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I think the primary reason was Steve Jobs' hatred of screws
September 11, 2010 10:52 AM   Subscribe

Kyle Wiens of iFixit talks to ArsTechnica about iFixit's history ("my iBook G3...It seemed crazy that I couldn't find any information online on how to get the thing back together"), his goals ("we realized that the world needed free, open source service manuals, and the manufacturers weren't stepping up"), planned obsolescence, the dirty tricks manufacturers pull to make it harder to repair your own stuff ("Torx has a patent...They're using lawyers to prevent people from making their computers last longer than 3-400 battery cycles"), who are the design kings of repair and servicing, who the villains are, and why recycling electronics isn't all you'd probably like it to be.
posted by rodgerd (43 comments total) 50 users marked this as a favorite

 
Great read, thanks rodgerd

My favourite bit:

Kyle Wiens:
So that was the moment of inspiration: we realized that the world needed free, open source service manuals, and the manufacturers weren't stepping up
Wednesday September 8, 2010 1:05 Kyle Wiens
1:06


Jacqui Cheng:
Do you think companies are making their products more difficult to take apart and repair? Why are they (seemingly) made to be unrepairable these days?


More so since I've just gotten back from Kenya doing observations on "informal manufacturing and fabrication under conditions of scarcity and irregular cashflow" = those guys can take apart and repair anything, including iPhones and you shoulda seen the stuff displayed in Maker Faire Africa - all the makers and their inventions covered here
posted by The Lady is a designer at 11:31 AM on September 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


I love iFixit - have used them for years but had no idea of the scope of their ambitions. I'm impressed!
posted by leslies at 11:34 AM on September 11, 2010


In this interview, Kyle talks about those $%^&^$@#@$% 5-spline Torx screws... Torx has those things really tightly controlled. The company I retired from makes hydraulic pumps and motors; we used those things on one assembly, 5-spline bolts with tamper-proof center projections. They were 10mm fasteners, torqued IIRC to about 100 newton-meters. It was almost impossible for us to get tooling for production! Bits were unavailable from any of our suppliers- only Torx. And not in the correct configuration for our tooling. Man, what a cluster****.
posted by drhydro at 11:39 AM on September 11, 2010


I owe iFixit with helping me replace the screen on my 12" G4 Powerbook after a giant Seashell fell on the LCD at a party. Got a new screen on eBay for $120. The entire process took me a full day, almost an 1/8th of weed, and literally having my Powerbook completely dissembled* on my coffee table, but i Fix[ed] it.

*Seriously Apple, why do I need to remove all 130 screws and disassemble the entire computer to get to the LCD?
posted by wcfields at 11:39 AM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, in my experience, Apple may not like screws on the outside, but they sure as hell love 'em on the inside!
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:50 AM on September 11, 2010 [9 favorites]


How interesting is it that iFixit's totally free and open source, but we can only read the interview with its founder because Ars Technica has condescended to make the interview available to non-subscribers.
posted by JHarris at 12:28 PM on September 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


If it has anything DIY and crowdsourced/collaborative knowledge sharing, I unnaturally start to jump up and down like a hyperactive toddler. I love these kind of sites - though I wish there was a site where I would just upload a picture of my old adapters (the ones that don't reveal what they belong to) and it tell me what the hell they belong to. (And if you know of that kind of site, for the love of God, please tell me).
posted by rmm at 12:29 PM on September 11, 2010


the dissassembly of apple laptops clearly violates the conservation of matter: an isolated physical process which creates matter in the form of tiny screws.
posted by ennui.bz at 12:29 PM on September 11, 2010 [10 favorites]


took me a full day, almost an 1/8th of weed,

I may have discovered a reason why it took so long ;)
posted by hamida2242 at 12:48 PM on September 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


How interesting is it that iFixit's totally free and open source, but we can only read the interview with its founder because Ars Technica has condescended to make the interview available to non-subscribers.

Yeah...Ars can be a bit assholish like that. They also have penalties for using an ad-blocker on their site. If they sniff you're using a blocker, some website features (like the in-line member comments on stories) are disabled.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:48 PM on September 11, 2010


The first thing that comes to mind is SleepNumber, as I ended up in a hotel room in Denver a couple of years ago that had one of those beds, and it was rock-hard and I wasn't sure how to fix it. I went to their website to look for any kind of product manual, and you had to "register" and enter information from your sales receipt just to get a damn user manual. Assholes.
posted by crapmatic at 12:49 PM on September 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Thorzdad: "Yeah...Ars can be a bit assholish like that."

