December Recap: Open Repair Marches Onward

December 24, 2010 Site News — Kyle
iFixit iPad auto repair

Auto repair with our iPad app

It’s sure been an exciting December at iFixit. Here’s a quick recap:

  1. Repair guide website embed
  2. The world’s first repair API
  3. Free iPad app
  4. Complete repair guide DVD ISO downloads

(Oh, and we also threw an epic Christmas Party for our awesome team.)

I hope you’re picking up on the trend here: We are 100% committed to getting repair manuals into the hands of the people who need them.

This is a really exciting time to be teaching repair. We’ve built the world’s first repair publishing platform, and it’s available to anyone and everyone to share what they know. Every guide you post on iFixit is immediately pushed to the iPad app (and any other applications using our API), generated as a downloadable PDF, and queued up for inclusion in the next batch of DVDs. How cool is that?

Your knowledge can have a truly global reach, just by taking a few photos in your workshop. Once repair knowledge is on iFixit, the sky is the limit. We’re making repair accessible to everyone, everywhere!

iFixit on iPad: Let’s kick-start a mobile repair revolution

December 23, 2010 Hardware, Site News — Kyle

We need to make repair accessible to everyone. That means repair documentation needs to go with people to where the broken things are. Computers aren’t very good at the whole mobility thing—but the iPad sure is!

iFixit is now native on the iPad, and live in the app store. Just like all of our repair manuals, it’s free and has no ads.

Repair is Mobile

The iPad is an impressively rugged device. I expected that we would be inundated with tales of cracked screens the moment Apple started shipping them—but it hasn’t happened. That’s not because people aren’t dropping them, but because the well-engineered aluminum frame combined with thicker-than-iPhone Gorilla glass are incredibly robust.

The moment the iPad came out, I knew it was the perfect repair platform. Imagine having every repair manual ever written on your tablet—completely accessible while you’re working underneath your car! The iPad is no bigger than one of my Chilton repair manuals—and it’s just as mobile. The battery can handle a full day out working in the shop. It’s incredibly durable (doubly so if you have a rugged case).  And it’s always connected, so I know I’ve got the most up-to-date instructions. Phenomenal!

iFixit iPad auto repair

iPad-led distributer cap repair

A bit of velcro on the back of the iPad comes in handy

I think mobile repair could be a killer app for the iPad. I could see buying an iPad just for fixing things. Unlike the repair manuals of yore, iFixit on iPad gets better when you’re not using it—because thousands of people all over the world are constantly editing and making our manuals better.

I am ecstatic—this is the sort of innovation I envisioned when we started iFixit. We are taking repair to the people, and empowering individuals one step at a time.

An App Story

We’ve been working on this for quite a while, but we couldn’t release it until we finalized our public API—which the app is built on top of. We finally submitted the app on November 30, and after some back and forth with Apple, just barely managed to get it approved before Apple’s app team takes a well-deserved week off for Christmas. This app was in the very last batch of apps they approved before they left for the holiday. Now that’s what I call just in the nick of time!

Right now, the app blends a native, full-screen guide view with web views for navigating the site. We kept the app focused on performing repairs, so we don’t have native support for much of iFixit—including Answers and guide editing. You can still do just about everything in the app’s web view that you can on a computer, and I think it works quite nicely. Over time we’ll learn what works well on iPad and how people are using it.

We’ve been using the app around the office to fix things over the last couple weeks, and I can definitively say that our native iPad view is the best way to repair anything. Period.

Performing a repair with the app is a phenomenal experience. It really feels like the future. Follow a step. Swipe to the next step. Tap to zoom in on a photo, and pinch to zoom to see the itty-bitty details of an individual screw head. Tap to close, swipe for the next step. The iPad completely disappears, and the photo manual is all that you experience. This really is a quantum leap forward in making online knowledge seamlessly useful.

Open Source

As I said when we announced the API last week, the sky is the limit on innovating around our repair database. This app is a great example, and learning how we did it could be really useful to help you get going on your own repair apps. So we’ve open sourced our iPad app! It’s freely licensed under the GPL (and also the CDDL, for esoteric legal reasons explained here). The source is up now on Github.

We built this app using our API— It currently uses the /api/guide, /api/areas, and /api/guide/featured endpoints, but it will use more of the API in the future as we add more functionality.

