Apple’s Diabolical Plan to Screw Your iPhone

January 20, 2011 Hardware, Site News — Kyle Wiens

Expecting to be one of the first people in the world to buy the iPhone 4, I was dispatched to Japan for its release last June. Much to the dismay of thousands of Japanese with similar intentions, my mission was thwarted: FedEx delivered hundreds of iPhone 4 boxes in California two days early.

We’re quick to adapt, and the rest of our teardown team got their hands on one of these early units. Rather than waiting in line at the Ginza Apple store, I worked on the teardown virtually from my Tokyo hotel room. The teardown was quite straightforward—the iPhone 4 was electronically complex, but easy to disassemble and work on. Opening the phone entailed removing the two Phillips #00 screws on the bottom and then sliding off the back cover. The ease of disassembly gave me plenty of time to analyze the internals.

Once we finished the teardown, I hit the streets of Tokyo to watch the actual iPhone release and then hang out with the Apple community. I didn’t need to buy a phone for myself, but I wanted to see the new iPhone firsthand.

I immediately noticed something odd about the Japanese phones: they had different screws on the bottom! These new screws looked like very small Torx (I guessed T3 at the time) but were actually something far more insidious.

An Evil Ascending

Apple is switching to a new type of tamper-resistant screw. This is not a standard Torx, and there are no readily available screwdrivers that can remove it. This isn’t the first time they’ve used this type of screw—it first appeared in the mid-2009 MacBook Pro to prevent you from replacing the battery—and Apple is using a similar screw on the outer case of the current MacBook Air. This screw is the primary reason the 11″ MacBook Air earned a lousy repairability score of 4 out of 10 in our teardown last October.

Apple chose this fastener specifically because it was new, guaranteeing repair tools would be both rare and expensive. Shame on them.

So what is this screw?

It’s similar to a Torx—except that the points have a rounder shape, and it has five points instead of six. Apple’s service manuals refer to them as “Pentalobular” screws, which is a descriptive enough term. It’s certainly better than what I came up with, which was “Evil Proprietary Tamper Proof Five Point Screw.” It’s best I stay out of the naming business.

Contrary to what has been widely reported elswhere, this is not a security Torx screw. Security Torx have a post in the middle. Apple would never use a real Torx security screw with a post for two reasons: they’re ugly, and the posts break off easily with screw heads this small. To further complicate matters, Apple occasionally refers to these as “Pentalobe security screws.” Please don’t confuse them with security Torx.

This screw head is new to us. In fact, there isn’t a single reputable supplier that sells exactly the same screwdrivers Apple’s technicians use—which is Apple’s point. 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. Alas, no more. Thanks a lot, Apple!

Which devices are affected?

Now that we’ve got the background out of the way, what’s Apple doing with these new fasteners?

  • This screw head first appeared in the mid-2009 MacBook Pro as a fastener for the battery.
  • The 2010 MacBook Air uses this screw on the lower case to prevent any access to the internals.
  • Many non-US iPhone 4 units have had smaller versions of these evil screws all along.
  • Apple has switched production, and new U.S. units are shipping with the evil screws.
  • If you take your phone into Apple for any kind of service, they will sabotage it by replacing your screws with the new tamper-resistant screws.

Making things worse, Apple has used three different sizes of this screw head so far. Here’s the rundown:

Mid-2009 MacBook Pro

The largest 5-point Pentalobe screw used thus far was deployed in the Mid-2009 MacBook Pro. Apple calls this a “Torx Plus Tamper 6.” For reasons known only to them, Apple has switched away from these screws and is using Tri-Wing screws on current MacBook Pro models. A compatible Tri-Wing bit is included in our toolkits, so you don’t need to worry about this if you have the latest MacBook Pro.

iPhone 4

The iPhone 4 has one of the smallest screw heads we’ve seen, probably for cosmetic reasons. This 5-point Pentalobe screw is actually slightly smaller than a Torx T1. Yowsers that’s tiny. The shape looks a little rough because this tiny screw is giving Apple’s manufacturing process a run for its money.