That doesn't bother me about Ars in the least. Anyone who can find a revenue model that actually generates revenue for them is doing something right in my book. I vastly prefer it to the "paywall or bust" scenario we're seeing with broadsheets these days. I am so done with that.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:05 PM on September 11, 2010


The first thing that comes to mind is SleepNumber, as I ended up in a hotel room in Denver a couple of years ago that had one of those beds, and it was rock-hard and I wasn't sure how to fix it. I went to their website to look for any kind of product manual, and you had to "register" and enter information from your sales receipt just to get a damn user manual.

Garrison Keillor, tear down this wall!
posted by JHarris at 1:07 PM on September 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


That doesn't bother me about Ars in the least. Anyone who can find a revenue model that actually generates revenue for them is doing something right in my book. I vastly prefer it to the "paywall or bust" scenario we're seeing with broadsheets these days. I am so done with that.

Oh, it bothers me to no end. In fact, I suspect that it bothers me more than it doesn't bother you, so the net internet bothering index actually ends up higher. It bothers me less than "paywall or bust," but only by a little.

Re: "Anyone who can find a revenue model": One of my favorite quotes from Citizen Kane is, "It's no trick to make a lot of money, if all you ever wanted is to make a lot of money." People making money at the expense of the social good is not just a problem we face as a society, it is one of the defining problems we face. Ars Technica's assholiness (an associative property of that quasi-religious being known as Sewer Jesus) towards ad blockers is, admittedly, a minor manifestation of that, but it points to larger issues.
posted by JHarris at 1:18 PM on September 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


They also have penalties for using an ad-blocker on their site. If they sniff you're using a blocker,

If it wasn't for adblockers I wouldn't use the internet, but surely there's ways to avoid ads that they can't detect like messing with greasemonkey, stylish, or some such? Being able reading comments on Ars articles probably isn't worth much effort though, if comments on other tech sites be our guide.
posted by hamida2242 at 1:37 PM on September 11, 2010


arstechnica is now owned by conde nast
posted by ennui.bz at 2:29 PM on September 11, 2010


This is just what I needed to keep in case Apple refuses to replace my busted Time Capsule drive (or even if they do, as I may well replace the drive in the replacement as a pre-emptive measure).

No surprise that Apple is so stingy with dissassembly and modification assistance, to be honest. It seems to go hand in hand with the "easy to use, difficult to dig into" ethos where if it doesn't Just Work, it's difficult to fix.
posted by subbes at 3:16 PM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh, you can use an ad blocker on Ars, you just can't talk about it or they ban you.
posted by smackfu at 3:35 PM on September 11, 2010


Anyone who can find a revenue model that actually generates revenue for them is doing something right in my book.

Your revenue model is not my problem.

</derail>

I wonder if iFixit can help me fix my ancient iBook video shortout problem. The Genius Bar guys just laughed at it.
posted by sidereal at 5:21 PM on September 11, 2010


Gosh, it sounds kind of interesting, but there's no chance I'm going to read that. This is "premiere" content and they can't even edit it into a coherent interview? Who the heck wants to scroll through a chatlog where every individual sentence is on a seperate line surrounded by tons of white space and the guy's freaking name and little picture at the beginning? Absolutely incredible, mind-boggling, that they think this disastrous mess might actually induce people to pay for a subscription.
posted by kjh at 8:09 PM on September 11, 2010


It was probably tolerable as a live chat, coming in in realtime, but I agree that it would be much better edited into a proper interview.
posted by smackfu at 8:16 PM on September 11, 2010


you shoulda seen the stuff displayed in Maker Faire Africa

I wish I was a millionaire, so that I could give those folks a small mountain of money. Instead, I'm spending my spare cash on healthcare. Yay america.
posted by aramaic at 9:04 PM on September 11, 2010


I owe iFixit with helping me replace the screen on my 12" G4 Powerbook after a giant Seashell fell on the LCD at a party... The entire process took me a full day, almost an 1/8th of weed, and literally having my Powerbook completely dissembled* on my coffee table, but i Fix[ed] it

There's a shortcut that would have saved you some time: Rather than remove the guts to remove the display assembly to pop the rear housing off to access the LCD, just push the screen back to fully open and angle a T6 in. Now you can pop the housing off, then just six screws and some tape. Takes about 20 mins once you get good.

