The Pentalobe: Apple's screwy attempt to keep iPhone 4 locked won't work

The Pentalobe: Apple's screwy attempt to keep iPhone 4 locked won't work

Summary: 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.

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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."

Topics: Telcos, Apple, Hardware, Mobility, Networking, Security

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30 comments
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  • Won't take long...

    It won't take long for these driver bits to be included in the "security" driver bit kits at Harbor Freight along with the security Torx etc.
    wkulecz
    • Apple did not go to any "extremes" -- the screws cost about the same

      <b>These protect the device from some ignorant children that interested enough to unscrew the device and and mess with it on their own.</b>

      But no, there is no any "extremes": the shape of screws does not really add to cost of these or the manufacturing equipment in even slightly noticeable way.

      So why are you dramatizing, Samuel?
      DDERSSS
      • RE: The Pentalobe: Apple's screwy attempt to keep iPhone 4 locked won't work

        @denisrs

        It's only EXTREME if someone other than apple does it.
        sackbut
      • So Apple is now concerned about children unscrewing

        the device and messing with it, in an effort to save them from their own silly undertakings.<br><br>And of course it has nothing to do with the fact that <font color="red">it makes it more difficult to replace the battery on your own</font> ,(depriving Apple of some battery replacement income).

        Of course that could never be the reason...
        John Zern
      • For these who *really* want to change the battery themselves such screws

        @John Zern: are no way a hindrance, they will find the way (including that "Liberation" kit or not).

        So the only ones who are stopped by that are curious children or people who do not need this that badly.

        And, as to "battery replace" income, it is ridiculously low to imply Apple would do the screws for this.

        I, for one, have an old Sony-Ericsson cameraphone from 2006 and it never actually required replace of the battery despite formally, as always, it is "suggested" that users have to replace it like every two years.

        The same is with iPhones -- in reality, only few people actually care to replace the battery.
        DDERSSS
      • If you had opened the iPhone

        @John Zern

        You would already know that the battery is rather difficult to replace right now, without the new screws. It's way more than just popping it open and sliding a new one in. However, if you don't know what you are doing it's rather easy to irreparably screw up an iPhone once you have it open. Now, determined and smart people will always find a way around this deterrent, therefore, the only ones this really has any impact on are the EXACT ones who shouldn't be opening their iPhones.
        oncall
      • RE: The Pentalobe: Apple's screwy attempt to keep iPhone 4 locked won't work

        Apple == Proprietary<br><br>@denisrs : it ain't just on iPhones. MacBook Air also will have them. on a MacBook Air, change the battery, hard disk, maybe even memory.<br><br>I don't think a 7 year old will try to pry open either gadgets. Maybe something like a teen - bujt most teens are smart enough.<br><br>Face it, Apple is just trying to [errr] screw] with all the fan bois and fangurls so that they continue to buy the latest and greatest instead of having people change batteries or get a bigger hard disk. Apple makes money when you buy their gadgets - not on batteries [probably sold anywhere] or hard disks that are not over-priced. [Next thing you will see is Apple changing the interface of the hard disks!]<br><br>Some estimate that Apple could charge maybe more than $100 for a MacBook Air battery when it costs them less than a quarter of that But they make more on the full gadget.
        Gis Bun
      • RE: The Pentalobe: Apple's screwy attempt to keep iPhone 4 locked won't work

        @denisrs

        Designed to keep some ignorant children out? That may just take the cake as the most uneducated, idiotic response of the month on ZDNet... and that takes some hard work.
        Playdrv4me
    • RE: The Pentalobe: Apple's screwy attempt to keep iPhone 4 locked won't work

      @wkulecz
      I bet you can have one of these screwdrivers overnighted to you!

      Leave it to a real GEEK like Samuel to find just another way to bash Apple.

      Samuel... Let me guess... You own a Droid right?
      I could be wrong. But i doubt it.
      CarlosViscarra
  • Extremes?

