Apple May Be Working On A Top Secret Asymmetric Screw To Lock You Out Of Your Devices Forever [Updated]

Apple May Be Working On A Top Secret Asymmetric Screw To Lock You Out Of Your Devices Forever [Updated]

Forget Pentalobe screws, Apple’s next-gen screw design could lock DIYers out of their Macs once and for all.

Self-repairability is often an aspect of Apple’s modern product design that gets Cupertino blasted by critics, with the Retina MacBook Pro being deemed “the least repairable laptop yet” by repair experts iFixIt. But if the leaked image above of a next-generation assymetric screw Apple is reportedly working on is to be believed, things are about to get a lot worse for Mac and iDevice owners who like to tinker with their devices.

The image above was posted to Reddit from a throwaway account (i.e. an account specifically created to be used only once to share sensitive material and therefore hard to trace) and supposedly comes from within Cupertino’s design department. The image details a render of new screw that Apple is reportedly working on with a “totally asymmetric design” that “no known tools” can be used to unscrew.

Apple has increasingly been locking down their devices, preventing them from being repaired or opened by third-parties. Apple has been famously using proprietary pentalobe screws since 2009 in their devices, but several third-party Pentalobe drivers exist which allow users to self-service devices with these screws.

This new asymmetric screw, if ever rolled out, looks like it could be a harder nut to crack. To our untrained eyes, in fact, the asymmetric design seems unique enough that Apple could patent it, preventing third-parties from selling their own drivers legally.

Keep in mind that this is an image posted to Reddit, and the only say-so we have that it comes from Apple is what the original poster has said. Also keep in mind that Apple often works on designs that never see the light of the day, and this new asymmetric screw could end up never being put into production.

If Apple is working on this screw, though, it’s troubling. Many of Apple’s recent design decisions have hampered self-repairability, but many of them — like using glue and solder in the recent MacBook Airs — at least helped make the device thinner and less easily broken. These screws, though, seem to have no other purpose but to keep users out at all costs, offering consumers no advantage whatsoever.

We’ve reached out to Apple and iFixIt for comment. More as we have it.

Update: We heard back from Kyle Wiens at iFixIt, who said that if this screw design is legitimate, the ramifications would be severe, but he’s skeptical it’s from Apple:

If this were an Apple design, it would be concerning. Service technicians of all kinds need access to hardware. We regularly sell pentalobe screwdrivers to forensic investigators who depend on our tools for important investigations. Recyclers all over the world to dismantle products, and Apple has historically relied on the open market (third parties like us) to supply their recyclers with the tools they need to recycle Apple products.

My gut feel is that this isn’t from Apple. The threads are unrealistic, and I suspect that a head like that is too complex to use as a tool head. Existing tool designs tend to be simple because the head needs to withstand a fair amount of torque.

If this is an Apple design, it looks like it would be expensive to manufacture. Apple uses tiny screws, and that’s a lot of complexity.

Update 2: This has turned out to be a hoax perpetrated by a Swedish design company experimenting to see how Apple rumors spread across the internet. They found that while most sites reported on this rumor skeptically, that skepticism almost entirely evaporated when readers started talking about the rumor on social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus. Read more about their experiment here.

  • Markus Reisenberg

    *Please, no!*
    If they would really put this screw into production, I’m sure I won’t be the only one to be screwed.

  • tomp

    don’t make a story out of a no-story. A screw that you can’t unscrew?!?! are you kidding me? Even if it’s patented, you’ll be able to buy the drivers off of ebay from some store in China.

    I think Apple is already keeping us from tampering with their devices by glueing the components together. We see this method applied more aggressively product after product.

  • dieselmaniac

    For the new MacPro perhaps? I love Macs. Long time user here. But, I’m not crazy about some of the decisions Apple’s made making it harder to upgrade or fix Macs. Reminds me of the old days…

  • mr_bee

    It doesn’t look “asymmetrical” to me. It looks like a standard spiral on a cylinder but with an unusual head socket.

    No matter what they change the head socket to, there will always be drivers. At the very least Apple has to give them to the folks in the iPhone factory and all it takes is the loss of a single driver and millions of illegal copies will be made.

    If you are a desperate hardware geek, you *will* be able to get inside. No one else will care.

  • MacHead84

    It doesn’t look “asymmetrical” to me. It looks like a standard spiral on a cylinder but with an unusual head socket.

    No matter what they change the head socket to, there will always be drivers. At the very least Apple has to give them to the folks in the iPhone factory and all it takes is the loss of a single driver and millions of illegal copies will be made.

    If you are a desperate hardware geek, you *will* be able to get inside. No one else will care.

    The head socket is what is asymmetrical…..no “current” tool will fill into the head and grab hold to remove the screw due to its asymmetric design.

  • Brian Hogg

    Rather than being locked out of my devices forever, I imagine I could take some modelling clay, jam it into one of the slots in the screw, bake the clay, then use it as a screwdriver. It wouldn’t be the simplest thing in the world, but it’s not like Apple’s building the One Ring to rule them all.

  • MacHead84

    Rather than being locked out of my devices forever, I imagine I could take some modelling clay, jam it into one of the slots in the screw, bake the clay, then use it as a screwdriver. It wouldn’t be the simplest thing in the world, but it’s not like Apple’s building the One Ring to rule them all.

