC board made meant drawing it in AutoCAD, having litho films made by one shop, and getting them to another shop to make the board. It wasn't cheap. A C compiler for the 68HC11 microcontroller cost thousands of dollars. Getting an RF link to a mobile device was a huge headache.

    So quit whining that you're having trouble opening the box on portable devices built to be extremely thin, and actually learn how to build your own stuff.

  • by narcc ( 412956 ) on Tuesday March 20, 2012 @12:40AM (#39410395) Journal

    if it becomes too hard and too expensive to fix issues, then consumers are going to start demanding lower prices or Apple can watch its precious resell brand value evaporate.

    Apple doesn't care about resell brand value as most people don't resell their old Apple products. Apple also continues to sell the previous generation of products, which means the used market directly competes with their current offerings.

    Even if the majority of their users resold their old hardware, and made their purchasing decisions based on that future resale value, all Apple cares about is the perception that their products have a high resale value.

    Remember that old meme "Apple computers are the best for graphics"? How long was that actual true? Was it every really true?

    What about other Apple memes like "Apple products are the easiest to use" (never true, as far as I can tell) or "Apple products have the highest quality" (also never true).

    Apple doesn't give two-shits about what is true -- all they care about is public perception.

  • by couchslug ( 175151 ) on Tuesday March 20, 2012 @12:46AM (#39410421)

    "How about my car? My car now has a fancy computer that needs a special adapter and software to interface, is that a walled garden?"

    Your car matters when you pay to have it repaired, though "computers" are a plus in general. However not all auto computer functions are required to be disclosed, so a generic code reader won't always solve your problem.

    Auto makers would love to "wall off" independent mechanics as well as DIYers: []

    IAAM. (I Am A Mechanic.)

  • by macs4all ( 973270 ) on Tuesday March 20, 2012 @02:09AM (#39410753)

    ][ Forever motherfuckers! Still sore about the total lack of an upgrade path.... and with it the complete abandonment of that early geeky coolness. You could bring those up with no disk at all, start writting basic, drop into the built in assembler. Maybe it wasn't that useful like that, but boy did it ever get my curiosity going as a kid.

    Loved Apple of the 80s.

    Actually, IIRC, Woz's Integer BASIC and mini-assembler (along with his Sweet 16 (the 6502 Dream Machine) and the Apple Floating-Point Routines) disappeared as early as the Apple ][+ []. . That's why I used to call the ][+ the "][ minus"...

    Actually, I was quite the Apple 1/][/6502 geek in those days. Wrote (among many other things) for the Apple ][, a "program switcher", a virtual-memory "overlay" system for Applesoft BASIC programs (that let you seamlessly and easily write Applesoft programs that were WAY too big to fit in 48K (it actually leveraged the ONERRORGOTO, along with the magical "Ampersand" vector to evaluate what the "error" was (what "missing" BASIC code line was attempting to be referenced) and then used direct disk-sector reads to "swap in" a section of BASIC from disk, while preserving the variable "heap". As long as you didn't do something stupid like break "segments" in the middle of a FOR-NEXT loop, it worked a TREAT!), and an in-situ 13 to 16-sector DOS 3.2 -> 3.3 floppy reformatter. I also produced several variants of Randy Wiggington's most-excellent TED II Editor/Assembler (speaking of Sweet 16. TED II's Editor was written in Sweet 16) that not only assembled to and from disk (it was the only way to assemble DOS 3.3 from source!), but also cross-assembled to 6801, 6809 and even 8048 and 8085 targets.

    Good times. Good times...

  • by brentrad ( 1013501 ) on Tuesday March 20, 2012 @03:12AM (#39410981)

    Want to know what I hate most about Samsung phones? Especially after buying a Gnex? The damn battery cover! Such a flimsy piece of plastic holding the battery in and threatening to break if you pop it on or off a bit too often. Sorry, but for a premium smartphone I demand something more than a flimsy piece of plastic cheaply clicked in.

    I hear this complaint about the battery cover feeling like it's going to break in the Galaxy Nexus all the time, but I've never actually heard anyone say theirs broke. It seems like a perfectly durable, flexible piece of plastic to me, I swap my battery all the time and it's a piece of cake once you figure out how to do it.

    Like you say, it's the only way to get a nice thin phone and still be able to swap the battery. Once the cover is on, it's a very solid and durable phone - I've lost count of the times I've dropped my Nexus and no damage whatsoever.

  • by adolf ( 21054 ) <> on Tuesday March 20, 2012 @03:15AM (#39410989) Journal

    And you know why? It's because it's the only way to make a battery cover that doesn't take up huge amounts of volume with the latching mechanism. Short of going the Apple way, it's practically impossible. And the plastic has to be flimsy because it has to have elasticity so it doesn't break the first time you take it out of the box to put in the battery.

    I only mention this because it is impossible, but: The original Motorola Droid/Milestone uses a battery cover consisting of a very thin piece of neatly stamped aluminum, and the latch is both minimal and elegant.

    And before you write another novella about how flimsy it must be, please also allow me opine that I used the battery cover on this phone (with a bit of steel adhered to it) as a magnetic dash mount for years in my work truck. Accordingly, the battery cover has about 30,000 miles worth of holding the whole rest of the phone to the dashboard.

    It doesn't seem to have suffered from this use in any way that I can observe.

    Just sayin'.

  • by jbolden ( 176878 ) on Tuesday March 20, 2012 @06:42AM (#39411663) Homepage

    Apple is happy about the Kindle fire.

    The Cook strategy is simple. Jobs originally felt the reason Windows tablets weren't successful is that they are aiming at too high a price point. Amazon / B&N own the the low end and subsidize their products by media sales, there is no way to compete at that space.

    But... With the media companies at the low end, the iPad 2 starting at $400 and having hardware Android can't compete with, it is hard to find a way to sell an Android product below the iPad 2 price. The iPad3 line is going to own the space up to about $700, after which Windows laptop tablets coming in around $900-5000 start to become players and those are likely much more feature rich than any Android offering. Apple has shut off most of the room for Android tablets to develop a price point.

  • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Tuesday March 20, 2012 @07:56AM (#39411907) Homepage

    "You do realize you're not only insane; but reflect the views of approximately .000000000000001% of the population, don't you?"

    IF you are in the US, yes. IF you are talking global, it's more like $35% Only in the USA is the average citizen too stupid to fix appliances. In other countries it is fairly common for people to DIY fix their appliances and other things. I hear that many even do their own home repairs.

    Disclaimer: I am a US citizen, and yes my fellow americans are dumb as boxes of rocks. I blame high Furctose Corn Syrup and reality TV.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 20, 2012 @10:37AM (#39413171)

    IAAM. (I Am A Mechanic.)

    INUT.EAWAUOO,AAUTBUAWOAETMOTA/IIAEIWE. (I never understood this. Explaining acronyms which are used only once, and are unlikely to be used again without once again explaining the meaning of the acronym / initialism is an exercise in wasted effort. )

    For a second, I thought you were saying something in Hawaiian.

  • by jythie ( 914043 ) on Tuesday March 20, 2012 @10:38AM (#39413181)
    Unfortunately Apple learned a valuable lesson from those years... when consumers have easy access to modify their systems, they end up blaming the company when their own mods go awry in ways they don't understand. I used to field reports that pretty much came down to that... 'but I used a standard harddrive, it should work find!' 'but I used an off the self monitor! your stuff sucks!'. Not only is it frustrating but it ends up with people giving you a bad image to their friends since they tend to leave off the part about how THEY modified and broke it.. nope, it becomes the manufacturer's fault for not accepting any random 3rd party component that they never tested...

VMS must die!