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How Apple makes products difficult -- and expensive -- to repair

Gallery: In recent years, Apple has attracted a lot of criticism for making devices that are difficult to repair, and complicated to recycle. Let's take a look at why.

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Topic: Apple
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1 of 13 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

How Apple makes products difficult -- and expensive -- to repair

Apple has essentially come from nowhere to become one of the world's biggest -- and undoubtedly best known -- consumer electronics companies. But the company has attracted a lot of criticism for making devices that are difficult to repair, and complicated to recycle.

One of Apple's most vocal critics is repair specialists iFixit, who have been taking apart and examining products since 2006. The company has disassembled hundreds of products and knows what It is talking about.

So, what does Apple do that makes Apple products hard to repair? Let's take a look.

Thanks to the kind folks over at iFixit for the use of their images.

Image source: iFixit.

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2 of 13 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Adhesive

I'm old-school enough to remember when devices were held together with screws -- or even nuts and bolts! But Apple doesn't like fasteners because they ruin the lines of products, and make it far too easy to get inside a device.

With that in mind, a great many of Apple's current product lineup -- including the iPhone 5, iPad 4, and iPad mini -- make extensive use of adhesive to hold components in place. Adhesive is used enthusiastically to hold in place screens, batteries, cabling, and even components.  

Using adhesive to hold in place consumables such as batteries makes repairs tricky, Prying the battery free from the adhesive can damage components, and even puncture the battery.

Image source: iFixit.

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Adhesive

In order to get past the adhesive holding down the screen and into devices such as the iPad 4 and iPad mini without breaking the screen, iFixit have had to become creative.

One new device they use to get past the glue is called the iOpener. This is a device that is heated in a microwave, and used to melt the adhesive -- a process that can take up to 30 minutes.

Image source: iFixit.

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Tiny screws

Apple doesn't just miniaturize devices, it likes to miniaturize fasteners. The iPad mini is held together using some of the smallest screws seen by iFixit. The image above shows a screw from the bottom on an iPhone 5 on the right, and one from inside the iPad mini on the left.

For the purposes of scale, the screws are on top of a guitar pick.

Image source: iFixit.

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Proprietary screws

When Apple isn't using tiny screws, it resorts to using proprietary screws that require a special tool to undo them. One such screw is the pentalobe screw, as found on the MacBook and iPhone.

Image source: iFixit.

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Proprietary screws

The pentalobe screw found on the iPhone tiny, making them easy to damage and lose.

Image source: iFixit.

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Proprietary components

Most notebooks -- even ones that make use of new solid-state drives (SSDs) -- are capable of being easily upgraded by the user when they require more storage. This is not the case with Apple's new MacBook Pro, which uses a proprietary drive.

Image source: iFixit.

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RAM soldered onto the motherboard

Newer MacBook Pro notebooks also feature RAM that has been soldered directly to the motherboard. This means that it's impossible to upgrade your notebook once it has left the factory.

Image source: iFixit.

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Fused displays

Another trick in Apple's arsenal is to fuse the display into a single unit that's virtually impossible to repair. If anything inside the display breaks, the whole unit has to be replaced. This makes repairs that would otherwise be cheap and straightforward very expensive.

Image source: iFixit.

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One-piece displays

In order to make the iPad and iPhone as thin as possible, Apple fuses the front glass, digitizer, and LCD into a single component, making repairs expensive.

Image source: iFixit.

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Soldered battery

Not only does Apple like to glue battery packs in place, it also likes to solder them to the logic board, making replacing the pack even trickier.

Image source: iFixit.

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Soldering connectors onto the logic board

Inside the 7th-generation iPad Nano, the battery, Lightning connector, button cable, and headphone jack are all soldered to the logic board.

Image source: iFixit.

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13 of 13 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Soldering connectors onto the logic board

Using cable connectors inside devices takes up space, so Apple has increasingly turned to soldering ribbon cables to the logic board. Here, the Lightning port ribbon from an iPad mini is soldered onto the logic board. This means that if the connector is ever damaged, the whole board has to be replaced -- making the repair unnecessarily costly.

Image source: iFixit.

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