Current MacBook Air

The new Air uses a significantly smaller 5-point screw than the MacBook Pro, but it’s still larger than the one in the iPhone 4.

A Solution: Liberate Your Hardware

This screw head clearly has one purpose: to keep you out. Otherwise, Apple would use it throughout each device. Instead, they only use it at the bulwark—on the outside case of your iPhone and MacBook Air, and protecting the battery on the Pro—so they can keep you out of your own hardware.

Fortunately, our always-creative hardware acquisition team has been on this problem for a while. It’s our responsibility to provide you with all the tools you need to work on electronics, and we have a solution for you!

iPhone 4

The real solution is to get rid of these pesky screws so you can use a normal Phillips screwdriver on them. We now have replacement Phillips screws so that you can reverse Apple’s dastardly handywork. We have found a driver that works for the 5-point “Pentalobe” fasteners on the iPhone 4 case. It’s not a true Pentalobe driver — the tip is more star shaped than “flowery,” so there may be some slight play in the fit when using. This screwdriver gets the job done, but we don’t recommend it for repeated use. It’s really just a hack to get the screws out and then replace them with standard screws.

So go ahead, set your iPhone free with our iPhone 4 Liberation Kit! Rid your phone of those terrible Pentalobe screws forever. The $9.95 kit includes a Pentalobe driver, 2 replacement PHILLIPS screws, and a regular #00 Phillips screwdriver.

iPhone 4 Liberation Kit

iPhone 4 Liberation Kit


MacBook Air

We’ve got a 5-point MacBook Air screwdriver in stock that unlocks this machine! Now you’ll be able to do your own repairs or upgrade your SSD.

MacBook Air 5-Point Torx Screwdriver

MacBook Air 5-Point Torx Screwdriver

MacBook Pro

Use the MacBook Pro 5-Point Torx Screwdriver if you’d like to remove your laptop’s battery. It’s the best way to ensure you don’t fry any sensitive components on machine while performing a repair.

MacBook Pro 5-Point Torx Screwdriver

MacBook Pro 5-Point Torx Screwdriver

222 Comments

  1. […] ifixit.com […]

    Pingback by Apple’s Diabolical Plan to Screw Your iPhone « The New Minimum — January 22, 2011 @ 10:19 am

  2. […] screw in their service manuals. Unable to resist the obvious pun, he recently wrote a blog post calling the new tamper-resistant screw "a diabolical plot to screw your iPhone." […]

    Pingback by Liberate Your iPhone 4 | iPhone Jail Break Instructions and Links — January 22, 2011 @ 11:20 am

  3. If you’re to stupid to think about an easy way to open such screws, you’re screwed anyways…
    http://tinyurl.com/6dpg25d
    find the proper size and it will work perfectly without destroying the screw.

    Comment by Till Würfelzucker — January 22, 2011 @ 12:00 pm

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  5. […] screw in their service manuals. Unable to resist the obvious pun, he recently wrote a blog post calling the new tamper-resistant screw “a diabolical plot to screw your iPhone.” […]

    Pingback by Liberate Your iPhone 4 | iPhather — January 22, 2011 @ 2:41 pm

  6. […] message company iFixit, professional service and maintenance of various portable equipment, smartphones, […]

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  7. […] Apple's Diabolical Plan to Screw Your iPhone « iFixit Blog […]

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  8. […] to the quick-reacting toolmakers at ifixit: “This screw head is new to us. In fact, there isn’t a single reputable supplier that sells […]

    Pingback by “Tamper Resistant” iPhone Easily Opened With $10 Tool | luyos.com — January 22, 2011 @ 5:31 pm

  9. The reason that Macbook Airs as well as iPhones use these screws is to protect someone that is incapable of repairing electronics from trying to. If you were to do any research on the battery technology in both the iPhone 4 and Air you would quickly notice that they use soft lithium ion batteries with no shell. This means they could potentially vent/catch fire and seriously injure whoever is working on them. Apple has a requirement that stores have specific safety equipment to deal with these types of fires should they occur during a repair. If a tech needs a firesafe, special powders, gloves, tongs, masks, and other misc tools to safely repair these products would you really want to chance a home user dissecting this on their desk?

