We Are So Out of Touch

My wife dropped her iPhone 5 and the screen shattered. Since we had an old iPhone she could use for a couple of days, and since we’re planning on getting her a new phone after her period of indenture to Verizon ends in a couple of months, I wasn’t excited about paying Apple $269 for an official fix, so I turned to the free market. Using only my unfettered free will, and Google, I was able to find a replacement screen assembly for $80.

I’ve worked on a lot of computers over the years, including fixing a laptop or two, but mein Gott are the parts inside that phone tiny. Through the intercession of Baby Jesus, and Google, I fortunately purchased an assembly that included a lilliputian tool set, and man did I need it. I’m trying to think of a good comparison for the size of the screws — 50 grains of salt? the part of Dick Cheney’s brain capable of honest self-examination? Anyway, they’re very small.

Because the connectors that go from the screen to the main board are also small and difficult to seat correctly, it took me three tries to get a good connection. Each failed attempt resulted in a screen with white lines, or a screen that wouldn’t respond to touch. I only had to remove a total of 5 interior screws to do this repair because the Middle Way taught by Gautama Buddha, and Google, led me to a screen assembly rather than a screen, which means that it included the home button, camera and earpiece already attached. Some kits require transfer of those parts from the old phone to the new, and another half-dozen adventures with screws.

Now I realize that over at Foxconn, the workers probably have a better set of tools and a magnifying lamp, but I was about to have suicide nets installed around my house by the time I got those fucking screws in and out during the three tries it took to get this repair right. And there are over 40 screws [pdf] inside this damn thing.

I cannot imagine a life spent working 12 or 16 hour days putting these devices together.

75 replies
  1. 1
    Betty Cracker says:

    My teenager has shattered her iPhone screen several times, and we take it to the Apple store and sweet-talk the “genius” into fixing it for us FOR FREE every single time. The Patriarchy does cough up an occasional perk, I guess.

  2. 2
    Baud says:

    I was so hoping this story would end with you turning the iPhone into a time machine.

  3. 3
    OzarkHillbilly says:

    Should have used one of these. Nothing I can’t fix with one of them.

  4. 4
    Baud says:

    @Betty Cracker:

    Sigh. I wish I had boobs.

  5. 5
    Baud says:

    BTW, how old was the old iPhone that your wife couldn’t use it for two months until your contract ended?

  6. 6
    Baud says:

    Now I realize that over at Foxconn, the workers probably have a better set of tools and a magnifying lamp

    And don’t forget, childrens’ hands are much smaller and therefore more capable of dealing with small screws.

  7. 7
    BillinGlendaleCA says:

    This is why I have Monster Phone(Sammy Note3).

  8. 8
    askew says:

    I lose my mind trying to get the screws out of the battery covers in my nephew/niece’s toys. I can’t imagine trying to mess with my iphone.

  9. 9
    Fred Fnord says:

    I have repaired literally dozens of the most difficult laptops in my life. I have repaired one iPhone. Never again. Next time I will pay someone to do it for me. Not worth the stress.

  10. 10
    Betty says:

    Mr. CM – yes, imagine the patience it takes to put these things together all day every day and then go sleep in a barracks at night. Misery!

  11. 11
    Botsplainer says:

    What is it with women and cracked cellphones? Honest to god, I have replaced more cellphones than any man ever should.

  12. 12
    dmsilev says:


    Sigh. I wish I had boobs.

    Just head down to DC and grab yourself a Republican Congressman or two. Plenty to choose from.

  13. 13
    Thoughtful David says:

    Got me. Now must wipe the oolong off the screen and swab the keyboard.

  14. 14
    constitutional mistermix says:

    @Baud: I can’t have my wife using an inferior iPhone for three whole months. Do you think we’re savages?

  15. 15
    Bo Alawine says:

    This is exactly why I have given up working on commercial electronics, despite over 27 years as an engineer and someone who enjoys doing my own repairs (my F150 has +175K miles and I’ll continue to drive it ’til the wheels fall off. And when they do, I’ll get some duct tape and JB Weld, put them back on, and drive some more).

  16. 16
    Bo Alawine says:


    You forgot Vice Grips.

