Announcing a new member of the iFixit family, Make: Projects

July 20, 2010 Site News — Kyle Wiens

I don’t like to keep secrets. I’d much rather talk about the process of building iFixit as we go, explaining our rationale and motivations. We work most effectively by interacting with you and taking advantage of community feedback: we really do value your perspective and advice.

So I am thrilled to finally be able to tell you about a top-secret project we’ve been working on for a while: Today, in conjunction with Make Magazine, we are launching Make: Projects.

John Park with his PIR Sensor Arduino Alarm

Make is a DIY publisher started by the best technology book publisher on the planet, O’Reilly. Their mission is simple: to teach people how to make awesome stuff. I absolutely love everything about them. Their community comes out en masse at Maker Faire every year. Their staff are some of the smartest, friendliest, most in-the-loop people in the publishing industry. And they write the coolest, best-documented, and most practical project instructions out there. We are fortunate to be collaborating with them.

The new site runs on the same software platform that we do, making it easy for anyone to publish step-by-step guides that show you how to make things.

Here’s the best way to think about this:

Simple enough! Of course, those are both monumental goals. Make is already off to a good start, though—they’ve already got over a hundred projects online, and more are going up every day.

Modding toy Tonka trucks

The idea for this project came about a year ago when I was talking with Dale Dougherty (co-founder of O’Reilly and founder of Make) about the need for a common procedural manual file format. Dale has even more experience with documentation than I do, having written the book on sed and awk, two absolutely critical UNIX utilities we use for manipulating text. Our “Aha!” moment occured when we realized that iFixit’s repair guides have almost exactly the same underlying structure as Make’s project tutorials. The problem they have is that magazine layouts don’t convert very well to the web.

Make has the same problem most publishers do: their content is stuck in Indesign, and Adobe has traditionally done a very poor job of enabling semantic markup and compatibility with external workflows. That may not matter to you, but it’s the reason they have never really posted their full project library online (their digital edition provides online viewing, but it’s Flash-based and not very web-friendly).

We’ve actually been blown away by how easy it has been to map their projects into our rigid, semantic, step-by-step guide framework. You can see the results for yourself: their projects look absolutely phenomenal online.

We are absolutely thrilled to take the same collaborative software that we use to enable people to work together on service manuals and provide it to the burgeoning DIY maker movement. This will be an invaluable tool for hackerspaces and groups like DIY Bio to build a knowledge base.

What’s in a manual?

Our procedural manuals have:

  • Title
  • Time required
  • Difficulty
  • Tools
  • Parts + Materials
  • Summary
  • Introduction
  • Step-by-step instructions. Each step has:
    • Up to three photos
    • Up to ten bullets
  • Conclusion

Now that two of the largest publishers of DIY instructions are using the same format, there are some exciting possibilities for enabling the community! I’ll be writing more about this soon.

What goes where?

There are some interesting grey areas where the sites may blend, and it will be up to the communities to decide what content belongs where.

What belongs on iFixit:

Instructions to make things last longer. Repairs, upgrades, hacks to existing things that make them work longer, maintenance techniques.

What does not belong on iFixit:

Anything that does not help make things work longer. Examples: mods and hacks that add ancillary functionality.

What belongs on Make:

Instructions to make things. Examples: ways to make innovative crafts, mods like Maquariums, new kite designs, Arduino hacks, and DIY manufacturing techniques.

What does not belong on Make:

Repairs, maintenance, tips for making things last longer. Duplicate builds of existing projects.

Sometimes repair requires manufacturing, like this capacitor discharge tool, thus creating a grey area. (BP’s repair of the oil well is certainly the most prominent example of this, but I doubt they’ll be teaching us how to do what they did.) We’ll work with the combined communities on to further clarify the community policy on what belongs where. This is real-world information architecture, and I’m looking forward to helping coordinate this.

What changes were made for Make?

Those of you already familiar with iFixit may wonder what we had to change to make the platform work for Make. In addition to the obvious facelift, we made two primary changes:

  1. We renamed ‘Device’ to ‘Topic’. So where on iFixit guides are organized by device (like installing a battery or an LCD in a specific iPod), on Make guides will be organized by topic (like Rocketry or Soft Circuits).
  2. You can add Make guides to up to two topics. This makes sense for projects like Arduino Blinking Bike Patch that should be visible by browsing to either Soft Circuits or Arduino.

