The Unauthorized Guide to iPhone, iPad, and iPod Repair (2013)
Chapter 2. The Tools of the Trade
This chapter discusses what is required of you—physically, psychologically, and in terms of materials—for you to be a successful iDevice Do-It-Yourself (DIY) technician. Some specific questions that might be on your mind right now include the following:
How much of a “techie” do I have to be to learn DIY iDevice repair?
Do I have to solder anything?
How much money do the repair tools cost?
We cover all the preceding questions and more. Let’s start with discovering what is required of you to succeed at iDevice repair.
What Does It Take to Become an iDevice Technician?
I’ve been working with Apple hardware since the first Macintosh was introduced on January 24, 1984. However, it wasn’t until I earned a bachelor’s degree in biology, a master’s degree in education, and was unsuccessful in finding a job as a public school science teacher that I had my career epiphany:
“Hey, you have a knack for computers. Why not consider going into the field full time?”
I entered the information technology field in 1997 and never looked back. Given my experience and the benefit of hindsight, I can say with confidence that anybody can succeed as an iDevice repair technician if they work diligently to develop the following three success factors:
You are reading this book, which tells me that you are genuinely interested in the subject matter. That’s a good thing. The way you’ll learn your degree of aptitude (native ability) in iDevice repair will emerge after you take screwdriver in hand and begin to practice (which, of course, is the third essential ingredient to my success formula).
There are five character traits that you must have if you want to have any kind of enjoyable time working on Apple hardware:
Patience—You will learn before too long that Apple makes the absolute most use of the limited space inside of an iPod touch or iPhone. There is literally no wasted space inside those chassis. Moreover, the screws involved are so tiny that dropping one on a pile carpet (not that you should be working in a carpeted room; more on that later) means you pretty much lost the screw forever. Thus, iDevice repair is not for high-strung individuals. You need to be methodical and relaxed. You need to be patient, and take the disassembly and reassembly steps one at a time.
Dexterity—As I just told you, the components inside iDevices, even larger ones such as the iPad, are delicate and extraordinarily small. Although specialty tools can help in this regard, you nonetheless need to have a certain baseline level of hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills in order to successfully operate on iDevices.
Tip: I Can See Clearly Now
Believe me, there is no shame in using a magnifying glass. In point of fact, using a work light with an integrated magnifier (discussed later on in this chapter) is actually highly recommended.
Tenacity—Tenacity means “persistent determination.” When the going gets rough during a disassembly or parts replacement procedure, there is no “giving up.” If you need to take a break and get a breath of fresh air to refocus then you certainly should. However, the work will be waiting for you when you return. Those iDevices won’t put themselves back together. The combination of patience and tenacity is one of the critical success factors to any computer repair technician, much less an individual who specializes in Apple mobile hardware.
Organization—Let me be frank: If you go into an iDevice disassembly without a plan for organizing screws and parts, then you will find yourself in a world of hurt from which you might not be able to recover. Do you notice how these required character traits work together? It takes patience and tenacity to work out an organizational system to guide your iDevice repair processes. The good news is that maintaining an organized work environment isn’t rocket science. By the conclusion of this chapter you will understand how to set up your work area to minimize the “one stray part left over” pitfall of iDevice repair.
Confidence/Courage—Finally, you need to be confident and courageous to undertake iDevice repair. When someone trusts you to examine and repair his iDevice, he’s giving you a significant compliment about your ability. Regardless of whether you feel confident or courageous, you must (as William James suggests in The Varieties of Religious Experience) act as if you are confident and courageous, and the rest will follow.
Now that you know what kind of character traits you need, it’s time to address the question of technical ability. In order to succeed as an iDevice technician, you need to possess the following software skills:
Basic familiarity with the Apple iOS
Basic computer literacy (Mac or PC)
iOS is the mobile operating system used by iPhones, iPod touches, iPads, and the 2nd generation Apple TV. You don’t have to be an iDevice power user to perform hardware repair. However, having those skills certainly benefits you from a diagnostic and troubleshooting perspective.
