The Unauthorized Guide to iPhone, iPad, and iPod Repair (2013)
Chapter 15. Replacing the Front Display and/or Rear Case
By far the most common iDevice repair issue is a broken front display or rear case. Let’s face it—we humans are prone to dropping our iDevices. Moreover, a majority of iDevice users tend to be more concerned with fashionable or cool-looking iDevice cases rather than a case that actually protects against a drop.
Let’s see if I can give you a couple examples from my personal experiences. There was the time when my iPod touch came out of my pocket during a run and landed facedown on a rock—ouch. My super-deluxe armored case didn’t prevent the front display from looking like a spider built a web across it.
Then there was the time when my two-year-old daughter, Zoey, wanted to “play” with my iPhone 4S. I think you can take that scenario to its logical conclusion without further prompting. As I’ve told you before, as you start your work as an iDevice repair technician, you can rest assured that you’ll break some glass along the way, especially when you try to separate the front glass from iPads.
For proof of this, take a look at Figure 15.1, which shows you an iPad 2 display assembly that shattered spectacularly during a repair.
FIGURE 15.1 iPad 2 display assembly—or what’s left of it—after a failed attempt at front glass removal.
With respect to front and rear glass replacements, I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that a couple iDevice models make the process relatively trouble-free. The bad news is that other iDevices models make the process extraordinarily difficult.
I begin the discussion with a description of how the display assembly of an iDevice actually works. If you’ve followed the iDevice disassemblies in the preceding chapters of this book then you already have a pretty good idea as to what’s what.
Anatomy of the iDevice Front Display
In Figure 15.2, I attempt to present a logical depiction of a typical iDevice’s front display assembly. The word “assembly” is key because the front display isn’t a single component; it’s a combination of three separate parts.
FIGURE 15.2 Schematic illustration of the iDevice front display assembly.
The glass itself is made of Corning Gorilla Glass (http://www.corninggorillaglass.com). Gorilla Glass is an alkali-aluminosilicate sheet glass that is renowned for its lightness, thinness, and damage resistance.
Note: Heart of (Gorilla) Glass
Although we can reasonably assume that Apple uses Gorilla Glass on all contemporary iDevices, the iPhone is the only device to which Apple has openly admitted applying the technology (Reference: http://is.gd/2EV3Wa).
The digitizer is the electronic component that senses the touch of the human finger (or capacitive stylus) and translates those location coordinates to a digital stream that is passed to the iDevice logic board. Because the digitizer, which looks like a transparent sheet, is wholly reliant upon the front glass for its operation, you’ll find that the glass and digitizer are always fused together.
This glass/digitizer combination constitutes the capacitive touch screen that so many people rave about with iDevices and some other smart devices. In brief, capacitive touch screens use the human finger or a capactive stylus as an electrical conductor; the touch creates a distortion of the screen’s electrostatic field that is measured, quantified, and as I said earlier, transferred to the logic board as user input.
Finally, the Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) is the actual viewable screen of an iDevice that represents graphical output (and provides a target for input) for the iDevice user.
The rear case of an iDevice isn’t terribly interesting, quite honestly. Either the rear case is made of breakable glass, or it is made of plastic or aluminum.
From a repair perspective, it is important that you discover how Apple kits each iDevice with respect to its front display assembly and rear case components. To that end, I’ve assembled this data for most of the contemporary iDevice models in Table 15.1.
TABLE 15.1 iDevice Display Comparison Matrix
Note: You Say Tomato
There seems to be no real consistency in nomenclature when referring to the iDevice rear case. You’ll see various references to rear case, back plate, backplate, rear cover, and more. As long as you know and I both know what part we’re talking about, we’re good to go.
In the Front Display Setup table column, fused means that the glass, digitizer, and LCD are fused into a single part.
Repair Options and DIY Strategies
If or when you are faced with repairing a broken iDevice screen, you have the following options available to you:
Visit the Apple Store
Hire a third party to replace the display
Do it yourself (DIY)
Let’s weigh the pros and cons of each approach, shall we?
Visit the Apple Store
If your iDevice has AppleCare+ then you are entitled to two free replacements, regardless of how the display damage occurred. In this case, I strongly suggest that you take advantage of the AppleCare+ coverage and not attempt a DIY repair—it simply makes no sense.
If your iDevice is out of warranty then Apple will repair...er...replace your iDevice (I’m smirking a bit as I type this, I must confess), but I’m afraid it’s going to cost you. As of this writing in early 2013, the out-of-pocket charge breakdown with appropriate Apple.com page references for iPhones and iPads looks like this:
iPhone 4S: $199 (http://is.gd/ZYJ0wb)
iPhone 5: $229 (http://is.gd/ZYJ0wb)
iPad 2: $249 (http://is.gd/7NUDNO)
iPad 3rd/4th gen: $299 (http://is.gd/7NUDNO)
iPad mini: $219 (http://is.gd/7NUDNO)
Ouch! Those high charges should justify the addition of AppleCare+ coverage to any new iDevice purchase, in my humble opinion.
Hire a Third Party to Replace the Display
If you are nervous about performing a front display or rear case replacement yourself, there are plenty of folks who will undertake the task for you—at a price.