How do we organize everything?

iFixit is organized by device. The instructions to install an iPod battery are nested this way: Media Player -> iPod -> iPod Nano -> iPod Nano 4th generation.

Make: Projects is organized by topic. To learn how to make a solar-powered LED bracelet, you’d browse through Craft -> Jewelry -> Solar Joule Bracelet.

Now go teach people to make something!

The internet is still quite poor at connecting the digital world with the physical. Make: Projects is a big step forward in our efforts to make the internet better by teaching people how to do real things.

Oil Leak Could Transform Repairmen into Superheroes

July 15, 2010 Repair Stories, Site News — Kyle Wiens

For the first time in our nation’s history, our hopes and dreams and economic fate rest, not on a warrior or a politician or an astronaut, but on a team of repairmen.

Todd Schilla (left) and Ryan Gressett (right) co-pilot a remotely operated vehicle lowering a top hat onto the oil well in the gulf of Mexico. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Patrick Kelley.

The effort to seal the ruptured oil well in the Gulf is the grandest and highest-profile repair job since the Apollo 13 duct-tape fix. It is requiring a vast effort, leveraging all the ships and equipment and manpower that the most powerful companies and nations on earth can bring to bear.

It would be thrilling if the consequences of failure were not so dire.

Whatever the ultimate solution is, the men and women who finally do fix the ruptured well should be regarded as national heroes.

Continue reading our full editorial on Wired.com.

Is Apple silently fixing the iPhone 4 antenna issue?

July 13, 2010 Hardware — Kyle Wiens

Reports started surfacing today that Apple may have quietly revised the iPhone 4 to add a nonconductive coating to the metal band on the sides of the phone. This would fix the sudden signal drop from electrically bridging the antennas by touching the band in the bottom-left corner with your hand.

We got an independent report of a similarly updated phone from a member of our community, so we decided to investigate. We exchanged one of our units (that had been experiencing unrelated problems with its Bluetooth connection) to see if Apple has changed the manufacturing process since their initial production run.

The serial number on the unit tells you the manufacture date; our original phone was manufactured in mid-June (week 25). The replacement unit we got was made in early-July (week 27), apparently too soon for a manufacturing change.

The serial number also identifies which factory it was made in. (We don’t have a mapping of numbers to physical factories, but we can tell if two phones came from the same plant.) Apple has always done this, and we’ve occasionally had fun comparing Macs to see if they were birthed in the same place. A fun aside: I once had a Mac made in Apple’s Elk Grove, California factory. This information may be useful if Apple is rolling the production change out to their factories one at a time.

The iPhone 4 serial number is easy to decode! It’s in this format:

aabccdddeef
aa = Factory and Machine ID
b = Year
cc = Production Week
ddd = Unique Identifier
ee = Colour
f = size

Our serial numbers:
85025xxxA4S (16GB unit we took apart)
86025xxxA4T (32GB test unit)
86027xxxA4T (32GB replacement)

Apple has so many iPhones out in the field that it’s very hard to get a feel for what’s going on. They may have just switched to their new process at one of their factories, or they may be rolling it out slowly, or this may be an internet myth. The only way to find out is to check a number of units that have just shipped from the factory.

We need your help! If you got an iPhone in the last few days, check the serial number. If the production week is bigger than 27, try checking the impedance of the metal frame with a multimeter. If you hold the leads about an inch apart, the resistance should be less than one ohm. If it’s substantially higher, you may have a unit with the new coating. (Accuracy of multimeters varies dramatically, but we’d expect a nonconductive coating to have a very high impedance.)

How to measure the resistance of the iPhone 4's metal edge. Our phone reads 0.6 ohms, or eseentially no resistance.

iPhone 4 Wallpapers: Gyro and Internals

June 30, 2010 Hardware, Site News — Miro

This morning we published a teardown of the iPhone 4’s vibrational gyroscope. We tried our best to explain how vibrational gyroscopes function and have documented their internals at a microscopic level.

The pictures were worth a thousand words. Everyone was thrilled to see Chipworks‘ images of vibrational gyroscopes, and one user even made an iPhone wallpaper out of them.

We loved the “gyroscope wallpaper” idea so much that we re-created the same wallpaper for everyone to enjoy, and included an “iPhone 4 Internals” wallpaper to boot:


Just click on the pictures above within your iPhone’s browser to access the full-resolution images. If for some reason you cannot click on the images, you can use the Gyro and Internals links, respectively.

iPhone 2G, 3G & 3GS users, do not fret — the images are 2:3 ratio and will look just fine on your phones.

