In this video by a guy named Scotty Allen, who’s just launched a new YouTube channel called Strange Parts (“Adventures from the technological fringe”), he builds his own iPhone 6S from parts acquired in Shenzhen, China’s Huaqiangbei marketplace. The video has gone viral and is getting the predictable pushback from people saying it’s no big shakes, people do this all the time, it’s more expensive than just buying a refurbed phone, he didn’t negotiate the parts prices in the marketplace, he didn’t assemble the chips on the logic board, yadda, yadda. Yawn.
All of this eeyoring (acting in a glum, naysaying manner) completely misses the point. Like most of us, Scotty had never done anything like this before. He is a programmer and a lifelong electronics dabbler, but he had never tried to spec out and buy parts for a hardware project like this in Shenzhen. So, the video is a fascinating ride-along as he figures out what parts he needs, goes to the various stalls to find the parts, negotiates the sales, assembles the phone, troubleshoots and resolves issues, and eventually achieves success.
I definitely learned a few things. Like, who knew that there is a special pressurized oven just for the removal of air bubbles between the glass screen and the LCD assembly (called a Remove Bubble Machine)?
Here’s how Scotty explains his motivation for the project:
I’ve been fascinated by the cellphone parts markets in Shenzhen, China for a while. I’d walked through them a bunch of times, but still didn’t understand basic things, like how they were organized or who was buying all of these parts and what they were doing with them.
So when someone wondered if you could build a working smartphone from parts in the markets, I jumped at the chance to dive in and really understand how everything works. Well, I sat on it for nine months, and then I dove in.
The only thing I found frustrating about the video was that he never mentions the prices for all of the parts and how much the overall bill was. That was clearly not the point, but it would have been nice to know. From the comments, it sounds like the cost ended up around US$300. It would’ve been interesting to see just how low he could have gotten that cost if he’d brought an experienced Huaqiangbei shopper with him. But again, that was not the point of this exercise and I really enjoyed the experiment as he conducted it.
In the end, he concludes that building your own phone is very doable–like building your own PC, just on a much smaller scale. It looks like there are all sorts of custom cases and other parts in Huaqiangbei. It would be cool to try and build a really snazzy, tricked-out phone.
In the video, Scotty promises that more Strange Parts videos are to come, with him exploring “interesting technology adventures around the world.” I really look forward to seeing upon what silicon-drenched shores he washes up next.