Please consider purchasing a recommended book or two on iOS tips and tricks. You will doubtless find that they come in handy one way or the other.
Tip: Recommended Read
If you want to hone your iOS skills, there are a lot of books out there that will do the trick, though this one is particularly good: iPad and iPhone Tips and Tricks (Covers iOS 6 on iPad, iPad mini, and iPhone), 2nd Edition, by Jason Rich (ISBN-10: 0-7897-5096-1).
By “basic computer literacy” I speak of your ability to successfully navigate a desktop operating system. It does not matter whether your operating system platform is OS X or Microsoft Windows; as you doubtless know, iTunes and iCloud client software runs on both operating systems equally well.
You should be familiar with mouse and keyboard navigation, how to copy and move files, and how to mount and eject external devices.
In my experience, you should do what you can to gain an equal level of familiarity with both OS X and Windows because as a Windows-based iDevice technician you might be called to troubleshoot an iDevice that synchronizes with OS X, and vice versa.
Obtaining iDevice Technician Tools
Something that is almost always a wake-up call for aspiring iDevice technicians is that you can’t simply visit your local hardware store and expect to find the tools you need. Apple makes it difficult by design for you to open iDevice cases and remove components.
Why do you think Apple plays this game? Well, it’s simple, really. Recall the discussion on Apple warranties in Chapter 1, “Why Do It Yourself?” that the opening of an iDevice case immediately voids the warranty. The bottom line is that Apple does not want non-Apple personnel horsing around with its hardware.
A good example of this position against iDevice tampering is the pentalobe screw. The iPhone 4 was the first iDevice to use these custom-designed tamper-resistant screws to protect the outer case. You can see the shape of the pentalobe screw head in Figure 2.1. The good news is that you can purchase pentalobe screwdrivers inexpensively from a number of third-party sources.
FIGURE 2.1 The pentalobe screw head. (This image was created by Ruudjah2 and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license: http://is.gd/93B1MS)
Sources for iDevice Tech Tools
Is there anything that Amazon.com does not sell? Navigate to the Amazon.com Cell Phones & Accessories department and take a look at its Replacement Parts section. There you can find vendor links to any iDevice tools and replacement parts you’ll ever need.
You can also perform an advanced search on eBay.com to locate iDevice parts and tools.
Parts quality can vary significantly between suppliers—some eBay, or even Amazon sellers, sell subpar parts. Read customer reviews to ensure you purchase from reputable sellers on eBay or Amazon. Even if a seller has positive past reviews, however, their next batch of parts may be defective, and they will still sell them—either unknowingly or knowingly. By contrast, iFixit tests each and every part before offering them up for sale.
With regard to dedicated third-party sources for iDevice tools and parts, the two companies I have done business with and heartily recommend to you are the following:
Note: More on Replacement Parts Later
I delve more into specific suggestions with regard to purchasing iDevice replacement parts in Chapter 13, “Sourcing iDevice Replacement Parts.” For now I’m staying focused strictly on sourcing technician tools.
Some third-party sources that I have not yet used but receive good reviews are
Without further ado, it’s time to begin building your technician’s toolkit!
ESD Safety Equipment
Electrostatic discharge (ESD), also called static electricity, is a very real threat to the safety of all electronic equipment. Did you know that a static charge of as little as 10 volts (V) could damage integrated circuit (IC) components? Hint: You can’t even feel a 10V charge, so you don’t know you fried your electronics device until you completed the repair or upgrade and try to power it on. You need to be hit with a charge of at least 1,500V even to perceive the electricity.
Some people dismiss the idea of ESD damage and consequently take no precautions against it. Please don’t fall into that trap. When I was a computer repair newbie I once built a computer on my carpeted living room floor. As expected, I zapped the motherboard and wasted a couple hundred dollars in the space of two minutes.