  17. 17
    big ole hound says:

    Thus the term “all thumbs” is very apt for my hands too. I’m good with the ones needed to build or fix a house but not anything called a small appliance.

  18. 18
    Schlemizel says:

    As I have gotten older I have gotten them, they don’t work for me though.

  19. 19
    Howard Beale IV says:

    @Fred Fnord: Try fixing Sony Walkman’s that were no bigger than the cassette they played.

  20. 20
    Schlemizel says:

    I feel it is more kids and cell phones. We used to fight with our kids as every 8 months or so their current phone just didn’t work right, was broken somehow or in some way just was not cutting it. FUnny but once they had to pay for their own phones they never had another problem they couldn’t live with.

  21. 21
    OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Bo Alawine: A good framing hammer can even fix vice grips.

    @Bo Alawine: You forgot baling wire and foil. (once “fixed” a broken exhaust manifold well enuf to return home from deep in the wilds of Shannon Co.)

  22. 22
    Rafer Janders says:

    Each failed attempt resulted in a screen with white lines,

    Vision dreams of passion blowin’ through my mind.

  23. 23
    NobodySpecial says:

    I cracked the glass on my Nexus 7 a week, week and a half ago, so needless to say, the touch screen parts don’t work.

    15 minutes of Google and Youtube, and I ordered a small cable from Newegg. 5 pin MicroUSB on one side, female USB port on the other. Also bought a wireless mouse, total cost $20.

    Plug the cable into the Nexus 7, plug the wireless mouse dongle into the female USB port, turn on the mouse, you have a cursor and can use the tablet again. Clunky, but cheap and it works.

  24. 24
    Lolis says:

    I bought my own Moto X android phone and use straight talk to avoid the apple drama. Google owns Motorola and will replace your screen one time for free.

  25. 25
    Katherine says:

    i had the teeny parts problem when i rebuilt the carburetor on my “65 Dodge Dart / there were parts so tiny i marveled that they were used for such a big engine / then, too, since my “garage” was shade tree on a mesa 40 miles from town it was possible and likely to drop a teeny piece in the sand and not be able to find it and have to head to town for another one !

  26. 26
    Kay says:

    My 12 year shattered the screen on a tablet about 4 days after he got it. It was a gift, not from me. Why do people think tablets would be good for kids? I’m surprised he went 4 days. I didn’t even complain or ask him how it happened. I’m thinking “of course you broke it”

  27. 27
    gelfling545 says:

    , led me to a screen assembly rather than a screen,

    I’m guessing that the screen itself must actually be an easier repair as my 16 year old granddaughter has replaced her screen twice on her own – she bikes everywhere & is prone to phone droppage- & she is no tech marvel.

  28. 28
    Cervantes says:

    Working conditions in southern China’s Taiwanese-owned manufacture-for-export industries are an issue not only in electronics but also in toys, clothing, etc.

  29. 29
    Poopyman says:

    @Katherine: Magnets! (I’ll skip the ICP quote.) They save a lot of trouble.

    Only took me about 40 years to figure that one out.

  30. 30
    WereBear says:

    There’s money, and there’s stress. Sometimes, I can use the one to avoid the other.

  31. 31
    Poopyman says:

    @gelfling545: Yeah, but she’s 16 and has grown up accommodating all these new-fangled machines, just as we were able to get the LED clocks from blinking “12:00” on our parents’ new-fangled machines.

  32. 32
    Cervantes says:

    @Lolis: The Moto X is final-assembled in Texas out of pre-built components. Internal components are mostly pre-built in other states. Most of the externally visible components are built in Asia and shipped to Texas.

  33. 33
    MattF says:

    Well, it is interesting what these objects d’Apple are like inside. The current processor (A7, I think) is huge by any standard, a billion transistors with desktop-class specs. And, according to the grapevine, about to get smaller and faster.

  34. 34
    HinTN says:

    @dmsilev: Coffee would have come out my nose had I not been between sips.

  35. 35
    Singular says:

    From the iPhone 4 onwards, you have to disassemble the whole damn phone to replace the screen. The iPhone 3 was a piece of cake by comparison.

