What is it like trying to fix an iPhone yourself? | Mobile phones

When fixing an iPhone screen, you have to be careful with the heat gun – the clue is in the name.

If you overheat the handset you can damage the insides even before you can lever off a cracked screen, let alone replace it with another. And then you have to remember which screw is which.

Right-to-repair campaigners may have won a victory when Apple said it would make repair kits for iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 handsets available to the public next year, but I am learning it will not be straightforward for the rest of us.

Apple itself stressed that its new service would not be for have-a-go enthusiasts but for “individual technicians with the knowledge and experience to repair electronic devices”.

Junaid Syed, 31, and his brother Jawad, 33, have the knowledge and experience to fix an iPhone. They run Sarasfix in central London and do their best to keep phones out of the bin. The brothers kindly let an unskilled Guardian reporter into their shop to try to replace the screen on an old iPhone 12, with Junaid patiently supervising what soon becomes a jumble of tiny screws and pinch-eyed concentration.

First of all, you must don some protective goggles and a pair of latex gloves (to shield yourself from the broken screen’s glass). There are other basic equipment needs: three different screwdrivers; a magnetic mat; a heat gun (to loosen the glue that attaches the screen to the phone); and plectrum-like plastic pieces to lever out parts.

For a well practised technician like Junaid the process takes 20 minutes. For the Guardian it takes an hour, even with supervision. The screws are fiddly and the engineering is intricate, which becomes apparent as soon as I’ve swapped a pen for a miniature screwdriver.

Once you’re in the innards of the phone, you have to undo more screws and detach connectors – which link the screen to the main body of the phone – as well as the face ID sensor. The process is then reversed (reattaching the connectors to a new screen, putting back in the right screws, pressing the new screen into place) before pressing the power button to see if the process has worked.

Apple encourages people taking the official route – through sites that use official parts such as an affiliated independent shop or an Apple store – because the unofficial parts used by third party outlets can be unreliable.

Dan Milmo replaces a broken screen on an Apple iPhone.
Dan Milmo replaces a broken screen on an Apple iPhone. Photograph: Martin Godwin/The Guardian

Syed backs the right-to-repair movement, which urges manufacturers to give people the parts and manuals to repair their own phones, tablets and laptops. He also volunteers at community repair projects where he teaches people how to fix anything from handsets to headphones and turntables.

“We try to do our best to fix any devices to prevent e-waste. We always try to repair or replace a part and if not we recycle it. It definitely should not end up in landfill.”

According to a poll commissioned by right-to-repair campaigners at the Restart Project, 78% of British adults want the same access to parts and repair manuals as repair shops like Junaid’s.

“It is easy. But because it’s your first time doing it, it’s complicated,” says Junaid. Next year, iPhone owners will be able to find out for themselves.

The process

Repairing a mobile phone handset is a tricky business for first-timers. Here is an approximation of the steps required to fix a broken iPhone 12 screen.

1. Under a bright light, lay out a magnetic mat to stop screws from rolling away and make it easier to identify them (label the screws on the mat with a wipe-clean pen). Put on protective goggles and latex gloves.

2. Take out the two screws next to the charging port (these help attach the screen to the phone).

3. Hold the screen under a heat gun at 50-60C to loosen the glue that attaches the screen to the phone and then, using a suction cup and a plectrum, lever off the screen (which will still be attached to the phone by connectors).

4. Holding the screen open with a plastic separator, unscrew the shields for the connectors (touch screen, backlight and front camera). Detach the connectors. You can now lift off the screen.

5. Detach the Face ID sensor from the broken screen by removing four screws and then heating up the glue that partly attaches it, using the heat gun. You can now discard the screen.

6. The process is now reversed, starting with reattaching the face ID sensor. But before you press the new screen into place, press the power button to see if it works.


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