This is a buy zero, get two free promotion, practically unheard of outside of iFixit. Enjoy!

iPhone 4 Gyroscope Teardown

June 30, 2010 Hardware, Site News, Teardowns — Miro

Apple first announced the iPhone 4’s gyroscope at WWDC 2010, but it was largely overshadowed by other big players inside the phone — the A4 processor, Retina display, and external antennas. A lot of technology gets stuffed into vibrational gyroscopes (the type found in the iPhone 4), yet a casual observer may barely notice the chip itself, let alone the phenomenal contents within it. We’ve partnered with Chipworks to show you exactly what’s inside these little gems.

GK10A MEMS die, found in the iPhone 4's gyroscope

Vibrational gyroscopes have a ton of practical uses, including automotive yaw sensors, game controllers, and image stabilization in cameras. Now, iPhone 4 applications and games can also benefit from their superb accuracy. The teardown covers not only the iPhone 4’s gyroscope, but vibrational gyroscopes in general. We tried our best to explain how vibrational gyroscopes function and have documented their internals at a microscopic level.

ST LYPR540AH Tri-axis MEMS gyroscope, shot by a scanning electron microscope.

iPhone 4 Repair Guides

June 25, 2010 Hardware, Repair Guides, Site News — Miro

We’ve had the iPhone 4 in our hands for only a couple of  days, which happens to be just enough time to create a comprehensive set of repair guides! We hope you never have to use our guides, but we’ve got you covered if you do.

During our teardown, we investigated the repairability of the front and back glass panels. It turns out that you’ll be able to replace the back glass with little effort, but you won’t be able to replace the front panel without also replacing the LCD. The LCD, glass panel, and digitizer come as one unit in the iPhone 4, and they are inseparable without damaging the device. We’re going to keep investigating to see if there are some methods of separating the LCD from the rest of the front panel, but the “outlook [is] not so good,” so to speak.

The good news is that whatever goes wrong with your beautiful iPhone 4 — whether you crush the home button, damage the front-facing or rear-facing camera, or short out the iPhone logic board while taking a swim — you can fix it, and we can help.

Removing the rear panel

Replacing the rear camera

Replacing the front panel assembly

Replacing the logic board

iPhone 4 Teardown

June 24, 2010 Hardware, Site News, Teardowns — Miro

We had a blast taking apart the new iPhone 4. Apple definitely spent time giving the phone a thorough makeover, meticulously changing every little facet.

We are happy to splay the fruits of their labor for your enjoyment!

You can view the teardown, or head to YouTube to check out our video slideshow.

Teardown highlights:

  • Like the iPhone 3G and 3GS, there are two silver Phillips screws at the bottom of the phone. But removing these screws releases the rear case instead of the front glass, giving you immediate access to the battery.
  • Unfortunately, the LCD panel is very securely glued to the glass and digitizer. If you break the glass, you’ll have to replace the glass, digitizer, and LCD as a single assembly.
  • The 3.7V, 1420 mAh Li-Polymer battery is not soldered in place, and is very easy to remove.
  • In what can only be described as a work of genius, Apple has integrated the UMTS, GSM, GPS, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth antennas into the stainless steel inner frame.
  • The iPhone 4 sports two cameras — a VGA front-facer, and a 5 MP beauty on the back. Both are located on their own independent boards, making it possible to physically remove the cameras without damaging the phone.
  • The phone uses the 1 GHz ARM Cortex A8 core, much like its bigger sibling, the iPad.
  • Unlike the iPhone 3GS and iPad — which are both equipped with 256 MB of RAM — the iPhone 4 has a whopping 512 MB.
  • The AGD1 is the new 3 axis gyroscope that we believe is designed and manufactured by ST Micro for Apple. The package marks on this device do not appear to be the currently available commercial part, L3G4200D.
  • Broadcom provides both a BCM4329FKUBG 802.11n with Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR and FM receiver and a BCM4750IUB8 single-chip GPS receiver.
  • We’ve identified chips from Broadcom, Cirrus Logic, Numonyx, Samsung, ST Micro, Skyworks, Texas Instruments, and TriQuint.

Removing the camera

The iPhone 4 splayed out

Mac Mini Mid 2010 Teardown

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

We were finally able to acquire a Mini after some patient loitering outside our local Apple store. We were the only people in line, but we’re a committed bunch.