    I made the mistake of attempting to repair the wife’s after a few glasses of wine and no jewellers’ tools. Gahh, never again…

  36. 36
    different-church-lady says:


    And don’t forget, childrens’ hands are much smaller and therefore more capable of dealing with small screws.

    Not to mention the fact that a machine probably puts the screws in, and the workers only do things like put the phone parts into the machine.

    THINK, people…

  37. 37
    different-church-lady says:

    @BillinGlendaleCA: Because your phone does not have any tiny screws in it. Got it.

  38. 38
    Mike in NC says:

    I cannot imagine a life spent working 12 or 16 hour days putting these devices together.

    The term is “Chinese Prison”.

  39. 39
    Xantar says:

    I have owned three iPhones and three iPads. I have never so much as scratched a single screen. I honestly don’t understand why so many people I know have shattered screens. I’m not especially dexterous or careful.

  40. 40
    Walker says:

    Screen shattering is common. Doesn’t your mall have kiosk with someone offering to do it less than Apple? Someone trained with the right tools?

    Honestly, every mall I have walked into in the past 4 years has a “we fix Apple” kiosk.

  41. 41
    Baud says:


    The Note is actually held together by duct tape.

  42. 42
    Eric U. says:

    there is a guy here that will replace a screen on an iphone for less than $80. After my struggles with my ipod, I wish I had known. I have fixed ipods, but mine got squished and the parts dont’ fit right

  43. 43
    Keith G says:

    Spending money, in some cases up to $80, for protective cases is my strategy for not messing up my portable electronics.

    My brand new phone is encased in an Otterbox Armor series. It is quite substantial protection (though I bet a bit less than claimed). Unless I accidentally drop it into one of our Hobart floor mixers at work, I think the phone will be more than adequately protected.

  44. 44
    Snarki, child of Loki says:

    Just be glad you didn’t have to replace a 01005 size surface-mount component.

    That size code translates into “10 mil by 5 mil”, where 1mil = 0.001 inch.

  45. 45
    PurpleGirl says:

    @dmsilev: LOL. Where would you like your internets sent?

  46. 46
    Glocksman says:


    I did the same thing to my Nexus 7 as well.
    The glass cracked in such a way that the top half of the screen doesn’t respond to touch while the bottom half does.
    I just keep flipping it around when I use it.

    Annoying as shit, but I don’t have the cash to replace it.

  47. 47
    pentatonix says:

    Oh look, MarkyMux is trying to talk tech and bring out the political blog phraseology speak to try be humorous and show his geek cred. How cute. The guy who can’t administer a wordpress website and uses an iPhone (as in I don’t understand tech therefore iPhone) is trying to tell us he knows something about computers and techy stuff.

    Please continue.

  48. 48
    different-church-lady says:

    @pentatonix: He replaces his own iPhone screens. You annoy people on the internet.

    He wins.

  49. 49
    Ruckus says:

    I like tall buildings better. Minimum of 4 stories is best. Three may not get the job done, gravity being at least 6000 yrs old and all.

  50. 50
    Ruckus says:

    Oh look! A new customer for Cleek’s bakery.

    Enjoy your stay, asshole.

  51. 51
    mike with a mic says:


    There is nothing desktop class at all about the CPU in the iphone or any mobile phone. All of those mobiles use ARM CPUs, they aren’t even close to the same class as crappy laptop x86 class CPUs, and laptop CPUs are pathetic compared to desktop class x86 CPUs, which in turn get smashed by server class x86 CPUs.

    The CPUs in your phone are really, really, really week. Granted they are faster than an old Pentium 4, but they get smashed by current desktop and workstation class parts. And that’s not even just in speed. those ARM’s do not have the same instruction sets and other items.

    ARM isn’t fast, it’s designed to be power efficient. Low power never goes with actual processing power. Apple only has ONE product with desktop class performance, the mac pro. Even the imacs use cripped laptop parts to enable their form factor, and thus use the slowest, cheapest, and weakest parts of any desktop out there.

  52. 52
    Citizen_X says:


    but she’s 16 and has grown up accommodating all these new-fangled machines, just as we were able to get the LED clocks from blinking “12:00″ on our parents’ new-fangled machines.

