The Agony and the Ecstasy of iPhone6s Repair

What the inside of an iPhone6s looks like.

As I’ve mentioned before on this blog I’ve made a very dull hobby out of repairing old Mac devices including iPods, iPads and an old desktop computer. I now have more functional Apple devices than I have uses for. This week I tackled the repair of my ancient, but still in use, iPhone6s.

My phone needed a new battery, screen (ironically, broken while repairing my iMac), lightning and headphone connector assembly. At just shy of $100 for all the parts, sourced from iFixit, my repair was a dubious financial gamble. But I just can’t stomach throwing out a device that’s the product of horrible labor practices and extractive mining, especially since it still worked.

Breakfast nook Genius Bar.

By far the hardest part of this repair was getting the broken screen off. Apple uses a strong adhesive that doubles as waterproofing. To loosen the adhesive you need to heat up the phone with a hair dryer or heat gun and pry off the screen with a suction cup that iFixit sells. You will also need a lamp with a magnifying lens, especially if you’re old like me.

Once you’ve got the screen open the main challenge is to keep track of the dozen or so different sized, microscopic screws. I used labelled bowls, but some people use an ice cube tray. The iFixit guides will step you through the repair process as well as help you keep track of all those infernal screws. As you do this you will gain appreciation for the workers who spend long days doing nothing but turning a screwdriver–a hell that I can’t imagine.

Another thing I’d suggest is patience. If things go south for some reason, take a break and come back to it later. Definitely check the phone before you reassemble it. In my case, before I applied new adhesive, I powered up the phone to discover that it was locked in a shutdown loop. I thought that I had damaged the logic board somehow, but on doing more research I discovered that faulty third party batteries are common and will cause this problem. I had another battery for Kelly’s phone and plugged this one in and the phone worked perfectly.

Replacing the screen was simple, the battery somewhat more difficult and the lighting and headphone connector assembly the hardest, because it involved removing a whole lot of screws and other parts. I would suggest reading the iFixit instructions thoroughly before you begin to make sure that you have all the tools and parts you need to complete the repair. I’d also suggest reading the comments to see what problems people have had with the repair or with the instructions.

I’ll note that one of the shortcomings of iFixit’s crowd sourced repair guides is that, at the end, they say, “reverse the steps.” Most of time this is okay but sometimes the process of reassembly isn’t the same as disassembly. This is where sorting through the comments helps. iFixit sells an adhesive strip that supposedly restores the phone’s waterproofing. You don’t need this but I bought it just for the experience and it was easy to apply.

My iPhone6s now works as new and serves its purpose. Looking back on all the mad device repairs I’ve done, the most rewarding was the iMac drive upgrade I blogged about previously. In that case I ended up with a fast, new computer.

I’d encourage you not to be afraid of doing iPhone repair. That said, I wouldn’t do this with a device that’s still under warranty or a more recent and expensive iPhone. Basically, I do these repairs on devices that would otherwise end up in the landfill. I’m still using my iPhone 6s as a phone but old iPhones make great mp3 players and small wifi devices. I still use a 2009 era iPhone to play tunes in my woodshop.

We tend to forget about the physicality of the computers we’re surrounded by. They are made by people, often in horrible conditions. The materials are mined at great ecological peril and even in their use they are supported by¬† server farms that require vast amounts of energy and human toil. To make sure the adhesive seals you stack a bunch of books on the phone. The video tutorial I watched used a copy of Steve Job’s biography. I substituted Marx’s hefty Grundrisse. As I think Marx would say, our iPhones are embedded in a web of social relations and physical conditions. If you want to understand this device, you might start with disassembling it and you’ll need a book of many more pages than Job’s biography to both put it in context and to make the glue stick.

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2 Comments

  1. Congrats on the iPhone repair! In a similar spirit of respecting older tech, I just rescued a very old 32-bit lenovo S10 netbook from the grave by installing a light-weight Linux distribution on it (Lubuntu 18.04, to be precise). I plan to give the unit away to a good home via Freecycle. If someone’s Windows or Mac computer is feeling sluggish, instead buying a new one, I recommend they try Linux instead! You can research the right distribution for your needs at https://distrowatch.com/. My favourite? Linux Mint. Old hardware? Try Lubuntu or antiX. Switching from Windows or Mac? Linux Mint, Zorin OS, or elementary OS.

  2. I keep saying this but I really need to make the jump to Linux. And I should also update this post–just did the same repair on Kelly’s phone in a fraction of the time. Open up one of these things once or twice and you kind of get the hang of it.

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