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iFixit tears down Apple’s “diabolical” pentalobe screws (which they can fix for $9.95)

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There’s a post on the iFixit blog railing against a five-point “pentalobe” screw that Apple has started using on their Macbook Air and is swapping into the iPhone during repair, presumably meaning it will be standard in the next iPhone. The shape is new and a “reputable” source for a matching driver is supposedly impossible to find, making this the ultimate screw job! So evil! How fortunate that iFixit has a kit to solve the problem for only $9.95! Oh, it must be kismet.

Let’s be honest about this. Of the millions of people who own an iPhone or Macbook Air, only the tiniest percentage would ever attempt to open up their device for any reason. Since they’re not upgradeable, the only time you’d need to remove these screws is for repair, which almost no one would do themselves. The vast majority would send it to Apple or an authorized repair shop. This so-called plan to screw us screws almost none of us.

So if Apple’s not trying to screw us, then why use pentalobe? Apple refers to them as “Pentalobe security screws” and certainly screws that cannot be easily removed are more secure. Watch a few episodes of “Burn Notice” and you’ll start to think about the tamper-resistance of your phone. However, a more compelling reason, I believe, is the stability offered by the five-point design.

Doing some research, I found a spinal implant that also uses rounded pentalobe screws. Why they chose that design is not listed, but I assume it’s not to keep users from installing their own spinal implants. More likely, the stability of the five-point pattern (like the legs of a five-wheeled office chair) offers the precision and torque necessary to drive screws into bone with minimal risk of slipping. While driving screws into an iPhone won’t result in paralyzing someone if the driver slips, such an incident with the device could easily mar it, which they’d surely like to avoid.

None of that disproves the idea that Apple has launched a “Diabolical Plan to Screw Your iPhone,” but the pentalobe does offer legitimate advantages of tamper-resistance and precision. Personally, I’d be more inclined to believe the scary conspiracy theory if it wasn’t followed immediately by a sales pitch for the solution and did not imply that other sources for said solution are not reputable.

Via several outlets, but I’m going with Daring Fireball since Gruber seems to be the only one who gets it.

Update: CrunchGear found an appropriate screwdriver for $2.35. Hopefully they’re not one of those “unreputable” sources iFixit warned of.

Alleged Apple fanboi, accused Android apologist, and confirmed Microsoft MVP for touch and tablet Mark Sumimoto a.k.a. Sumocat dabbles in all areas of mobile computing with a focus on Windows-based Tablet PCs and pen input. A mobile computing enthusiast since 2004, he pioneered the field of ink blogging via his personal blog, Sumocat's Scribbles. His current tools include a Fujitsu Lifebook T900, TEGA v2, and iPhone 4. Email: sumocat [at] notebooks.com

9 Comments

  1. Lkyfluke

    01/21/2011 at 3:20 am

    New Holand and VW both use these on fuel injecton related parts, snapon last time i checked still does not make drivers for them.

  2. Chrisphickie

    01/21/2011 at 5:35 am

    someone will make them eventually. just be patient. there are too many reverse engineers out there.

  3. Anonymous

    01/21/2011 at 2:20 pm

    Oh, great, ANOTHER relatively obscure screw head!

    I definitely don’t like philips and flathead screws. Common, but the former strips A LOT and the latter tends to slip out of the screw head. Torx is harder to find locally, but it’s a great design that’s resistant to stripping somehow. Tri-wing…don’t know how easily they strip, but it’s apparently there just to keep people from tinkering with their own hardware. Then there are those weird “inverse Torx” screws (for lack of a better description) commonly found on old game consoles and their cartridges…

  4. Anonymous

    01/21/2011 at 2:20 pm

    Oh, great, ANOTHER relatively obscure screw head!

    I definitely don’t like philips and flathead screws. Common, but the former strips A LOT and the latter tends to slip out of the screw head. Torx is harder to find locally, but it’s a great design that’s resistant to stripping somehow. Tri-wing…don’t know how easily they strip, but it’s apparently there just to keep people from tinkering with their own hardware. Then there are those weird “inverse Torx” screws (for lack of a better description) commonly found on old game consoles and their cartridges…

  5. Mr Cold Water of Reality Man

    01/22/2011 at 7:49 pm

    I just like saying “pentalobe.”

  6. ericthebikeman

    01/23/2011 at 4:31 am

    VW has them on their MAF sensors. The sensor on the 4 cyl and the V6 Jetta were the same except for the plastic and double the price for V6. The local Snapon person said they had them but they wouldn’t sell to me. IIRC they were torx plus security.

  7. Dead Already

    01/23/2011 at 4:56 am

    In 19 years I’ve rarely found a screw in a PC that I couldn’t figure out.

    I wouldn’t suppose the solution might be to enjoy the world about your craniums and stop spending all that money on something you can’t just swap stuff on or reboot.

    PS First computing experince, age 13 (1979), TRS-80 Model I (and at 8K with no DOS I MEAN Model I)

  8. Dave Saul

    01/24/2011 at 3:23 am

    If its just screw stability, why not use a TORX screw then?

  9. Michael Lance

    01/25/2011 at 5:48 am

    Interesting…I have an older Seagate 100 GB Portable External Hard Drive (ST9100801U2RK) that apparently uses the pentalobe design screws. I’ve been looking for a while to find a screwdriver to take the bugger apart and replace the drive, hopefully Apple’s faux pas will help me solve this problem now that the screwdriver is widely available!

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