    And you can rest assured that, twenty years from now, she’ll be yelling, “How do you keep these damn biocomputers from wandering off on their own?” while her kids will just look at each other and roll their eyes.

  53. 53
    Tripod says:

    There’s some turnkey storefront franchises that will fix’er right up. OR swap it out with your carrier for about the same price. That’s the deal.

  54. 54
    kindness says:

    I’ve had v4 for years. When the v6 comes out I’m going to re-up and this time max out the memory.

  55. 55
    LT says:

    I’m a member of the vanishing subset of Americans who can remember working on car engines, both by myself and with friends, and doing it successfully. Good luck troubleshooting any car engine that way nowadays.

  56. 56
    Chopper says:

    icracked.com. a kid will come out and fix it for you. Takes them like 10 minutes cause they do a ton of em. Cost me 100 bux to fix the screen on my iphone4.

  57. 57
    mike with a mic says:


    The parts used in those often aren’t as good…. and there are always reports of them copying the SIM card and everything in your memory.

  58. 58
    mike with a mic says:


    The parts used in those often aren’t as good…. and there are always reports of them copying the SIM card and everything in your memory.

  59. 59
    J R in WV says:

    I have a friend who does hardware and software fixes as an independent soloist. I had an external HD fail, he took it off and put it into a new enclosure, what failed was the usp interface chip where it plugged in, something broke when the cable wiggled.

    Looks like an expensive brand new backup drive! I did drop a little Nikon point-n-shoot and the screen shattered. Only cost $120 brand new 4 years ago, can’t imagine it would be worth fixing. Local screen replacer outfit offered to send it to their HQ in NYC, but just an estimate would cost as much as it cost in the beginning!

    I do have a Leatherman tool with a flat bladed screwdriver small enough to fix my glasses hinge. That’s small enough for me.

    We did dismantle, clean and repair a carb on a 1971 Toyota Land Cruiser in the deep woods once. Worked fine for years, then the dealer’s tech rebuilt it, asked how long the needle valve had been in upside down? Years!!

  60. 60
    MattF says:

    @mike with a mic: It’s fair to complain that Apple’s current iPhone CPU is constrained by memory, power, and clock speed that don’t really allow full use of its underlying capability– but the CPU architecture is high-end RISC:


    I agree that one can reasonably ask “Well, so what?” We shall see.

  61. 61
    Tom DeVries says:

    In my neighborhood, a functional suburb of Silicon Valley, there’s a kiosk at the mall – just down from the Apple Store – where a guy replaces screens all day — $200+ a pop. Constantly busy.

  62. 62
    different-church-lady says:

    @LT: I won’t touch a car engine, but I’ll rotate my own tires, install my own kitchen cabinets, and even replace the hot water tank.

    By contrast, I remember a temporary housemate staring at me like I was some kind of sorcerer when I pulled out a screwdriver, some rubbing alcohol and a q-tip in an attempt to fix a button on the thermostat. She said, “Where did you learn how to do that?” Like there’s a college somewhere that teaches courses in taking already broken thing apart and using your common sense to fix it. Learned helplessness in a nutshell. The only tool my “smart” friends know how to use is the telephone, so they can call a repair guy for literally every little thing.

    The guy who kept all the gear at my school running had a sign in his office: “If it jams, force it. If it breaks, it needed fixing anyway.”

  63. 63
    El Cruzado says:

    @Lolis: IIRC Google recently dumped the non-patent bits of Motorola to someone else to stop the bleeding. I forgot who got it, maybe Lenovo?

  64. 64
    burnspbesq says:

    What’s really hard to imagine is that by Chinese standards, putting those things together is a good job.

  65. 65
    burnspbesq says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    Get higher, baby.

  66. 66
    burnspbesq says:


    There’s a place not far from here in OC that is actually called “UBreakWeFix.” I may head over there and see if they can replace the hard drive in my old iPod with a SSD.

  67. 67
    MattF says:

    @burnspbesq: An antique! Did you pay for it in cowrie shells?