Yes, I just got home from work.
posted by now i'm piste at 9:23 PM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter, why do you always find things that I forget are pet peeves?

Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to start a car company that built a car that was designed primarily to be easily maintained. I understood even then that manufacturing costs have a lot to do with this - I've always wondered what the optimization would be for a more expensive car with minimal costs of ownership - and how would one market a vehicle that was built for durability, reliability, and maintainability. There has to be a market, and I was happy to read that Toyota is well known for this - it hadn't occurred to me, and I love the Toyotas I have owned.

Reading that some companies deliberately design things to be unrepairable is no surprise, but it is disappointing. The good news is that sites like ifixit can disclose these things which has a twofold effect. It discourages some people from buying the device, and the environmental costs can be assessed - hopefully publicly shaming a company into more responsible design.

Kudos to Dell and HP as well. I have downloaded lots of information from their sites. I absolutely love that I can enter the express code from an old Dell machine, and get the specs and info straight up. Yeah, I know, they can be evil companies sometimes, but they aren't completely evil. I think a lot of companies are subject to the eternal struggle between the marketing creeps and the engineers. Compaq succumbed to the marketing cancer that eventually consumed it - but my old Presario is sitting six feet away, happily being my data server, and it's one of the sweetest machines I have ever worked on.

The article format was weird, but once I waded in, it was fine. Some cool info in there. Thanks for putting this FPP up!
posted by Xoebe at 9:28 PM on September 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


I appreciated his focus on questions of repairability (a word my spellchecker doesn't know). GREAT products - the kind I like and am willing to pay extra for - can and should last for decades. When some part goes south, particularly some custom bitch they only made 20,000 of, it's extremely annoying. The bastard throwaway mentality - e.g. acres of discarded phones - has to die.

I hope the MAKE / open hardware movement - maybe in combination with green laws - forces the companies' hands. I see no hope for Apple - but the others might leverage it to some advantage.
posted by Twang at 9:28 PM on September 11, 2010


I wonder if iFixit can help me fix my ancient iBook video shortout problem. The Genius Bar guys just laughed at it.

Which store did you go to? Due to the age of iBook G4s it may not be possible to have then serviced in an Apple Store. Most places/states (CA excepted) can't order parts when it's more than 5 years old, or the cost of the part is more than a working unit is worth. I can see being discouraged from having it repaired if that's the case.
posted by now i'm piste at 9:32 PM on September 11, 2010


In a time of desperate need last month -- my girlfriend's 5th-generation iPod Nano had an unfortunate meeting with the stairs -- I tried to get it fixed through a couple of Apple-certified repair places in town. One place said they didn't work on 5th gens at all, and the other said that it would have to be sent to Apple for a $130 repair. So I turned to my trusty friend Mr. Google, and found a few repair manuals on iFixIt. Chucking aside my normal don't-buy-anything-online-from-a-site-you-don't-know paranoia, I ordered repair tools and a replacement glass window from them.

Got the tools a few days later, followed the repair instructions on the site, and in roughly 20 minutes, the screen was replaced. It was awesome. Thanks, iFixIt!

Since using iFixIt.com I have been healthier, more attractive, have had a more dashing smile, and have found bills of various denominations in unexpected locations throughout my locale. This may or may not be related.
posted by m0nm0n at 11:19 PM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Kudos to Dell and HP as well. I have downloaded lots of information from their sites.

Better hope that the whole Oracle-takes-over-HP being mooted at the moment doesn't come to fruition; Oracle are fucking over Sun owners good and hardm paywalling the most basic firmware and software patches.

but there's no chance I'm going to read that

It would have taken less time to read it than to bleat about it.
posted by rodgerd at 12:40 AM on September 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is just what I needed to keep in case Apple refuses to replace my busted Time Capsule drive.