The 2010 Mini has been heavily revised. The main external difference is the new “pancaked” look — it’s wider than the previous Mini, but significantly thinner.

The power brick is gone (the power supply is now internal), and Apple has finally included an all-important HDMI port. However, Apple’s engineers didn’t stop there, and we found some very cool internal improvements!

You can check out the teardown, or alternately, view our YouTube video slideshow (for those who like moving pictures).

Teardown highlights:

  • With a simple counter-clockwise twist, we were able to gain access into the Mini’s internals. Gone are the days of the putty knife. You will be missed, old friend!
  • Removing the RAM is very simple this time around, requiring only the simple prying of two clips.
  • The fan doesn’t have too much work to do, since the new Mac Mini is the most energy-efficient desktop, running on less than 10 watts at idle!
  • There are two blind holes in the case of the Mini that are meant for the ends of Apple’s custom U-shaped logic board removal tool. We just used two Torx screwdrivers. We call them the “Mac Mini logic board removal tool.”
  • In keeping with its space saving design, the fins directing air toward the vent hole are slanted to allow for better fan placement.
  • The new Mini’s power supply churns out a minuscule 7 Amps at 12V. Compare that to the 25.8 Amps at 12V cranked out by the iMac Intel 27″, and you can understand how they fit the power supply inside the Mini.
  • The Mini’s 3/8″ woofer dome won’t be popping ear drums anytime soon.
  • Apple had to get creative with the antenna placement because they switched to unibody construction for this Mac Mini.

Removing the logic board

Mac Mini in pieces

iPhone 4 Specs Revealed

June 7, 2010 Hardware, Site News — Miro

Steve Jobs just announced the new iPhone 4. We were surprised that some of the inner workings of the phone were revealed, a first for Apple.

Some great new features of the new iPhone 4:

  • Glass front and back, steel frame. The frame is used as part of the antenna system, which should make reception much better.
  • Apple A4 processor confirmed.
  • 5MP camera with LED flash, shoots 720p video at 30 FPS!
  • “Retina Display” with 326 ppi density. That translates to a 3.5″ display with a 960×460 resolution, 78% of the pixels of the much-larger iPad.
  • A new battery that allows for “7 hours of 3G talk, 6 hours of 3G browsing, 10 hours of WiFi browsing, 10 hours of video, 40 hours of music…”
  • A three-axis gyroscope!
  • Video conferencing with a front-facing camera through Wi-Fi.

This is how the internal frame/antennas look:

Apple also showed off some of the manufacturing processes for the iPhone 4 frame:

Pre-orders start on June 15th; you’ll be able to hold one in your hands (and we’ll be tearing one down) on the 24th. Big thanks to Engadget for providing the photos. Go figure, we’re not on Apple’s invite list for these events!

HTC Evo 4G Teardown

June 1, 2010 Hardware, Site News, Teardowns — Miro

We managed to snag an HTC Evo 4G before it went on sale to the general public. In true teardown fashion, we turned it on, played with the gorgeous screen for 5 minutes, and immediately relegated it to the carving table. Our friends at Wired were nice enough to record our disassembly for the world to see:

The Evo 4G was wonderfully easy to take apart, which should make servicing/repairing the phone very easy. Even so, HTC managed to avoid “ghastly” visible screws by using a removable back panel. Once the panel was removed, we were able to access the six T5 Torx screws and underlying components using a bit of care and precision.

Teardown highlights:

  • Removing the glass is not terribly difficult. This is great news for those unfortunate enough to drop their shiny phone and crack the glass.
  • Like most reasonable phones, changing the Evo’s battery is a snap. All you have to do is remove the back cover and unplug the battery.
  • The 3.7 V, 1500 mAh rechargeable Li-ion battery contains 23% more capacity than an iPhone 3GS, 15% more than a Droid Incredible, and 7% more than a Nexus One.
  • Look out! There’s a liquid damage indicator on the battery’s top edge — a first that we’ve seen. Of course, you can just replace the battery if you douse the Evo in water. There are other liquid damage indicators on the phone, however, so you can’t fool the manufacturer that easily.
  • The Evo’s internal frame houses the stand, antennas, LED flashes, and speaker, and connects to the logic board via several ribbon cables.
  • The dual LED flash assembly consists of no more than two LEDs soldered to a small interconnect board.