I don’t like to brag, but…no, wait. I do like to brag. Why else would I have created a ‘blog? Anyway, I did something last night that was the 21st century version of rebuilding the engine on your ’66 Mustang, and I want to share. I’m doing this in part to brag, yeah, and in part hopefully someone Google searching for what I did will come across this and maybe find it helpful or an encouragement.
the broken iPod screen
Backstory: last month I shattered the lower half of the screen on my iPad Micro, er, iPod Touch. (I used to explain to people an iPod Touch is like the iPhone but you can’t make calls—but, actually, you can make calls using Magic Jack or Skype and WiFi, so that’s not entirely accurate—but everyone knows the iPad and iPad Mini so I’ve taken to calling my device an iPad Micro.) As it turns out, Apple doesn’t even repair people’s broken iPod Touches but simply replaces them. Mine is out-of-warranty and replacing it is too expensive, and besides I’m holding out that sometime in the next year we’ll switch our cell provider from Sprint to Ting and then we can afford a data plan and I can get an iPhone and stop carrying a cell phone and separate iOS device. But I digress.
Turns out, the screen is replaceable, but still pricey to have done. Oh, hey, they sell the screen assembly units on-line for as little as $30, as long as you’re willing to do some detail work! I asked my brother-in-law, the Master Po to my Grasshopper, if he would consider tackling such a project and he said “no way.” Maybe I’m stupidly dangerous, or maybe I trust a great deal in my mad-skills as an assembler and inspector of Mil-spec multi-layer circuit boards 27 years ago, but I decided to give it a shot.
First, there are a boatload of assemblies out there you can buy, from $20-80. Some come with tools, some don’t; some come with only the glass digitizer and not the LCD (bad idea, since on later iPods the two are fused together in one piece); some come in colors other than black or white; most of the black or white ones do not come with a replacement Home button, assuming you’ll just use yours. More on that later.
I decided to change the color on mine to be able to easily differentiate between my iPod and my wife’s, and disliking the color options (they’re fine if you’re a teenager, but a 49 year-old guy should not have a device in that shade of green or purple) I decided on the Apple white, and made sure the unit came with a replacement Home button. Sure glad I did, and not just for having the button match the face!
If you ever decide to attempt something like this, you abso-fracking-lutely must follow the video instructions from iCracked.com. Printed instructions are OK, but they guys from iCracked blew me away with the detailed instructions with comments, suggestions, cautions and such at each step of the way.
screen removed, mid-plate ready to be removed (note row of tiny, tiny screws at left)
Still, disassembly to the point where I could remove the old screen took nearly 90 minutes, but that perhaps was because I was being excruciatingly exacting in using a magnifier to ensure I got all the bits of glass and adhesive debris removed from the bezel and chassis…OK, and my eyes aren’t the best and my bifocal glasses only helped so much.
This is delicate and dicey work at every step of the way. Unless you have a complete set of geek microtools, you are going to want to take extra care in removing the old screen, cleaning the bezel and mid-body plate, removing the plate, loosening the logic board, disconnecting the old screen, connecting the new screen, and reassembling and gluing everything back together. That’s right: glue. The screen assembly of iOS devices is not physically held in place by the bezel, but by adhesive that bonds the digitizer layer to the bezel and mid-plate. If that doesn’t make you a little paranoid about the screen of your iPhone or iPad falling out on you, I don’t know what will.
I wished at least a dozen times I had a free-standing magnifier with a light. If you don’t have one, find someone to borrow one from, rent one, something. Believe me, it is miserable trying to work on very small components that need two hands when one of those hands is holding a magnifier. And make sure you have loads of good lighting, and it wouldn’t hurt to have an extra light like a headlamp. I had to work nearly blind in a very confined space under the logic board—maybe 3/8″ (8mm?)—which I had pulled up on one side and flexed and in danger of cracking or snapping, in order to connect the digitizer, all the while worrying I might bend one of the connector pins and render the entire device useless. Thank God the connection apparently is holding, and thanks to my wife and her small hands and good eyes for making it work.
Attaching the new screen took less than half the time it did to remove the broken screen. The only difficulty other than the one I just mentioned was installing the new Home button. The old one was unusable no matter what, thanks to all the shattered glass that surrounded it and its rubber adhesive gasket. (You can see the Home button and glass remnants, top right, in the photo above.) Now, I have some pretty mean Google-fu when it comes to constructing Boolean statements for getting a pretty specific search, and I came up with not a single website or page that describes how the Home button should be assembled. If you stumbled across this ‘blog looking for the how, I’ve put it in a separate (non-public) post.
the new screen, with the old debris
Though it wasn’t difficult, it was still careful, meticulous work. There are few things that felt like that moment when I turned the iPod on to test the screen before reassembling and sealing and found it worked just as I’d hoped. If it hadn’t been midnight, I might have grunted. The adhesive application, the dabbing of some glass superglue, the careful alignment of screen to bezel, the squeezing, the clamping all took five minutes.
Was it easy? No way. Would I do it again? Maybe, but only for myself; I wouldn’t offer to do this for a friend’s unit because (1) I don’t give a warranty and (2) they can’t afford me. It would be cheaper to send it to a place like iCracked or Mission:Repair in Kansas, who offers a replacement-for-life plan which is handy if you have a habit of breaking the screen.
But I had to do this if for no other reason than to say I did. When my dad was in his 20s guys tore down and rebuilt cars, or restored classic cars. Some even still did it when I was in my 20s but by then cars were coming with more and more electronics so that eventually you needed a degree in electrical engineering to replace the alternator. Today’s manly thing to do is in the geek domain—we’ve gone from being gear-heads to chip-heads, and I’m proud to say I’m a chip-head. It’s nice to know I still have some skills that I learned a quarter century ago. It’s nice to know that, despite being an easily distracted puppy dog, I can focus and take my time doing meticulous work and find that it actually calms me.
It feels good to take on a challenge, rise to the occasion, and, oh yeah, impress my wife!
Damn, it feels good to be a geekster…