  68. 68
    Mnemosyne says:


    It helps growing up with brothers — I had four of ’em (all older) so there wasn’t much room for holding back and insisting that they do things for me. I have no trouble building all of my own Ikea furniture and doing minor repairs, but I never really got into cars (probably because none of my brothers were into them).

    When I had roommates, I was the designated bug-killer because, again, trying to get your brother to kill a bug for you is an exercise in futility (and will probably end with said bug being dangled over your face, still wiggling).

  69. 69
    different-church-lady says:


    There’s a place not far from here in OC that is actually called “UBreakWeFix.”

    Do they provide the stuff for me to break? ‘Cause that would be really cool.

  70. 70
    JenJen says:

    To hell with iPhones. For your next phone, get an HTC One.


  71. 71
    Cervantes says:


    What’s really hard to imagine is that by Chinese standards, putting those things together is a good job.

    I don’t think the comparison is quite that simple.

    From 2008 to 2012, China’s minimum wage levels have registered an average 12.6 per cent annual growth rate (China Briefing, 4 January 2013), in part a response to rising worker protests, and in part an attempt to stimulate domestic consumption. The current young cohort of Chinese workers, compared with the older generation of working migrants, has greater access to news and information through mobile technologies, and has a greater expectation that their rights and interests will be protected. They demand decent working conditions and share high aspirations of living ‘the Chinese dream’ in the city. Viewed from the village, the city is where everything appears to be happening (Chan, 2013). It is against these high hopes of the second generation of rural migrant workers, whose education levels are higher than those of their predecessors, that the reality of work on the mass assembly-line at Foxconn and other factories comes as such a shock.

    Not only do these young labourers, many with technical education and basic vocational skills, find themselves in low wage jobs, they also quickly discover that there is no promising route to advancement via higher education within the company. Inside Foxconn city, young workers feel deep anxiety about their future. Conscious of high burnout rates, some attempt to save enough from their meagre salaries to start small businesses in the city or elsewhere. Most quickly fail. Unfulfilled expectations of gaining skills and rising through the factory system, coupled with the inability to start small businesses, the absence of fundamental labour and citizenship rights in the city, and the frustrations of moving back and forth between city and countryside, have fuelled anger and in some a sense of helplessness (Pun and Lu, 2010; Wu, 2010; Selden and Wu, 2011).


    Until the wave of worker suicides, Foxconn had never raised basic wages above the local statutory minimum levels for entry-level workers. The giant electronics company, not unlike many other private employers, has turned most of their profits into enterprise savings, dividends and reinvestment, rather than sharing with general workers. Foxconn was eventually forced to offer workers a higher wage to remain competitive in the labour market.


    The union at Foxconn looks like, and acts like, a company union. It has failed to protect workers’ health, basic rights and dignity. Thus, in one of the world’s largest ‘unionised’ companies—over 90 per cent of the 1.4 million employees had registered as members of the union (Foxconn Technology Group, 7 June 2012), workers—like the more than 260 million rural migrant workers toiling in large and small workplaces throughout China (Xinhua, 22 February 2013)—have no trustworthy workplace-based communication channels through which to raise their voices, protect their rights or engage in collective bargaining.

    Excerpts are from Jenny Chan, “A suicide survivor: the life of a Chinese worker,” New Technology, Work, and Employment, 28:2 (July 2013), pp. 84-89.

  72. 72
    rikyrah says:

    the entire post had me LOL

    glad you fixed it.

  73. 73
    JPS says:


    “… If it jams, force it. If it breaks, it needed fixing anyway.”

    One of my rules is “If you have to force it you’re probably doing it wrong”.
    Follow-up one: If you really need to force it, you’d better know why, and “it won’t go” isn’t good enough.
    Follow-up two: This applies to more that just equipment, for example, relationships.

  74. 74
    Ruckus says:

    There are three methods to fixing any inanimate object.
    1. Use force.
    2. Use logic when force doesn’t work.
    3. When all else fails read the manual.

    It’s not a fool proof system which is why fools employ it.

  75. 75
    Irony Abounds says:

    Frankly the best way to go would have been to get a new iPhone 5 for the $249, switch to the used one and then sell the new iPhone 5 and make a tidy profit. If she legitimately broke the glass why not use the insurance you paid for and cash in.

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