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The case of Apple's mystery screw

By Tom Kaneshige
January 20, 2011 02:08 PM ET

CIO - Apple is screwing with screws, again.

If you want to remove the outer casing on your iPhone 4 to replace the battery or a broken screen, it won't be easy anymore. In the past, you could use a Phillip screwdriver to remove two tiny screws at the base of the phone and then simply slide off the back cover.

But Apple is replacing the outer screw with a mysterious tamper-resistant screw across its most popular product lines, reports iFixit, a Web site that provides free repair manuals and advice forums mostly aimed at Apple products. Apple calls them "Pentalobular" screws.

New MacBook Pros, iPhone 4s and MacBook Airs will have the Pentalobular screw, making it harder for do-it-yourselfers to make repairs. What about existing products in the field? Pentalobular screws might find their way into them, too.

"Apple's latest policy will make your blood boil," says Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit. "If you take your iPhone 4 into Apple for any kind of service, they will sabotage it by replacing your Phillips screws with the new, tamper-resistant screws. We've spoken with the Apple Store geniuses tasked with carrying out this policy, and they are ashamed of the practice."

Apple Stores now carry a large supply of the Pentalobular screws, and Apple technicians have been ordered to replace the Phillip screws with Pentalobular screws in every device they service, according to Wiens. Apparently, you won't get your Phillip screws back.

But iFixit has found a workaround: a driver that works on the flowery 5-point Pentalobular screw, at least to hack out the screws so that you can replace them with standard Phillip screws (assuming, of course, that you have the right size Phillip screws).

Wiens doesn't run across this kind of screwy behavior from many consumer electronics manufacturers, Apple and Nintendo being the only exceptions. So what is Apple thinking?

For starters, do-it-yourselfers fiddling inside Apple products, maybe even swapping in unauthorized components, can wreak havoc on the Apple brand by creating a plethora of customized devices. Apple's success is built on controlling the user experience.

This isn't the first time Apple has used screws to gain an advantage. Apple had been using 5-point Torx screws for its MacBook Pros, not standard 6-point Torx screws."We did a little bit of research and found out that this particular screw has been patented," Wiens says. "It is illegal to import screwdrivers that can open this screw into the U.S. unless you buy it through Apple's sales channels. Apple sells the screwdriver for $40." (Wiens doesn't know if the Pentalobular screws have been patented.)

Originally published on www.networkworld.com. Click here to read the original story.
This story is reprinted from CIO.com, an online resource for information executives. Story Copyright CXO Media Inc., 2012. All rights reserved.
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