Apple Puts Screws to Users, Resellers with Proprietary Lock Out

SAN FRANCISCO, Jan 20 (Reuters) – Apple Inc (NASDAQ:AAPLE) is
giving a whole new meaning to locking your phone with its new
screws.

In line with its infamous philosophy of maintaining
absolute control over its products, sources said U.S. Apple
stores are replacing screws on iPhone 4s brought for servicing
with tamper-proof screws to prevent anyone else from opening
the device.

Kyle Wiens, chief executive of iFixit, a prominent Apple
repair and parts supplier, said the purpose of the new screws
is to keep people out of the iPhone and prevent them from
replacing the battery. He said he noticed in November that
screws were being switched.

"If you took your car in for service and they welded your
hood shut, you wouldn’t be very happy"," he said, comparing it
to shutting owners out of their iPhones.

IFixit, based in San Luis Obispo, California, has become
famous in the technology world for performing "teardowns" of
Apple devices, often within hours or minutes of a new product
launch. The company promotes repair to cut down on electronic
waste that goes to landfills.

According to two people with first-hand knowledge of the
practice, when a customer brings an iPhone 4 into a U.S. Apple
store for repair, tech staff swap out commonly-used Phillips
screws, with which the device is shipped, and replace them with
so-called "Pentalobe" screws.

Customers are not told about the switch, these people
said.

It was not clear how widely used the replacement screws
are, but one of these people said the screw swap was begun in
the fall and is now standard practice at U.S. Apple stores.
This person said the iPhone 4 shipped with Pentalobe screws in Japan.

Apple had no comment for this story, but it is well-known
that Apple discourages individual modifications of its
products.

The iPhone 4 went on sale last summer and became Apple’s
fastest-selling version of the iconic device, starting at $199
with a two-year wireless contract. More than 16 million iPhones
sold in the quarter ending December.

Apple will replace iPhone batteries free if the device is
under warranty, but otherwise charges $79.

Wiens said that with the old screws the iPhone 4 battery
was easy to change although that was not known to many
customers. "Apple wants to be in the business of selling you
the new battery," Wiens said.

The world’s largest technology company acts swiftly to
protect its secrets. When an iPhone prototype was found by an
outsider in a bar last year and sold to tech blog Gizmodo,
Apple kicked up a furor and investigators raided a journalists’
home.

Pentalobe screws require a screwdriver that is not
commercially available, Wiens said. The screw is similar to a
commonly used Torx screw, but has five points instead of six.

Wiens said iFixit, which sells repair kits for iPhones and
other Apple products, searched everywhere for a Pentalobe
screwdriver before specially commissioning a supplier to make
one for them — and even that is not a perfect match, he said.

The Pentalobe screw first appeared on the battery section
of a Macbook Pro laptop in 2009, Wiens said. It also can be
found on the exterior of Apple’s new MacBook Air notebook.
(Editing by Edwin Chan, Kenneth Li and Richard Chang)

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