My best words of advice are for you to shop around and go with a technician who offers a warranty. Skill levels and ethical foundations vary widely among iDevice technicians. If you can obtain a referral from a satisfied customer then all the better.
I suggest that you fire up Google or your favorite search engine and submit search strings that are akin to the following suggestions. See what you can discover. Perform some cost/benefit analysis to determine whether paying somebody to replace your iDevice screen or rear case is more cost-effective than paying Apple or performing the repair yourself.
iPhone 5 screen replacement service
iPad 3 front glass replacement nashville (substitute your own city for Nashville)
iPod touch 5 screen repair warranty
Do It Yourself
Ah, now we come to the heart of the matter. You wouldn’t be reading this book unless you had at least a passing interest in performing DIY repairs, am I correct?
We covered the step-by-steps for removing the display assemblies in the teardown chapters of this book. Here I present to you some targeted tips and tricks to assist you in your DIY screen repair journey.
Be Sure to Source the Correct Part(s)
Do you remember in Chapter 4, “iDevice Repair Best Practices,” where I talk about how to identify iDevice models? It is crucial that you order a display assembly or rear case that was designed for your specific iDevice model. As I have discussed previously, whether a given replacement part is a “genuine” Apple Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) or a third-party knock-off isn’t something that you have a heck of a lot of control over.
In my experience in performing iDevice parts replacements, I have just three criteria from which I work when sourcing parts:
Cost. I obviously want to keep cost to a minimum in order to maximize my return on investment.
It works. When I replace a display assembly, I need the iDevice to operate exactly the same way it did before the screen break.
The fit and finish are acceptable. Nobody should be able to pick up a repaired iDevice and say, “This part is obviously not from the original unit.”
What’s weird, at least to me, in sourcing front display assemblies is how widely the costs vary. I’ve seen iPhone 5 display assemblies sold at iFixit for more than $100, and I’ve seen what appear to be the same kits sold on eBay for $30. What accounts for the price difference?
Well, iFixit stands behind their products with a warranty, and you might not get that with an Amazon- or eBay-sourced kit. iFixit also includes stuff that you don’t ordinarily get with a replacement display assembly, such as precut adhesive strips. That counts for a lot, in my opinion.
As I told you before, when you find a good source for iDevice repair parts, do everything you can to cultivate that relationship—it’s worth its weight in gold.
Some iPhones Are Easier to Repair Than Others
Replacing the front display assembly on the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 5 is a breeze because this is the first part that is removed from the device during the disassembly.
On the other hand, replacing the display or rear case on the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S requires that you completely (and I do mean completely) disassemble the device in order to separate those parts from the rest of the phone. You can see this bitter truth in Figure 15.3.
FIGURE 15.3 To replace the iPhone 4/4S display, a full disassembly is required. (Photo courtesy of ifixit.com)
iPads Are Uniformly Awful in Terms of Display Replacement
I loathe performing display replacements on iPads with the fiery passion of a thousand burning suns. Why? Well, for one thing, the glass and digitizer combo is glued to the case extremely securely. For another thing, exerting the smallest amount of extra pressure when you try to lift the glass breaks said glass. Third, resolving a shattered front panel means not only removing the front glass, but also spending a lot of time with a spudger removing tiny glass particles from the gluey frame. This is not a fun way to spend your evenings at home, friends.
Be Sure to Purchase Adhesive Strips
You may be able to get away without adhesive strips with iPhone screen or rear case replacements, but you will almost certainly require some strips to securely re-fasten the iPad display assembly to the case. iFixit sells these strips precut per iDevice; very thoughtful! Figure 15.4 shows one of these products.
FIGURE 15.4 iFixit precut adhesive strips for the iPad.
If Possible, Test the Display Before Reassembly
After you’ve connected the glass, digitizer, and LCD back to the iDevice logic board, power on the device to make sure that it works before you actually reseal the case. Of course, this isn’t always possible, especially when you are dealing with the iPhone 4. However, I’ve saved myself quite a bit of time and unnecessary frustration performing these display “preflight” checks on iPad 2, 3, and 4 screen replacements that I’ve performed.
Use a Microfiber Cloth and Blower to Remove Fingerprints and Dust
When I perform a front display replacement on an iPad, which as you know has a separate LCD panel, I get paranoid that I’ll leave fingerprints, smudges, or dust particles on the LCD. Believe me, you don’t want that.
Therefore, I suggest that you use a microfiber cloth and “puff” dust blower to ensure that the LCD remains crystal-clear. The “puff” blower is nothing more than a bulb syringe that you squeeze to jet air onto your target surface; Figure 15.5 shows a “puff” dust blower.
FIGURE 15.5 iFixit dust blower.
How to Minimize Damage to the Display/Rear Case
Ultimately, protecting the screen and rear case of your expensive iDevice boils down to being careful with it. Keep the device out of the hands of small children and pets. Keep the iDevice out of the rain. However, you and I both know there always exists the “X factor” that no amount of proactivity can ward against.
You can purchase plastic or film screen protectors; these help ward against scratches, but obviously won’t prevent a full-on crack in the event of impact.
You can add a protective case to your iDevice to provide full coverage of the iDevice’s case. The downside to these products is they can add unwanted bulk to these otherwise svelte devices. Moreover, some cases can actually obstruct the display partially (this is the case—pun intended—with my iPad mini leather case).