Tip: Apple did not place a bleeder resistor across the PFC output capacitor. So somewhere on the power supply board is a big electrolytic charged to 300-400V, even if the unit has been unplugged for a week.

On a more reassuring note, the drive and data are probably fine. Good luck with the repair!
posted by ryanrs at 1:02 AM on September 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


It was almost impossible for us to get [tamper-resistant torx plus] tooling for production! Bits were unavailable from any of our suppliers- only Torx.

That's the fucking point! Why did you design the five-lobed bastards into your product, if not for the goddamn inconvenience?

Oh, right—it was only supposed to screw your customers.
posted by ryanrs at 1:24 AM on September 12, 2010


Tip: Apple did not place a bleeder resistor across the PFC output capacitor. So somewhere on the power supply board is a big electrolytic charged to 300-400V, even if the unit has been unplugged for a week.
This is why ...

"no user serviceable parts inside" Damn litigation culture.
posted by fistynuts at 2:20 AM on September 12, 2010


My iBook G3 was the Chinese puzzle box that pushed me into several years of largely-frustrating experimentation with Linux. Even with iFixit, Brian Eno's Thursday Afternoon, a complete and comprehensive set of tools, and extreme, practiced patience, opening that damn thing and trying to replace anything inside was just nightmarish. My compact Macs had been tricky, but I couldn't believe that a company that had ever made something as greasemonkey-friendly as the Apple ][ could have gone to such extremes making a machine so miserable to work with, and so I bought a cheap PC to play around with Linux in the hopes of having somewhere else to go. As it turns out, for my purposes, there is nowhere to go, it seems.

Apple did do right with the rev. A iMac G5, which was once again user-openable, serviceable, and comparatively friendly, but that glasnost only lived a generation, alas. Legal must have gotten their hands on one. Too bad.

Of course, this mess is pretty global, now. Just look under the hood of any car made since the nineties--does everything really need to be hidden under an aggressively-sculpted plastic shroud covered with powerful-sounding words and go-go logos? I guess all that's there to keep the magic in, lest mortals dare to investigate the forbidden realms.
posted by sonascope at 3:59 AM on September 12, 2010


now i'm piste - It was the Towson, MD store, and as you say, it is way too old for them to order parts. I guess it's 9 years old now? Too bad, the iBook was the ultimate walkabout notebook. Except for the unfixable part.
posted by sidereal at 4:55 AM on September 12, 2010


This is why... "no user serviceable parts inside" Damn litigation culture.

No, that's why you add a bleeder resistor. It's not optional. A 350V 39uF cap gives a nasty shock, although it generally won't kill you (eye injuries are more likely).

If this design flaw injures someone, they should absolutely sue Apple. There is no excuse for high voltage capacitors lurking inside consumer electronics after the cord is unplugged. The design needs to have everything discharged to safe levels within a minute or so (ten minutes for Apple products because they're such a pain in the ass to disassemble).
posted by ryanrs at 5:53 AM on September 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


"Oh, right—it was only supposed to screw your customers."

But to be fair, that's not even the most likely reason to use Torx screws in an industrial application, like he described. It's much more likely that you don't want vandals or uninformed consumers injuring themselves or wrecking expensive machinery.

The use of those exact same screws in my Braun coffee grinder, however, couldn't have been anything else.
posted by sneebler at 6:37 AM on September 12, 2010


Man I love iFixit. They've help me save my G4 powerbook, iPhone 2g, and Macbook Pro from early death. That they are making a wiki that moves beyond tech gadgets makes me a fan for life.

On cars, if you want something easy to fix, check out subarus. I've been a shade tree mechanic my whole driving life, and I've worked on many many different vehicles (honda, bmw, ford, chevy, nissan, volvo, and all the major motorcycle manufacturers except harley), and Subaru is hands down the easiest car to work on. I swapped alternators on my wifes legacy in less than seven minutes, one handed, while I was on the phone ordering a pizza.
posted by gofargogo at 9:05 AM on September 12, 2010


I wonder if iFixit can help me fix my ancient iBook video shortout problem. The Genius Bar guys just laughed at it.

