If you want to fix an iPhone, we’ve almost certainly got a guide for you at iFixit. You can swap the battery in an iPhone 3GS, the front camera on an iPhone 7 Plus, or the Taptic Engine on an 11 Pro Max—we have spent a lot of time inside these little rectangles. And we’ve learned a few things about them, generally, that might surprise, entertain, and hopefully inform you before you try your next fix.
We’ve previously shared repair secrets from our teardown team, technical writers, and experienced independent repair technicians for Samsung phones, Pixel phones, and Android phones, generally. Today we’re tackling the mainstream giant, the progenitor of phones with big flat screens, the iPhone.
While we happen to know a whole lot about what it’s like inside iPhones, we don’t fix customers’ phones, and can’t know how every kind of repair works. Did we miss something? Comment on the post, or find us on social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram), or email me: kevin at ifixit dot com.
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Fixing iPhones, generally
What sets iPhones apart from other smartphones you might fix is their conformity and ubiquity.
While there are a good range of iPhone models in people’s pockets at any given time, it’s more like a dozen closely related objects than hundreds and hundreds of distinct Android devices. Because of this, the availability of parts—from Apple, from recyclers/refurbishers, and third-party manufacturers—is much greater. More repair shops are willing to fix an iPhone, because they likely have the tools, parts, and expertise on-hand to do so. Most of all, there’s a positive feedback loop between these traits and the resale value of even well-aged iPhones: it’s more often worth the cost to fix an iPhone, because you can usually sell it for more if it’s working.
For deeper, board-level repairs and data recovery, there also exists a barely underground ecosystem of schematics that lets those with the necessary skill do repairs that Apple will not offer.
Finally, because Apple has its own fleet of repair workers, Authorized Service Providers, authorized service centers, and, of late, Independent Repair Program members, it generally makes phones that are meant to have their screens and batteries replaced, and occasionally other parts, too. Too many other phones require a near full disassembly to replace their displays, or hide the battery under a lot more parts and connectors.
“Out of all the smartphones I’ve opened and fixed, the iPhone tops the list of my favorite phones to work on,” wrote Arthur Shi, technical writer at iFixit. “I’m most confident in being able to fix an iPhone successfully without breaking something else. I think it’s a combination of the opening procedure, component layout, modularity, and (relatively) minimal use of adhesive to hold internal components in place. It just feels more robust to work on compared to Androids.”
This raises the question of why iPhones routinely receive a 6 out of 10 repairability score during our teardowns (at least for now). Part of it is the simple math of a ratings scale—on the high end, you’ve got the repairable-by-design Fairphone, and older Android phones where the battery popped out without any tools. The other, more sad part is that 6 out of 10 is a pretty healthy score for a modern smartphone. Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S20 Ultra notched a 3 out of 10 recently. More out-there designs like the Moto Razr score closer to … one.
Some iPhone design history
- Prior to the iPhone 5, iPhones opened up in a variety of ways, including a slide-open back panel on the 4 and 4s. Replacing the screens on these iPhones required total transplant surgery.
- The 5s introduced a Touch ID booby-trap cable, one that caused us to start using the iSclack and its built-in stopper. This persisted in the original iPhone SE, but was gone with the 6.
- The iPhone 7 brought screens that opened left-to-right on the long side, like a (reverse) book. This persisted until the iPhone 12, which we discovered last week opens right-to-left.
- The iPhone 7 also introduced the not-a-button home button, which made fixing a home button even trickier. The locked-down aspect of the Touch ID function? We’ll get into that in a bit.
- Starting with the 5, the screen is held in place with screws and clips. Starting with the (unofficially water-resistant) 6s, screens use screws, clips, and adhesive. That’s still better than the typical glue sandwich of some phones, but trickier to open up.
- Apple refers to their products’ main chip-holding circuit board as the “logic board,” rather than the more standard motherboard. Apple generally avoids gendered terms for computing components; you can see for yourself in their style guide.
- You don’t have to reapply adhesive to hold down the screen when you reassemble your phone after a repair. You will lose water resistance, but the screen will hold.
- Some components in an iPhone cannot be replaced successfully without an Apple-authorized technician running a diagnostic program (it’s something we’re concerned about). If you replace a screen on an iPhone with a Touch ID button or Face ID sensor, you have to transfer those ID components over to the new iPhone in order for them to work.
- Even if you successfully transfer those ID components, batteries and screens trigger warnings on more recent iPhones (XR for batteries, 11 for screens) about their authenticity. They also lose some function, as batteries no longer report their health, and screens lose their color-correcting True Tone function.
- Keeping your screws organized is very important when working on an iPhone. Some models are susceptible to “Long Screw Damage,” where overly long screws can sink down onto the logic board and destroy the wiring (traces) that connects critical circuits.
- If the back glass shatters on your iPhone, and it doesn’t affect camera function, charging, or other critical functions, your best fix is probably covering it with an opaque case, or an adhesive skin. Starting with the iPhone 8, replacing the back glass on an iPhone is a painful, time-consuming process that will likely leave little shards of glue-covered glass everywhere. You can also do a complete case replacement, following a third-party guide on our site.
- Some iPhone issues seem like they could be components, but are instead deeper logic board faults. A grayed-out speakerphone icon on the iPhone 7, for example, is more often than not a single point on a single audio chip, popped out of place by that long, slightly bend-y iPhone’s design (sometimes called an “Audio IC” issue). The same goes for wonky “Touch Disease” on the iPhone 6.
- If you’re trying to fix a phone that has Activation Lock—it won’t let you set it up the phone without someone’s iCloud password—stop. It’s not worth your time, unless you’re doing it for the experience or repair experiments. You can spend a lot of time searching for Activation Lock work-arounds, but none of them really work.
What did I miss? What’s a tip you would give someone trying to fix an iPhone, either generally or specific to a particular model? Comment below, tag us on social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram), or let me know directly: kevin at ifixit dot com.