Going Forward

We have lots of ideas for improving the app—storing guides locally so you can follow them offline, adding commenting, and integrating more interactive features so you can share what repairs you’ve completed. But we’ve got a small development team, and we just don’t have time to do everything. So if you want to pitch in and add your own code to the app, we’d love your help.

First choose your device...

First choose your device...

...Then figure out what parts and tools you need...

...Then figure out what parts and tools you need...

...And then follow our step-by-step instructions to fix your device!

...And then follow our step-by-step instructions to fix your device!

What if you had a DVD with every iFixit guide?

December 20, 2010 Site News — Kyle

Imagine a snowy, perfect winter day in the countryside. You’re hanging out with your family around the fireplace, enjoying the good life. Suddenly, disaster strikes: the grandkid’s hide-and-seek game takes a violent turn, knocking the winning entrant in your annual tallest-gingerbread-house contest over onto your Captain Morgan Eggnog. Your desperate attempt to catch it does more harm than good, spraying the frothy mixture all over your daughter’s MacBook. Like any good iFixit member, you immediately kill the power. Step two is clear: you need to disassemble the machine right away and clean everything off before the sugar crystallizes. But you’re a hundred miles from the nearest internet connection!

Boy, do we have a solution for you—assuming you’re the type that thinks ahead. Which you are, because you are awesome.

You can now have all iFixit repair manuals, in PDF format, on any computer — whether you’re connected to the internet or not.

We’ve made DVD ISOs of our entire database of over 3,500 guides! They’re distributed across three DVD ISOs.

We’ve seeded them as torrent files, so you’ll be able to download and either burn them onto DVDs, or just mount the ISOs directly to a virtual drive, like you would with any disk images. The choices are almost endless.

Gadget gurus and repair techs can now have a portable reference anywhere they go. About to embark on a journey to Nicaragua for a peace-keeping, repair-oriented mission? Just download the ISOs the day before and have a safe flight. Think that the world is coming to an end in 2012 and want to print out the manuals before the internet shuts off? This is the best way to do it, although we don’t recommend killing that many trees just because you’re crazy. But it’s a free country, and you can do as you please.

We used to sell DVDs of our PDF manuals, and they were quite popular back in the day. We can still provide that service if there’s enough demand. Just let us know in the comments section if you’d like to see the DVDs pop up in our store. For now, you can just download the ISOs! If you don’t already have a BitTorrent client, check out Transmission (for Mac and Linux) and uTorrent (for Mac, Windows, and Linux).

The repair guide ISOs

The community is constantly adding and improving guides, so we’ll be posting new ISOs once a quarter (four times a year). I’ll put up a new post here every quarter when updated ISOs are available.

The World’s First Repair API

December 17, 2010 Site News — Kyle

I’m thrilled to announce that we are releasing an API! The iFixit API provides programmatic access to iFixit — enabling you to write innovative applications and utilities on top of our repair database.

Over the years, we’ve learned that it’s not enough to just write repair guides. We also have to make them accessible to as many people as possible—in a format that’s most convenient for them. Our website has a pretty wide reach, but we can’t possibly envision every way people want to use repair documentation. Most repairs don’t happen in front of a computer—we’re writing manuals that show people how to do things in the real world.

We’ve gotten by with computer-centric web repair manuals this long for a simple reason: most of what we teach people how to fix is electronics. People generally fix electronics on their desk next to their computer, or on a kitchen table with a laptop. It’s easy to use our website when your computer is convenient—but what about when you’re fixing all the other things out there like lawn mowers and mopeds? Dragging your laptop out into the garage works, but it’s a bit of a kludge.

Our solution has been PDF downloads: people who don’t have a spare computer just print out our repair guides. As much as I dislike killing trees, paper is still a pretty darn versatile communication tool. Paper gets the job done.

But we can do so much better! The holy grail of repair is an always-with-you, up-to-date, instant-access repair manual for everything. Modern mobile devices make this possible. iPad and iPhone are teaching us that we can have our cake and eat it, too: they give us the form-factor advantage of paper and all the dynamic advantages of a web connection.

Well we’re writing the repair manual, and now you can re-imagine our information on any platform, in any context.

We need a repair app ecosystem

This is a watershed moment in the history of repair manuals. For the first time, there is a central, open platform for repair documentation. Our data format structures the information with semantic metadata, allowing anyone to innovate around that data.

