Make: Repairs is a new, periodic column we’re launching today, written by Kyle Wiens and the fine folks at iFixit.com. As you probably know, iFixit is the go-to source for Apple-related do-it-yourself repair info and parts and for gadget first-look teardowns. Kyle, Luke, and company are in a unique position to know what the common complaints and sticky-points are in DIY personal tech repair. In Make: Repairs, they’ll provide answers to some of these more commonly-requested or gnarlier repair questions. When we asked them to come up with an idea for the first installment, they thought the iPhone front panel replacement was a natural. They say it’s their most-purchased part and it’s a slightly finicky repair.
So, without further ado, let’s replace some iPhone glass.
Replacing the iPhone front panel glass
By Kyle Wiens and the iFixit crew
Imagine this scenario: You’re late for a meeting. Making matters worse, you discover that your bike tires are extremely low. As you’re hastily pumping away on the tires, The Boss buzzes your iPhone 3G. He usually doesn’t call your personal number, but this time, it is personal — his butt’s on the line, since you’re bringing the presentation to the meeting. You’re juggling too many things in your head, including the virtual beating you’re going to get for being late, all the while not realizing that the sweat on your hands is sliming your phone. In a split-second, it happens: your iPhone squirts out of your well-oiled mitt and begins an up close and personal conversation with Mr. Concrete. The result? A cracked iPhone 3G screen! (not to mention an even-more furious boss when you finally get to work). While we can’t help you get a new job, we can show you how to fix your cracked iPhone 3G screen.
The first thing to know is what part you actually need to replace. On the original iPhone, the glass, touchscreen digitizer, and LCD display were all inseparably glued together. Fortunately, Apple changed this design and the iPhone 3G front panel glass is not glued to the LCD behind it. This is great news, because most of the time when you break the glass, the LCD itself is fine. The front panel is available for sale separately and is a bit cheaper than the LCD itself (see parts and tools listed below).
Opening the iPhone 3G is definitely simpler than the first-gen phone. The original required a wide array of tools (including a dental pick) to remove the back panel. Apple’s designers decided to be nicer with the 3G, but weird tools like suction cups (see how it’s used below) are still needed to make the opening procedure easier. Removing two Phillips screws and a small pull with the suction cup will open the 3G. Don’t pull too hard, however, as several cables still hold the two sides in place.
Disconnecting the display assembly from the rest of the 3G is as easy as 1-2-3 — literally. Apple was nice enough to number the black ribbon cables “1,” “2,â€³ and “3,” allowing for a no-brainer disconnecting procedure. However, people attempting this at home should be careful to not break any connectors while removing them.
There are six screws that prevent the display from being separated from the front panel. The screws are very small and have #00 Phillips heads. An injudicious flick of the wrist will misplace them forever, so take care to keep them in a safe place. Scotch tape is your friend. We like to tape each set of screws down to a sheet of paper and write down where they came from.
To separate the display from the glass, you have to carefully insert a metal spudger between the two metal rails along the edge of the display assembly. A word of caution, here: metal spudgers are the double-edged swords of the iPod and iPhone repair world. They are incredibly useful due to their hard metal edge, especially for tight crevices where plastic tools are too soft to be used. However, the hierarchy of hardness dictates that “like scratches like,” meaning that everything softer than the metal spudger will be easily scratched. Unfortunately that list includes pretty much every surface of your iPhone 3G. A metal spudger can also bridge electrical connections, potentially shorting your phone’s logic board if you’re not careful.
Glue prevents the removal of the plastic touch screen from the rest of the front panel. The glue loosens when heated, and consequently a heat gun comes in very handy for this procedure. However, too much heat action can warp the front panel, as well as leave nasty burns on your hands (nobody likes playing hot-potato with an iPhone 3G front panel). Hair dryers are preferable if they provide enough heat — offering a safer (and more readily available) alternative.
Getting everything apart is hard enough, but that’s only half the task. The new touch panel now needs to be adhered to the front panel. We include a set of cut-to-shape 3M double-sided tape strips with our iPhone 3G front panels. Alternatively, you can use double-sided tape — it’s trickier than pre-cut pieces, but it can be done.
Repairing the iPhone 3G’s screen is a little difficult, but a rewarding undertaking. A quick lapse in judgment can certainly provide a couple of good stories for the office the next day — stories such as why you have a melted iPhone front panel attached to your right hand. Although the skill-level required is relatively high, the cost associated with replacing the entire iPhone (as opposed to just the front panel) is much higher. A little patience, along with good tools, parts, our disassembly guide, and a couple of hours, will enable pretty much anyone to fix their iPhone 3G display for $70.
Parts and Tools List: