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.