The iPhone 5, repairability, and future product design

Now that we've seen some complete teardowns of the iPhone 5, we can better judge what it'll be like when it comes to repairability. More than that, the changes shown in the iPhone 5 design may shed some light on where Apple's heading with the future of iOS product design.

Back when the iPad 3 was released, many DIY'ers, including myself, were let down when it came to repairability. I expressed my concerns over the new iPad's design and how it would effect repair cost and replacement. While the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S weren't the easiest of devices to repair from the user end, everyone who's read and followed our DIY repair guides knows it is more than possible to replace almost every component.

The iPhone 5 represents another change in form factor for Apple, and a return to the iPhone 3G/iPhone 3GS front-opening design model. What this means for end users is that, if you break your screen, the repair is actually less time consuming and easier to perform than both the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S. It also makes it possible for Apple to more easily repair them in-store. We've already heard that Apple Retail will perform screen replacements in-store on the iPhone 5, similar to how they did for the iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS. It's unclear what price points they'll be charging for a screen repair, or if they'll be different than what they charge now for a replacement device and how AppleCare+ users will be handled, but the fact that they'll be doing it at all is important.

Whether or not this change in direction will carry over into other devices is yet to be seen. The 3rd generation iPad is also rumored to get a hardware revision sooner or later that will add a Lightning connector to replace the 30-pin dock, and perhaps update some other components as well.

The third generation iPad took most of its design cues from the iPad 2 because the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S design wasn't practical for a tablet. Elements of the iPhone 5 design may be. While we can't be certain how these design changes will affect the iPad line in the years, I think there are a few things we can plan on seeing in the near future.

The iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S already combined the digitizer and LCD together in one unit through a bonding process. The iPhone 5 merged the two together into a single in-cell display to make the device thinner yet. This isn't currently the case with the iPad line. The LCD and digitizer are still two completely separate components. They aren't bonded together in any way and there is still quite a large gap between the two.

The space between the LCD and digitizer on the iPad could be completely eliminated, and Apple could stay on the same track they did with the new iPod touch, which wouldn't increase repairability at all. Or they could also go the way of the iPhone 5 and allow easier access from the top panel without using adhesive.

Apple has never been about making a radical change just for the sake of doing something different. Jonathan Ive, Apple Senior Vice President of Industrial Design, put it best when introducing the iPhone 5.

Because of the unique relationship people have with their iPhones, we take changing it really seriously. We don't want to just make a new phone. We want to make a much better phone.

So what Apple has done with the iPhone 5, and what they will do with future products like the iPad mini and, one day, the iPad 4 and iPhone 5s, aren't choices taken lightly.

That's how we've grown to know what to expect from Apple --- better, more finely crafted devices that are familiar and comfortable yet new and exciting at the same time. The next device Apple releases will give you the same feeling you got when you picked up an iPhone 5 for the first time. You'll feel right at home but it'll somehow feel better to hold and more enjoyable to use.

Apple has never made user serviceability and repairability a priority, and I don't expect that to change. But sometimes, Apple's priorities just happen to align with those of do-it-yourselfers.

The iPhone 5 is a great example, and hopefully there'll be more to come.

Allyson Kazmucha

iMore senior editor from 2011 to 2015.

  • My only build problem with my iPhone 4 was the home button -- it just could not stand up to its' intended use, and I did not trust my clumsy fingers to execute your replacement guide. Does the iPhone 5's button and housing seem any more robust and/or any easier to extract and replace?
  • Yep - It's secured onto the front assembly via a metal housing. Much more secure but time will tell if use will break it down.
  • When purchasing my iPhone 5, I was told by the Apple Store sales guy that if I break the screen, it will cost $299 to replace my phone (32GB) - they won't fix the glass, just replace the device. If I break it a second time, it will be the entire replacement cost of the device ($699 or whatever it is). I don't know if this is true, but I need to make a decision about AppleCare+ before my 30 days are up.
  • I personally get AppleCare+ on all of my Apple products. From what I can read for the new iPhone 5 (dont have mine yet) is that with AppleCare+, "an iPhone's repair coverage and technical support is extended two years from the original purchase date. Customers also get coverage for up to two incidents of accidental damage, at an additional cost of $49 per incident." I cant find any info regarding the "non-Applecare+" price for repairs/service. Hope this helps.
  • Sources from us inside Apple say they will be replacing screens as well as other internal components this time around. We have no idea what they'll charge for those yet. If you get your phone wet or beyond repair - the replacement cost from what we've heard is $229 plus tax for an iPhone 5 replacement. Haven't heard anything confirmed though.
  • The $229+tax cost is correct.
  • Thanks. I guess we'll see if that $229 is for all models or 16GB models only.
  • "finely crafted" devices...maybe in the past, but the reports of some devices coming out of the box with scratches, and some devices having light leaks makes me think that producing many millions of these on short notice so that Apple could release in many markets simultaneously has meant that they're cutting corners on the "fine crafting".
  • I found this to be the case with many of my friends, they were either chipped or scratched. One of my friends even had a huge gash at the top of his phone. Other than that though the phone works well. Disappointing to get a brand new product with a scratch on it.
  • I purchased a black 64gb ($998.94 iphone + AppleCare+ AT&T) at the Apple store at Buford, GA. It was around 8:38 am. Went home and opened it. Found a scratch near the home button on the aluminum frame. At around 3:30 I went back to the Apple store and they looked at me with skepticism but proceded to swap it. I opened the new unit in front of them to verity and it had a scratch almost at the same spot. The rep went back to get another one and had a scratch next to the silent switch. Came with another and the last one fo the 64gb and it also had a scratch. It was smaller (almost unoticeable) at the bottom right corner of the aluminum frame. Asked for the manager and asked them to throw some sort of discount for the inconvenience because it was the last one and refused to discount it. I chose to keep the unit. I'm going back sometime this week to see if I have some luck and find a unscratched one. That was 4 out of 4 scratched units. I can only imagining the many unhappy customers that afer shedding $$$ like I did, were caught by surprise while opening their boxes and finding the units to be blemished.
  • As Apple grows and sells more Big Macs....
  • my co-worker's mom brought home $12245 the previous week. she is making money on the laptop and moved in a $543500 condo. All she did was get fortunate and set to work the advice shown on this site