    [i]It?s funny that Apple would go to such extremes to keep people locked out of a device that actually belongs to the consumer.[/i]

    I don't see any issue with what Apple is doing. The truth of the matter is that, as you pointed out, they are [b]not[/b] keeping you out of your iPhone. People who want to get in will still be able to get in.

    An extreme measure, and one I would not support, would be to actually boobytrap the iPhone with a mechanism specifically designed so the mere act of opening it will render the iPhone permanently inoperable.

    Personally, I don't see why Apple is going to this trouble and expense though. Add some mechanism that lets them detect if you've opened the device and then refuse to perform warranty work on that device. The truth is that 99.9% of iOS consumers will never even try to open their iDevice and the other 0.1% have already found a way around this.
    NonZealot
    • re: Extremes?

      @NonZealot

      Yeah, I wouldn't call it extreme either. Silly and pointless, sure.. but not extreme.
      Badgered
      • Not really

        @Badgered

        I have bought computer equipment in the past that had little reflective tags over the screws to open the case saying "warranty void if torn". Obviously you don't want to put something like that on a phone nor do you want to put something inside that the customer won't know about until it's too late. So, you put special screws on the device to make it just a little hard to open it so people cannot say "well yeah my kid accidentally purchased a $10 special tool through the mail (that has really only 1 purpose) then accidentally opened the phone and broke it". Obviously, it's not going to stop someone determined to get in. I also got an offer for a damage and loss warranty on my iPhone which I turned down, it may have something to do with that as well.
        oncall
    • RE: The Pentalobe: Apple's screwy attempt to keep iPhone 4 locked won't work

      @NonZealot
      I think its as simple as Apple doing us a favor by keeping the curious few who just like tampering from opening their iPhone just to screw it up!

      (LoL, like that? "screw it up"... LoL)
      JK
      CarlosViscarra
    • RE: The Pentalobe: Apple's screwy attempt to keep iPhone 4 locked won't wor

      @NonZealot

      When I bought my first computer, all the knowledgeable advice (including here on ZDNet and affiliated publications) were quite insistent that buyers should rigorously avoid any merchant who put any kind of "warranty seals" on the case, that were grounds for voiding the warranty if broken -- it was considered a sure sign of an "ethically challenged" and untrustworthy or unreliable vendor.

      The principal still holds, even if the vendor should happen to be Apple.
      bswiss
  • Battery

    They sell extremely expensive battery replacements.

    They've been undercut on previous revisions by people replacing the batteries a lot cheaper. Presumably they want their last opportunity to rip off their customers.

    Sort of like the printer makers and their chips in the cartridges to force people to buy ultra expensive ink.
    guihombre
    • RE: The Pentalobe: Apple's screwy attempt to keep iPhone 4 locked won't work

      @guihombre
      Are you visitng from Planet Mars or something???!!!

      Have you ANY idea how much dough Apple makes? ($money$)
      Do you really think they created a project, submitted a business case, test the metals, sought out suppliers... and what ever else they had to do,..... All with the intention of using this method to get us to pay them for battery replacement?

      Do you really think Apple even offers battery replacement because they see it as a real stream of revenue?
      Apple wouldnt replace batteries if they had a choice... Most people dont because you dont need to! Apple only offer batt replacement for consumer demand!
      CarlosViscarra
      • RE: The Pentalobe: Apple's screwy attempt to keep iPhone 4 locked won't wor

        @CarlosViscarra

        At Genius Bar prices? D**ned right they do!
        bswiss
      • RE: The Pentalobe: Apple's screwy attempt to keep iPhone 4 locked won't work

        @CarlosViscarra
        It is not a question of revenue, it's a question of control, Apple does not like its customers having the freedom to do what they want, they like to be in control, even when there is no feasible justification for it.
        Doctor Demento
  • It's because they're pretty

    It looks like a daisy!
    ;)
    Tigertank
  • I thought a pentalobe...

    ...was what you called five piercings in one ear.
    jgm2