    Those screws are like a half millimeter wide….clay would just be a brittle blob and sizes that small

  • Brian Hogg

    Those screws are like a half millimeter wide….clay would just be a brittle blob and sizes that small

    They’re a bit bigger than a half-millimeter, but even if clay doesn’t work, you could fit something else in there that would.

  • Th3_1d

    How can people not be upset about this. Even if there are going to workarounds, which there will be, the fact that apple is working against the users is something we should be fighting against. Not only from a support perspective, which will effect me, but from a consumer perspective.
    This is all of course, if this turns out to be true, which seems a little fishy.

  • nthnm

    Because that screw would never get stripped… This will not make it into an Apple product.

  • Malby

    Apple has so far not used the Liquid Metal technology (that it recently licensed) beyond the SIM card ejector tool for the iPhone. This screw seems like a perfection application. Here’s why.

    If both the screw and its matching screwdriver are made of Liquid Metal then a licensed technology that’s very expensive and sophisticated in the fabrication process will mean that cheap knock offs will be both illegal and almost impossible to produce.

    I have a degree in ceramics and have worked in making moulds. It will be hard to make a screwdriver to fit this screw. But even if you can do this, the tiny head coupled with the shallowness of the irregular bas-relief indents means that normal metal screwdrivers will burr themselves to pieces when turned. Only a hardened, high tensile metal will keep it’s shape… perhaps only Liquid Metal.

    If I’m right, then this is a brilliant application of the technology and a genuine game changer. And it won’t be easy to just drill the screws out, remember they’re Liquid Metal screws.

    Finally, it seems like the thread of the screw has an unusually high quality smooth surface. This is a special screw manufactured with a special and expensive process. Such a surface if, its matched by a recess of similar quality will increase friction and allow a shallower screw. Once again, I think this is a special screw and it smacks of Apple.

  • technochick

    IF this is real then Apple will supply the drivers to those folks they agree have a legit reason to be opening the devices. The rest can go buy a freaking Droid if its that major an issue.

  • technochick

    How can people not be upset about this. Even if there are going to workarounds, which there will be, the fact that apple is working against the users is something we should be fighting against.

    Sorry dude but you do not have some god given right to be able to get in and fish around in your stuff. Apple can legally do this whether you like it or not. Given the dangers of digging around in a phone or such I can’t blame them. Look at what happened on that plane because some twit, with likely no training or license to be mucking around, was doing a battery replacement and stupidly pressed the battery into a screw and punctured it. That twit better be thrilled no one was hurt.

  • Lane Jasper
    Those screws are like a half millimeter wide….clay would just be a brittle blob and sizes that small

    They’re a bit bigger than a half-millimeter, but even if clay doesn’t work, you could fit something else in there that would.

    JB weld perhaps :-)

  • Th3_1d

    Sorry dude but you do not have some god given right to be able to get in and fish around in your stuff.

    @technochick
    Are you joking? I payed for all of it, including whats inside. I get that companies can’t support products if the user is playing around inside of it but to completely remove the possibility is not something we should just roll over and accept. I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned by taking apart my gadgets and putting them back together. Also, what if I wan’t more RAM, what if I got a bigger HD, what if i need to clear out the dust. There are legitimate reasons to get into your device, and it should be up to the user if they want to roll the dice on opening their machine up and “fishing around”. As far as the “dangers” go, I have really never seen that to be an issue. Really the only danger is to the person that is playing with it, and the sheer cost of electronics will keep most people from fishing unless they have done some research.

    I understand that Apple has a legal right to do this, but that doesn’t mean we should just accept it and make bs excuses.

  • ElmerCat
    Those screws are like a half millimeter wide….clay would just be a brittle blob and sizes that small

    They’re a bit bigger than a half-millimeter, but even if clay doesn’t work, you could fit something else in there that would.

    Those screws are like a half millimeter wide….clay would just be a brittle blob and sizes that small

    They’re a bit bigger than a half-millimeter, but even if clay doesn’t work, you could fit something else in there that would.

    Place a drop of epoxy on the screwhead and stick in a standard (your preference: slotted, phillips, etc…) screwdriver before the glue hardens?

  • Mike Bell

    John Brownlee confirmed for an idiot.

  • Stevenj

    pwned!

  • fraydog

    John Brownlee confirmed for an idiot.

    I would say this was very skeptical when it was reported. Gruber should have pointed that out in this link, IMO. I don’t see how that makes Brownlee an idiot.

  • Andie Moep

    Well, I’d say this clearly ousts John Brownlee and Kyle Wiens as the gullible, sensationalist, tabloid level IQ sheep they are. That’s one HUGE pie you got there in your face. Hope you like the steaming turd topping.

    I think a “FULL PWN” is in order.

  • bowlingGreen

    For the new MacPro perhaps? I love Macs. Long time user here. But, I’m not crazy about some of the decisions Apple’s made making it harder to upgrade or fix Macs. Reminds me of the old days…

    Apple has always hated you; that’s why their products cost a ton. You bought into it, you might as well sit back and enjoy the screwing.

About the author

John BrownleeJohn Brownlee is a Contributing Editor. He has also written for Wired, Playboy, Boing Boing, Popular Mechanics, VentureBeat, and Gizmodo. He lives in Boston with his wife and two parakeets. You can follow him here on Twitter.

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