Chapter 4, “iDevice Repair Best Practices,” covers environmental issues that promote ESD safety. For now you need to know what you need to purchase in order to facilitate an ESD-safe workbench. Here’s the deal: ESD builds up on our bodies. You need to prevent that ESD from reaching your delicate iDevice components. Thus, the recommended current flow is as follows:
Your body ==> Antistatic wrist strap ==> Antistatic work mat ==> Ground
Figure 2.2 shows an antistatic work mat and wrist strap.
FIGURE 2.2 Antistatic work mat and wrist strap.
Metal in your antistatic wrist strap makes contact with your skin, which conducts the ESD away from your body. Because the antistatic wrist strap is grounded (connected) to the mat, the mat receives discharged ESD both from your body and from the electronic components that lay on that mat. Finally, the mat discharges to whichever ground source you’ve selected.
There exists much controversy as to what specific type of ground you should use for your ESD work mat. Most techs, myself included, ground to the household AC ground wire by linking the mat’s copper ring connector to the ground screw of a household electrical outlet. You can see an excellent schematic drawing of how this ESD connection workflow functions by visiting the Indoff blog post “ESD Workstations” at http://is.gd/04s4aK.
As previously discussed, disassembling iDevices requires you to use specialty screwdrivers. Perhaps the two most important screwdrivers for your toolkit are the Phillips #00 and the pentalobe.
You also need small flathead screwdrivers. Rather than sourcing a few select specialty screwdrivers, I instead suggest that you purchase a screwdriver kit that is dedicated to iDevice/small electronics repair. I purchased my own screwdriver kit (see Figure 2.3) from iFixit, and I love it.
FIGURE 2.3 The iFixit 54-bit driver kit.
A spudger (see Figure 2.4; a spudger is on the right) is an ESD-safe tool that is usually made of plastic or wood. You use it to poke, pry, and make adjustments to your iDevices or other small electronic components. You can also find metal spudgers, although I don’t recommend them because of their ESD conductivity and tendency to scratch iDevice cases.
FIGURE 2.4 The iPod opening tools are on the left, and the spudger is on the right.
Note: A Little Etymology
In case any of you are word nerds like I am, the etymology of the word spudger is interesting. Spudger dates to approximately 1425–75, from the late Middle English noun spuddle (“short knife”). You learn something new every day, don’t you?
Plastic Opening Tool(s)
Plastic opening tools (see Figure 2.4) provide a component-friendly, ESD-safe, disposable method for prying open iDevice cases and internal connectors. These tools are sold in a variety of sizes and are inexpensive (approximately $3.00 per pair).
You often see these implements called “iPod opening tools.” However, these tools come in handy for opening and making adjustments to any iOS device.
It is worth noting that these tools degrade with use. Thus, you should ensure that you always have a healthy stockpile of opening tools in your tech toolkit.
Heat Gun/Hair Dryer
Really? I recommend that you purchase a heat gun or whip out your trusty hair dryer for iDevice repair? Well, as it happens, friends, a heat gun or hair dryer is invaluable for loosening the adhesive that binds together iPod and iPad cases.
The heat gun sold by iFixit, shown in Figure 2.5, produces 70°F at the low setting and up to 1112° F at the high setting. The take-home message is that you need to be careful not to overheat your iDevice cases so you don’t melt anything!
FIGURE 2.5 A heat gun—excellent for opening iDevice cases.
Tip: Hair Dryers Are for...Hair
Frankly, using hair dryers for iDevice repair is a “hit or miss” operation because most consumer hair dryers might not provide the necessary amount of heat required to loosen iDevice case glue. Thus, your best bet is to invest in an honest-to-goodness heat gun.
Caution: I’m Melting!
It should go without saying, but my legal department insists that I point out that heat guns are very, very dangerous and can easily melt many items, including your flesh, your wife’s curtains, the cat—anything that gets near the tool’s business end. Heat guns are designed to make short work of melting heat-shrink tubing and the like, so they can make equally short work of melting other items you’d prefer not to have melted. You have been warned!