I've dealt with Apple many times now, and the quality of help is something of a crap shoot each time. The support is better than almost anyone else, but in a situation like this you need to go to another store or call the repair number to get a second opinion.
posted by krinklyfig at 9:21 AM on September 12, 2010


I'm a little mystified at the torx consternation - I've never had any problem finding bits, including the security version, without involving the Torx corporation.
posted by werkzeuger at 10:41 AM on September 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I couldn't believe that a company that had ever made something as greasemonkey-friendly as the Apple ][ could have gone to such extremes making a machine so miserable to work with

It's probably not a coincidence that that was the last Apple computer that Steve Wozniak was directly involved with. Jobs didn't want expansion card slots in the computer, at all, and thus made the 128K Macintosh completely closed (although case-cracking tools and third-party mods started appearing almost immediately; I still remember the ad in Macworld for a hard drive for the Mac with a whopping 1-megabyte capacity). Jobs has since allowed Macs with slots, of course (ditto for the NeXTCube), but his predilection has been pretty consistent overall.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:04 PM on September 12, 2010


I'm a little mystified at the torx consternation - I've never had any problem finding bits

That's because you've never looked for a Tamper-Resistant Torx Plus bit—a genuinely difficult to obtain screwdriver. Most people have never heard of them. Of the four varieties of internal Torx drive, the TR Torx Plus is by far the most customer-hostile. The four varieties are:
  • Torx - 6-point star, rounded triangular teeth. By far the most common. Pics: 1 2 3 4 bits
  • Torx Plus - New and improved. 6 square-ish teeth transmit greater torque with less tool wear. Torx Plus was introduced just as the original Torx patents expired and a flood of generic star fasteners entered the market. 1 2 3
  • Tamper-resistant Torx - Standard Torx with a pin in the center. 1 2 bit
  • Tamper-resistant Torx Plus - Torx Plus with 5 teeth! The larger sizes also have a pin. 1 2 bits
Tamper-resistant Torx Plus screwdrivers have highly limited distribution enforced by patents and license agreements. Smaller distributors are forbidden to keep screwdrivers in stock and must order direct from a licensed manufacturer each time a customer order comes in. The customer must submit paperwork and go through an approval process before ordering screwdrivers. Until recently, screwdrivers were genuinely hard to obtain. (I think the patents may have expired recently, as cheap screwdrivers appear to be available online.)

Acument, the current owner of the Torx Plus patents, has some marketing flyers on Torx Plus and Tamper-resistant Torx Plus. But if you want detailed measurements, archive.org has the technical drawings:
Tamper-resistant Torx Plus IPR1 - IPR7 (no center pin)
Tamper-resistant Torx Plus IPR8 - IPR100 (with center pin)

Tamper-resistant Torx Plus being a bastard in the wild:
Small IPR6 TR Torx Plus in a MacBook
VW MAF sensors (left: TR Torx, right: TR Torx Plus)
Crude TR Torx Plus (bump instead of pin) in a Seagate external HD
Leatherman Wave

Tamper-resistant Torx Plus frustrating fellow mefites:
Five Pointed Screwdriver
Sony screwed me again!

sneebler: The use of those exact same screws in my Braun coffee grinder
Previously on Mefi: Braun screws.
Note: the screws in your coffee grinder are not TR Torx (of either variety), although they are the moral equivalent.
posted by ryanrs at 7:38 PM on September 12, 2010 [26 favorites]


You can usually get around those infuriating Torx (etc) screws by grinding a small slot in the head with a Dremel and using a regular flat head screwdriver.
posted by mhjb at 11:27 PM on September 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


ryanrs, your comments here are yet another reason I love Metafilter. In the iPhone thread, people are actually saying Apple has "amazing design."
posted by JHarris at 12:03 AM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


ryanrs: "Tip: Apple did not place a bleeder resistor across the PFC output capacitor. So somewhere on the power supply board is a big electrolytic charged to 300-400V, even if the unit has been unplugged for a week."

Oh goddamit Apple. First you make the pins on your newer MagSafe charger cords FRACTIONS OF A MILLIMETER shorter so they won't charge older MacBooks unless you pull the battery to force an arc, and now this?


WHY DO YOU HATE ME, APPLE, AFTER I CONVERTED MY ENTIRE HOUSEHOLD TO USE YOUR STUFF?
posted by subbes at 9:31 AM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


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