The iPhone 5’s Two-Tone Design Kills Off Aftermarket Back Panel Replacements For Good

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You won't be able to replace the back of your iPhone 5 with an aftermarket kit like you could with the iPhone 4S.
You won't be able to replace the back of your iPhone 5 with an aftermarket kit like you could with the iPhone 4S.

One of the best aspects of the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S design was that, if you wanted to personalize your iPhone, you had more options than just picking out a nifty case: by just undoing two screws at the bottom of the device, you could replace the entire back panel on your iPhone.

This opened up a lot of cool options for modding your iPhone. I, for example, replaced my iPhone 4S’s white glass back panel with a Don-Draper-esque slice of teak.

I loved my wood-backed iPhone so much that I emailed the mod kit’s maker, Monolith, asking them when a similar mod would be coming out for the iPhone 5. The disapponting response? Never. The iPhone 5’s design seemingly makes it impossible.

Speaking to Cult of Mac, Monolith said that the new iPhone 5 design would seem to entirely preclude replacing the back for modification purposes.

“It’s a tough one for the iPhone 5. It looks like it’s a different animal than the iPhone 4,” Monolith told us. “Similar to the iPhone 3G/3GS, it looks like the structure of the phone consists of the internal components being directly attached to the back. Although the 5 looks to be more unibody than the 3G. I think that makes it impossible to actually replace it with wood, short of a crazy hack.”

If you look at the iPhone 5’s back panel component, you can see exactly what Monolith means. While in the iPhone 4 or iPhone 4S, the back panel was a stand alone piece of glass that was slid into place and attached to the device with a couple of screws, the new iPhone 5 back panel encompasses not just the physical back of the device, but the antenna of the device as well. In fact, the two-tone design of the next iPhone is a consequence of its antenna design, which not only uses the side of the device as an antenna (a la the iPhone 4 or 4S) but the back of the device as well.

What this means is that to replace the back of an iPhone 5, you have to replace the skeleton of the entire iPhone, including the antenna. That design choice effectively kills off aftermarket back panel mods like Monolith’s for good.

It’s a bummer. I loved personalizing my iPhone with something other than a case, and thought the ability to replace the back of the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S was one of the best aspects of its design. It was an easy, simple mod that didn’t cost a lot to do but greatly expanded your ability to give your iPhone a unique “personality” with the choice of a new color and material. Now that capability is gone, and like all of Apple’s design choices, the iPhone has become incrementally less user-moddable and user-repairable. That’s not a conspiracy on Apple’s part — it’s a necessary trade-off in making a device this thin and light — but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed.