Many many years ago, back when Cable TV was still young, a friend of mine who liked to tinker with electronics (we'd call him a hacker today) figured out a way to get inside the cable box and unlock access to premium channels like HBO and Showtime.
But it wasn't long until the cable companies got wise to what he - and certainly many others - were doing to these boxes. And so, they came up with a way to keep people from getting to the inner components of those boxes - they replaced one of the four standard screws that held the box together with a special screw, one that had a special head that needed a special screwdriver that only their employees had.
Yeah, like that was going to stop anyone. It wasn't long until the guys in shop class busted out some scrap metal and some welding equipment and created a screwdriver that would twist that special little screw right out.
I remembered that guy and his special little screwdriver this morning when I read about how Apple - in its effort to keep people from poking around inside their iPhone 4s - has started replacing standard screws with a special screw that has a flower-shaped slot on the head. (It's called a Pentalobe.)
It's funny that Apple would go to such extremes to keep people locked out of a device that actually belongs to the consumer. Certainly, my friend from high school could have gotten himself into some deep trouble for tampering with a product that didn't belong to him. Cable boxes tend to remain the property of the cable company and are just leased, for a monthly fee, to the customer.
Once Apple sells an iPhone to a consumer, that consumer owns it and should be free to do whatever he wants to it, right? Sure, he could void the warranty on it for tampering with it - and that's a risk that that consumer takes when he opens it. And certainly, if he does something to alter the software, there's probably some sort of violation of the licensing agreement.
But, of course, this goes back to Apple's controlling ways. If there's some reason that a person would need to access the inside of that device, Apple wants to make that repair - and charge you for it, of course. With standard screws, there's no obstacle for anyone - be it the DIYer or a professional third-party repair person - to get in. But with that special screw in place, that other-than-Apple repair person is going to have trouble getting in.
The folks at Technologizer, where I first read about this, note that the iFixit is selling a $10 “iPhone Liberation Kit,” that comes with the screwdriver needed to remove these special screws. It's also worth noting that the iPhone 4 isn't the first to get it. The screw first appeared on the Macbook-Pro laptops in mid-2009.
The iFixit blog post summed it up best. "Apple chose this fastener specifically because it was new, guaranteeing repair tools would be both rare and expensive. Shame on them."