The Unauthorized Guide to iPhone, iPad, and iPod Repair (2013)
Chapter 13. Sourcing iDevice Replacement Parts
This part of the book covers how to perform a series of parts replacements. I selected the specific replacements based upon my extensive experience in supporting Apple desktop and mobile hardware.
Because the subsequent chapters assume that you have the relevant replacement parts on hand, you might have the following question:
Where can I find iDevice parts?
How can I ensure that I get Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) parts and not cheap imitations?
I decided this topic needs a separate chapter because I have some big-time caveat emptor (buyer beware) tips and tricks for you in locating replacement parts. Let’s get started.
What Is OEM, and Why Do I Care?
The acronym OEM denotes Original Equipment Manufacturer, and I’m sad to inform you that the term is used in the industry in confusing and sometimes contradictory ways.
Wikipedia formally defines OEM this way:
An original equipment manufacturer, or OEM, manufactures products or components that are purchased by another company and retailed under that purchasing company’s brand name. OEM refers to the company that originally manufactured the product.
Are you with me so far? Pay particular attention to that last sentence. The Wikipedia article goes on to say:
OEM may refer to a company that purchases for use in its own products a component made by a second company. Under this definition, if Apple purchases optical drives from Toshiba to put in its computers, Apple is the OEM, and Toshiba would classify the transaction as an “OEM sale.”
If you examine most Apple hardware, you’ll find statements such as the one shown in Figure 13.1.
FIGURE 13.1 Apple’s OEM disclaimer on the back panel of an iPad 3rd generation.
The Taiwan-based Foxconn Technology Group (www.foxconn.com) has been in the news quite a bit over the past several years. Leaving the controversial stuff aside, the public knows that Foxconn is one of Apple’s OEM partners. Foxconn manufactures iDevice components, and they are stamped with Apple’s brand name. Thus, all of these parts are Apple OEM parts.
The trick is how can we, the everyday, standalone iDevice techs, get our mitts on OEM replacement parts for iDevices? Officially, only Apple Authorized Service Providers (AASPs) have the ability to order OEM replacement parts through the online Apple Global Service Exchange (https://gsx.apple.com) website.
Thus, our “unofficial” method for sourcing OEM iDevice replacement parts means turning to the wild and wooly world of the Internet.
Some might argue, “What’s the big deal about OEM parts? If I can buy a touch screen/LCD/digitizer replacement for a good price and it works, then why do I care if the part is OEM or not?”
The sad truth is that you will find, in general, a quality difference between Apple OEM and aftermarket parts. Consider the touchscreen. Apple uses Corning Gorilla Glass (corninggorillaglass.com) to provide a perfect blend of clarity, thinness, lightness, and damage resistance to all its iDevices.
However, you would be hard-pressed ever to find Gorilla Glass used in an aftermarket, non-OEM display assembly. Why? Two reasons: (a) production cost; and (b) Corning has an exclusive agreement with Apple to provide Gorilla Glass for its iDevices.
Where Can I Find OEM iDevice Parts?
Before I give you a punch list of iDevice parts sources that I recommend to you, I want to lead off by providing you with a couple tidbits of advice that you can take action on immediately.
Unless you buy the part directly from Apple, there is no guarantee that the part you receive is genuine OEM.
If you search the Internet, you will discover web content (typically from parts resellers) that offers tips for determining whether a given iDevice replacement part is genuine OEM or an aftermarket copy.
Please don’t believe any of that nonsense. The only 100 percent sure method for receiving Apple OEM parts is to order them directly from Apple. OEM partners such as Foxconn aren’t allowed to sell parts directly to consumers. Again, you must be an AASP in order to gain access to the parts requisition process.
What’s especially heinous is that there are companies out there who copy iDevice parts (even entire iDevices, for that matter) and go so far as to reproduce Apple-specific markings.
For instance, take a look at the close-up of an iPod touch 4th gen’s internals in Figure 13.2. How can you tell whether the markings you see on the LCD and digitizer represent OEM or a third-party knock-off?
FIGURE 13.2 Apple OEM components are typically marked, but this doesn’t guarantee that a similarly marked replacement part is OEM.
Study Buyer Reviews
Study buyer reviews carefully, and make personal contacts if possible.
As you know, online marketplaces such as Amazon.com and eBay.com have rich community support. Make sure that you thoroughly read buyer reviews before you place an order with an iDevice repair parts provider.
What’s even more effective is if you can obtain a personal referral from a colleague, friend, or fellow online buyer. Don’t be afraid to directly contact buyers who leave worthwhile reviews on shopping sites. Online purchases are often a complete “shot in the dark” unless you have verified experience of other buyers to rely upon beforehand.
Trust Your Gut
When working with an aftermarket vendor, go with your intuition.
When you do “take the plunge” and place an order with an aftermarket iDevice parts vendor, pay attention to the entire process. Take the time to consider the following questions:
Based upon your interactions, is the vendor worthy of trust?
Would you recommend this vendor to others?
How communicative is the vendor? Does he keep you informed of order status?
How willing is the vendor to handle returns or refunds?
But Where Do I Start My Search?
Given these admittedly depressing warnings, what websites would I recommend to you in your search of OEM iDevice parts? Here you go:
Amazon (http://amazon.com): Read the buyer reviews carefully.
eBay (http://ebay.com): Same advice concerning reading buyer reviews.
iFixit (http://www.ifixit.com/iPhone-Parts): I’m not 100 percent sure that their parts are OEM. However, they offer a warranty and installation instructions—can’t beat that!
AppleOEMParts (http://www.appleoemparts.com): This company offers free shipping for most parts.
eTechParts (http://www.etechparts.com/): This company boasts impressive customer support.
A word of warning: Be sure to read the return/warranty policy for online iDevice parts vendors. Sometimes a vendor does not offer return or replacement policies, which might leave you with Dead on Arrival (DOA) parts. On the other hand, iFixit offers wholesale parts and tool discounts with established return and warranty policies
I apologize for being the bearer of bad news, but I hope you know me well enough by now to trust that I’m going to tell you the straight story without any Apple-correct filtering.
I have had a significant number of iDevice replacement parts fail. Either the part didn’t work out of the box, or its cheap construction resulted in breakage shortly after the repair (see Figure 13.3). This sad truth underscores the following two points:
When you find a vendor who ships you quality parts, stick with that vendor!
Consider purchasing more than one instance of each replacement part.
FIGURE 13.3 Would you be surprised if I told you the “OEM” replacement display I ordered for my iPhone 4S (shown installed at left) doesn’t work? Don’t be—it was dead on arrival (DOA).
If your plan is to work part-time or full-time as an iDevice tech then you should have a robust supply of replacement parts on hand anyway. Please take the necessary steps to ensure that you aren’t reliant upon a single replacement part to save the day.