    Comment by fmrgenius — January 23, 2011 @ 1:54 am

  10. Thank you so worked this/23.01.2011 18:45:07

    Comment by kameralı chat — January 23, 2011 @ 9:45 am

  11. Well, I’m on the fence with this issue. Seems like a mountain out of a mole hill actually…

    I self repaired my iPhone 3GS, and in the process stripped my screws a bit. The same thing actually when I’ve replaced my ‘user serviceable’ unknown MBP. Phillips screws don’t work well … ever.

    A few years ago I stopped using any Phillips head screws for all my home maintenance, repairs, and projects and I’m basically 100% square head and while I skeptical at first, I haven’t stripped one screw since. Ya, not even 1! (2or 3 have broken however).

    My only issue is with Apple not offering drivers for these screws and making the easy and inexpensive to obtain.

    Comment by Sean — January 23, 2011 @ 6:21 pm

  12. Why is your 54-piece bit driver kit so “vaunted?” It doesn’t include security Torx bits! If instead of the standard Torx bits you had included security Torx bits it would be much more versatile, and more likely to live up to your claim that “it’s all you need to disassemble just about any consumer electronics.” Perhaps you should come out with a version 2.0 with the above described change, in addition to pentabular bits.

    Also, if you are truly pro-customer, you will release a set of pentabular bits for your current kit at a reasonable price.

    Comment by Sean — January 23, 2011 @ 10:41 pm

  13. Uhh… so how come Gizmodo found a pentalobular driver for $2.35, while The Register claims to have found loads more of them online?

    http://gizmodo.com/5739389/stop-panicking-you-can-still-open-up-your-iphone-with-a-235-screwdriver

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/01/24/apple_screws/

    Did you not think this would come out eventually?

    Comment by Jeremiah — January 24, 2011 @ 6:58 am

  14. With this new screw,, the iphone can’t open anymore.. hahaha

    Comment by travel insurance singapore — January 24, 2011 @ 4:15 pm

  15. Probably Torx Plus tamper-resistant. Five lobes. Usually includes a post, but the drivers won’t mind if there isn’t one. Check against this to see what you’ve got. http://www.acument.com/licensing/pdfs/standards/torxplus/inchdriverstandards/NID-602-1.pdf

    Comment by Peter G. — January 25, 2011 @ 10:01 pm

  16. This place lists several sources to get this screwdriver:

    http://www.pentalobular-screwdriver.com

    Comment by Not A. Problem — January 29, 2011 @ 5:49 pm

  17. Tolle Blogseite die ihr hier online gestellt habt. Macht weiter so!

    Comment by Derick Brunetto — February 6, 2011 @ 7:08 am

  18. When will you add in a pentalobular screwdriver to your awesome 54-piece set?

    Comment by Peter Posnanski — February 7, 2011 @ 2:58 pm

  19. So you buy an iphone just to get through this hell of replacing screws? And not being able to make a decent call because of their fucked up antenna? When there’s so many fairer manufacturers? Very good for you! Very clever! :LOL Where’s this world going to?

    Comment by josh — February 9, 2011 @ 6:12 am

  20. Apple is known for terrible engineering and also known for never following any standards, even with their own hardware and software.

    This is what MacTards want. Think Different.

    It’s easy to be Apple; Just take any well-engineered and thought-out product and do the opposite. Then refer to it as “different”, refer to the losers that glean their identity via marketing, as “cool”.

    Apple is the absolute opposite of Engineering.

    Look it up, it’s in the dictionary.

    Comment by THINK DIFFERENT! — February 10, 2011 @ 10:33 pm

  21. Sorry but, Apple consumers deserve this, and ALL the rest of the incompatibility they get!

    Comment by THINK DIFFERENT! — February 10, 2011 @ 10:35 pm

  22. Great post. Thank God my MBP doesn’t have those evil screws, but I’d seriously consider the Liberation Kit for my other iWares.

    Comment by Jon Terces — February 19, 2011 @ 6:39 am


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