Why Apple makes it nearly impossible to fix your own iPhone

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This opened iPhone X looks a lot like a snake's mouth. That's appropriate.
This opened iPhone X looks a lot like a snake's mouth. That's appropriate.
Photo: iFixit

Whenever a new iPhone or iPad is released, Apple gets criticized for how hard it is to work on. Special tools are required and everything is glued together. Replacing your own screen or battery is nigh impossible.

But it turns out the company is doing you a favor. Because iPhone repair is surprisingly dangerous.

According to the Washington Post, companies that recycle electronic devices have to deal with frequent fires. How frequent? Cascade Asset Management, an eWaste recycling company, estimates that 1 in 3,000 of the devices it handles catch fire.  

The Lithium-ion culprit 

The fires are caused by the lithium-ion batteries that are in virtually every gadget, including all the Apple products from MacBooks to AirPods.

“When crushed, punctured, ripped or dropped, lithium-ion batteries can produce what the industry euphemistically calls a ‘thermal event.’ It happens because these batteries short circuit when the super-thin separator between their positive and negative parts gets breached,” writes Geoffrey A. Fowler from the Washington Post.

iPhone repair: Don’t try this at home

If it was easy to open an iPhone or iPad, obviously people would do it. They’d buy screens and replace the ones they cracked. Or they’d put in new batteries. And 1 time out of every 3000 someone did this, their iOS device would burst into flames. 

For an individual, the risk is relatively low. But last year an industry analyst said there are roughly 700 million iPhones in use.  Suppose 1 in 100 of those gets a home repair. Considering Cascade’s estimate of the odds of a “thermal event,” that would mean 2,300 fires. 

Remember the Galaxy Note 7? Of course you do; that’s the Samsung phone infamous for exploding. But do you know how many of them actually caught fire? In the U.S., it was about 100. So if people were easily and regularly popping open their iPhones to tinker with them, there’d be a problem 20 times worse.

And that’s probably a low estimate. Cascade’s technicians are highly trained and still have the electronic gadgets they’re working on catch fire. The odds of the lithium-ion battery exploding have to be much higher when the entire “training” of the person poking around inside the device consists of watching most of a single YouTube video, after skipping over the boring warnings about fire hazards.

There’d be news reports almost every day about someone setting their house on fire while working on an iPhone or iPad. There’d be pictures of burn victims. Images of suddenly-homeless kids crying in the cold. And people would blame Apple.

So Apple does everything it can to force you to take your broken iPhone or iPad to a professional. That’s far and away the best solution. So don’t complain.