What can I do with the API?

The world’s largest collection of free photographic repair manuals is at your fingertips. Got an idea for integrating it with your repair shop’s workflow? Awesome! Want to come up with a way to make it easier for bandwidth-limited technicians in developing countries to fix things? Go right ahead.

The API provides access to iFixit’s repair manuals (step-by-step guides and Device namespace pages) and device “area” hierarchy. It does not (yet) provide access to our parts or Answers Q&A database.

The API responds with JSON by default, but you can also request JSONP or XML.

Who can use the API?

Non-commercial API access is free, and commercial access is available for a fee. If you anticipate making a large, sustained number of accesses, or you’re interested in using the API for commercial purposes, please contact us for an API key.

All iFixit content is freely licensed for non-commercial use under Creative Commons provided that you include a link back to us and release any modifications under the same license.

The API is in its v0.1 alpha stage, so it might be subject to some flux — although we’ll try to keep it as stable as possible. Have a question or feature request for the API? Head on over to iFixit meta.

I’ll post some helpful tips on how to use our repair API (including reference code) over the next few weeks.

Nexus S Teardown

December 16, 2010 Hardware, Site News, Teardowns — Miro

The Nexus S is supposed to be the next flagship Android phone. Yet, having looked at both the outside and inside of this device, we’re just a tad underwhelmed. We feel the phone’s curved glass is more of a gimmick than anything else, although it does feel very nice when pressed up against the user’s face.

Our teardown reveals that only the glass itself is curved, but that the Super AMOLED display and touchscreen are just as flat as any phone’s. Although Google/Samsung technically doesn’t lie on their site — they clearly mention a curved glass panel, not curved Super AMOLED — we still find their “Contour Display” name a bit misleading.

Teardown Highlights:

  • The Super AMOLED does away with the digitizer, and integrates the capacitive touch sensors into the display. You can definitely see that only the front glass panel is curved. The rest of the components are flat as a board, just as any other phone on the market.
  • Inside we found a S5PC110A01 1GHz Cortex A8 Hummingbird Processor stacked together with a Samsung KB100D00WM-A453 memory package. Other notable chips include a SanDisk SDIN4C2 16GB MLC NAND flash module, an Infineon 8824 XG616 X-Gold baseband processor, a Wolfson Microelectronics WM8994 ultra-low power audio codec, and a Skyworks SKY77529 Tx Front-End Module for Dual-Band GSM/GPRS/EDGE.
  • The 1500 mAh, 3.7 V, 5.55 Watt-hour Lithium ion cell provides up to 6.7 hours of talk time on a 3G network, and up to 14 hours on a 2G network. That’s slightly higher than the 1400 mAh and 1420 mAh battery ratings of the Nexus One and iPhone 4, respectively.
  • A warning sign on the battery indicates it should not be fed to babies. We agree.
  • Taking out the motherboard requires removing three Phillips screws and disconnecting a few cables here and there. Nothing a patient user with a screwdriver couldn’t handle.
  • For you AT&T customers out there, just a quick reminder that the Nexus S does not support the 850 MHz and 1900 MHz HSPA frequency bands required for 3G mobile data. If you use this phone on AT&T’s network, you’re stuck in 2G land.
  • Interestingly, the two cameras share the same connector on the motherboard and are removed as a singular unit.
  • The EM-Tech EME1511AFRC module integrates the earpiece speaker, loudspeaker for speakerphone and media use, and a sensor bank all into one unit with a singular shared data connector. This is definitely a win for integration, but at the same time forces users to replace the entire unit if only one component malfunctions.

Lifting off the motherboard

Final layout

The Nexus S is a solid Android phone overall, and we think a lot of people will be happy with it. Samsung’s device is the king of the hill of Android phones — for the next twelve minutes or so, until the new next-best-Android-phone rises up to knock it off its perch.

iFixit’s Repair Guide Widget

December 14, 2010 Hardware, Site News — Miro

Great news! You can now easily display any iFixit repair guide or teardown within your website or blog post.

Just visit any guide of your choice and click on the “Embed” link within the introduction. You’ll be provided HTML code that you can paste on your pages, allowing you to embed iFixit’s widget.

For example, clicking on the Embed link on the Xbox 360 Red Ring of Death Fix guide gives you a convenient box with the code and a preview of the widget:

The repair guide widget displays all the pictures and bulleted text that our normal guides contain, but in a smaller format. To see a larger image, just click on any image and it will open up the right step on iFixit.com. There’s also a “Parts and tools” button on the bottom of the embed that will show you any parts and tools required to successfully perform the repair.

2010 Holiday Gift Guide

December 6, 2010 Site News, Tools — luke

If you’re struggling to find the right gifts for your geek friends, we feel your pain. We also have good news! We love giving gifts that people use throughout the year—the thing that’s always on the top of their toolbox, or that they take with them on every trip. The best gifts are the ones that make people awesome.

Good tools do just that. If you’re shopping for a geek, engineer, tinkerer, or anyone else that delights in making and fixing things, we’ve put together a list of our 10 favorite gifts. Our 2010 Holiday Gift Guide has all sorts of goodies that will surprise and delight even the most well equipped tinkerer.

iFixit 2010 Holiday Gift Guide

Parrot AR.Drone Teardown

December 1, 2010 Hardware, Site News, Teardowns — Miro
Removing the motherboard

Removing the motherboard

We’ve had the Parrot AR.Drone — an iPhone-controlled, indoor or out, four-propeller rotorcraft — at the iFixit offices for months. We bought it for a teardown, but we just couldn’t stop playing with the flying bugger long enough to take it apart. Until now.

The AR.Drone is earth-shattering. It has blown away every drone expert we’ve talked to. It’s not just a toy: it’s a phenomenal piece of engineering that manages to solve some very difficult software problems in order to take flight. Hidden beneath the foam fascia lies some very sophisticated electronics, all of which makes flying the quadricopter very seamless. We were quite interested in seeing exactly what components Parrot used to make their awesome flying device.

We gave the AR.Drone a 9 out of 10 on our repairability scale. Tons of replacement parts are available directly from Parrot’s website, in addition to videos for common repairs for the device. We’ve never seen another consumer electronics device with this much advance planning for user repair. That’s a good thing too, since just about everyone we’ve let fly our drone has crashed it. Flying is hard, even with an iPhone!

Teardown highlights:

  • Each propeller assembly is made up of the propeller blade, gear, motor and motor controller board. These are not your run-of-the-mill propellers. The design team behind these won a micro drone design contest put on by the French Army. The propellers spin in different directions depending on the side they are mounted on, and are marked either C (clockwise) or A (anti-clockwise).
  • The propeller blade and gear are held in place by a small circlip on a stainless steel shaft. Parrot sells a special circlip removal tool, but we opted for a pick we had laying around the office. We learned very quickly that if you’re not careful, the little circlips are also capable of flight.
  • Each brushless motor runs at 28,000 RPM while the AR.Drone is hovering, and ramp up to a whopping 41,400 RPM during full acceleration! The speed of the motor is managed by the electronic controller, which includes an 8-bit microcontroller and a 10-bit ADC.
  • Much of the AR.Drone’s body is made of expanded polypropylene (EPP), a common substance that is both extremely light and easily manufactured into complex shapes. We like to call it by its scientific name, “foam.”
  • The two large mesh cylinders make up the ultrasound altimeter, which stabilizes the quadricopter within 6 meters of the ground.
  • The navigation board, which attaches to the motherboard via eight pins, contains a Microchip PIC24HJ16GP304 40MHZ 16-bit microprocessor in addition to a MEMS gyroscope (the Invensense IDG 500).
  • The motherboard itself hosts a Parrot 6 ARM9 468 MHz processor, ROCm Atheros AR6102G-BM2D b/g Wi-Fi module, a couple of Micron chips, and a vertical camera.
  • The battery is a 1000mAh, 11.V lithium unit that detaches easily from the quadricopter. It lasts about ten minutes. There’s a second connector on the battery for balance charging, which ensures that each of the three battery cells charges equally, thus optimizing capacity and prolonging battery life. The battery also contains a protection circuit module, which prevents it from discharging too rapidly, over charging, or short circuiting.
  • The 93 degree front-facing wide-angle camera can stream its video and images directly to your iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch. With a resolution of 640×480 pixels, we doubt anyone will be filming HD movies with the AR.Drone’s camera.
Removing one of the motors

Removing one of the motors

Final layout

Final layout