A magnetizer/demagnetizer block (see Figure 2.6, left image) is one of those tools you didn’t know you needed until you get one and think, “How could I have lived so long without one of these?”
You can use this tool to apply a low magnetic charge to your screwdriver bits. Trust me—this makes working with the iDevice’s delicate screws so much more enjoyable and accurate.
As you would expect, you can remove the magnetization from your screwdrivers by passing them through the appropriate part of the block. This makes screwdriver storage less “sticky.”
The generic term “pick-up tools” refers to various tweezers, hemostats, clamps, and “doodads,” both magnetized and non-magnetized, that are helpful for retrieving screws, plugging and unplugging connectors, and routing tiny wires (see Figure 2.6, tools on right).
FIGURE 2.6 A magnetizing/demagnetizing tool is on the left, and various pickup tools are on the right.
In contrast to the plastic opening tools, pickup tools are generally made of metal. Therefore, you should, in most cases, enjoy a long return on your investment on these implements.
Work Lamp with Magnifying Glass
You will thank me for suggesting that you purchase a goose-necked work light that has an integrated magnifying glass (see Figure 2.7, left image). Not only does this tool provide more light when you’re working with iDevices, but it is also user friendly and gives you a fascinating close-up view of the microelectronics.
FIGURE 2.7 A work light is on the left, and magnetic project mats are on the right.
Magnetic Project Mat
Last, but not least, is the magnetic project mat. The one shown in Figure 2.7 (right image) comes from (you guessed it) iFixit, but you can feasibly make your own screw receptacle with resources as modest as a paper egg carton.
The bottom line is that you need a place not only to store screws and other tiny parts, but also to keep them organized in such a way that you always know which part/screw goes where in your device. Don’t lure yourself into the cockiness of thinking, “Pshaw. I’ve field-stripped a dozen iPhones so far—I can do this stuff in my sleep.” It is this reckless attitude that results in shoddy work, missing screws, and unhappy customers.
So...Do I Need to Solder Anything?
Understandably, some folks are put off entirely from the subject of electronics repair because they fear that they will be required to use a soldering iron. To be sure, soldering is an art unto itself, and a mistake with soldering equipment is likely irreversible.
By way of definition, soldering refers to permanently fusing two metal surfaces together by using a third metal called solder. Soldering requires burning-hot temperatures and a steady hand; unskilled individuals definitely can brick any electronics device by improper soldering.
The good news is that you are not required to use soldering to attach or detach components—unless you want to work on iPods. In iPhones and iPads, for the most part components are held together with adhesive, screws, and ribbon cables. Generally speaking, you are much better off completely replacing an iDevice logic board instead of taking your chances with a soldering gun, soldering braid, and oh-so-delicate circuit board components.
You’ll discover soon enough that because Apple considers iPods (including touches) to be disposable equipment, they tend to solder internal components to the logic board. The take-home message here is that iPod repair is an approach that should be considered only by those with quite a bit of experience with soldering and desoldering.
Alrighty then! At this point you understand not only which character traits are required to be a good iDevice tech, but you have all the raw materials to equip a capable repair workbench. Now let’s cover the pros and cons of industry certification.
Apple offers a variety of certification programs that validate your expertise with either OS X information technology or creative applications such as Final Cut or the iLife application suite. Unfortunately, at this time Apple does not offer a certification credential for iDevice repair or support.
However, before I give you a blow-by-blow consideration of available certifications, you need to answer the fundamental question, “Why should I consider certification in the first place?” For certain individuals, certification is either required or, at the least, highly desirable.
Here are the main reasons why getting certified is a good idea:
Increased professional credibility
Gaining a leg up in the job market
Meeting Apple’s certification requirements
Attaining deeper access to Apple tech resources
Let’s consider each of these reasons in more detail.
Increased Professional Credibility
Adding an Apple certification logo to your resume or your business card lends a definite boost to your credibility. If you earn any certification, whether it is Apple or another certification vendor, you’re telling prospective employers, colleagues, and clients, “I have invested time and effort to master this subject matter to the point where I have proved and documented my competency with an outside vendor.”
Gaining a Leg Up in the Job Market
Let’s face it: The information technology job market is booming, yet competitive. Whatever you can do to differentiate yourself from other candidates is a good thing. Speaking from my own experience as a hiring manager, if I were faced with two otherwise equally matched job candidates, in all likelihood I would take the certified individual before the non-certified individual. My thinking runs along the lines of, “This person went the extra step to document his or her competency with the subject matter. That speaks well of his or her character.”
An additional benefit to Apple certification is that attaining the credential qualifies you for inclusion in the Apple Certified Professionals Registry (http://is.gd/mcYZtc). This is an online database of Apple certified individuals. Given how powerful social networking is in information technology, you might find that job prospects come to you as a result of your inclusion in this list!
Meeting Apple’s Certification Requirements
According to Apple’s own rules, all technicians who want to work for an authorized Apple repair center need to be certified. Because, as I mentioned earlier, there is not yet an iDevice-specific title, the certification you need is called the Apple Certified Macintosh Technician, or ACMT. I discuss the specifics of this credential later, but you should understand that if you don’t work for an authorized Apple repair shop and still earn the ACMT, you aren’t suddenly given Apple’s blessings to perform your own warranty repair work. This is a quote from the ACMT home page (http://training.apple.com/certification/acmt):
Please note that ACMT certification by itself does not authorize a technician to perform repairs on Apple products. Information on becoming authorized for servicing Apple products can be found at: http://apple.com/support/programs/
If you click that programs link, you go to the Apple Service Programs page, where you can learn about the institutional service options that are covered in Chapter 1:
iOS Direct Service Program
Self-Servicing Account Program (SSP)
Apple Authorized Service Provider Program (AASP)
Attaining Deeper Access to Apple Tech Resources
If you earn the ACMT and are fortunate enough to score a job at an AASP or SSP, then you are privy to all sorts of wonderful Apple internal tools and diagnostics utilities. You also receive a login to the Apple Global Service Exchange (GSX) at https://gsx.apple.com. GSX is the interface between an Apple-authorized repair center and Apple itself. You can use GSX to access Apple’s internal documentation library, place Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) parts orders, and use downloadable and online internal troubleshooting tools.
I humbly submit to you that after you exert the necessary blood, sweat, and tears to become certified by Apple or another certification provider, your morale should take a decided turn for the better. After all, you have documentary proof of your capabilities as an Apple technician.
The four Apple-related certification and para-certification programs I suggest for you are the following:
Apple Certified Macintosh Technician (ACMT)
Apple Consultants Network (ACN)
Judging from the names in the list, you would be correct in assuming that the ACMT is an Apple title and the iTech is from a third-party certification vendor. To be sure, an Apple certification carries far more weight in industry than a third-party option such as the iCracked iTech. However, of the two programs only the iTech validates your skills with iOS devices specifically.
Apple Certified Macintosh Technician (ACMT)
This is how Apple describes the scope of the ACMT credential on the ACMT web page (http://training.apple.com/certification/acmt):
Apple Certified Macintosh Technician (ACMT) certification verifies the ability to perform basic troubleshooting and repair of both desktop and portable Macintosh systems, such as iMac and MacBook Pro.
Of course, the kicker is the decided absence of any reference to iOS devices in that certification description. Thus, the ACMT certification deals with Apple desktop and portable systems only. To earn the ACMT, you must pass the following Apple exams:
Mac Service Certification Exam (9L0-010)
Mac OS X v10.7 Troubleshooting Exam (9L0-063)
Exam registration is $150 per attempt, and is scheduled through Prometric (http://is.gd/KCgZLQ).
By way of training resources, your best bet is probably the $300 AppleCare Technician Training (http://is.gd/AsKvTP). The license cost grants you one calendar year of access to a large library of self-paced training curricula, Apple service manuals, and documentation that is normally available only to AASPs and SSPs.
Note: Restrictions Apply
AppleCare Technician Training includes no coverage of iDevices, nor do you get any privileges at Apple GSX.
iCracked is a company that sells iDevice parts and repair tools; it also hosts a certification program called iTech. Although an iCracked certification has nowhere near the visibility or prestige as an Apple credential, you might be well served by pursuing the iTech title. Why? Let me tell you:
You receive focused training on iDevice troubleshooting and repair: The folks in the iCracked network are working professionals who enjoy sharing knowledge. This means you can get a top-tier education in iDevice maintenance, even if it doesn’t come from Apple.
You become part of the iCracked network: This means that your contact information is available to potential customers in your geographical area. Therefore, you need to consider the iTech not only as a credential validating your skills, but also as a very real source of part-time or full-time income.
Essentially, iCracked serves as your broker. You pay iCracked a commission for each repair order that you receive from them.
If there is a “catch” to the iTech application process, it is the program cost. Should iCracked take you on as a certification candidate (and there is an extensive vetting process that consists of a written application, resume submission, and a telephone-based tech interview), you need to purchase a “Start-up kit” that runs upward of $700. Consider your options carefully—the “Start-up kit” doesn’t guarantee you any customers, and all the information you need on device repair can be found either in this book, or on iFixit’s website.
Hey, hey, hey—don’t be alarmed. The contents of the kit are readily available (http://www.icracked.com/iTechs/more-details) and consist of nothing more than a suite of repair tools and an inventory of iDevice repair parts. It’s actually a good requirement—you don’t want to force your customers to wait on parts to arrive. Instead, you want to perform the repair and close the sale as quickly as possible.
OnForce (http://www.onforce.com) is similar to iCracked inasmuch as it is a network of certified Apple professionals who pay OnForce a commission for work referrals.
The chief difference between iCracked and OnForce, however, is that OnForce is officially “blessed” by Apple Inc. Therefore, an OnForce consultant can receive referrals from local Apple Stores in the same manner as AASPs or ACN partners.
As you might surmise, this arrangement is controversial, with some AASPs and ACN partners complaining that Apple is robbing them of valuable referral business.
OnForce service professionals need to undertake a rigorous screening process to join. Your choice of information technology (IT) industry certifications varies depending upon the type of service you want to perform. Some of the certifications are associated with the following vendors:
Apple Consultants Network (ACN)
If you are not affiliated with an Apple Store or an AASP but want Apple’s permission to perform warranty repair work on iOS devices, then you should apply for membership in the ACN (http://consultants.apple.com).
The application process is time consuming, tedious, and costly, and you have to renew your membership each year. However, these annoyances are outweighed by the prestige of being an official Apple partner. Potential customers can easily find you by searching the Consultant Locator (http://consultants-locator.apple.com/). What’s more is that you don’t have to pay Apple a per-ticket commission like you do with OnForce or iCracked.
Is there a catch? Well, yes—isn’t there always? You’re fine with ACN if you want to do both business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) repair on Mac desktop and portable computers. However, if you want to specialize in iDevices then you must complete the additional requirements for the ACN Mobile Technical Competency (MTC; info at http://is.gd/YNCKtS) certification.
According to the ACN program literature, the Mobility specialization authorizes you to perform B2B-only service. Here’s a direct quote from the source:
Install, integrate, manage, and support iOS devices in heterogeneous networks. You are able to successfully implement iOS devices in business environments. You are proficient in network integration, wireless technologies, network security, and device management. You are familiar with mobile apps and are looking to help customers discover innovative uses for mobile technology in their businesses.
Note that there’s a decided absence of anything related to iDevice repair. You will, however, be allowed to perform iDevice replacements. Fun, fun!