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10 years of Cracking Open the Apple iPhone

Bill Detwiler looks back at 10 years of cracking open the Apple iPhone.

10 years of Cracking Open the Apple iPhone

It's been a decade since I cracked open the original iPhone. And as Apple celebrated the phone's 10th anniversary in June 2017, it was only appropriate that we celebrate 10 years of taking them apart.

Note: This video was originally published in June 2017 to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the iPhone.

Original iPhone

It took me three hours to crack open the original iPhone. It takes me less than 30 minutes these days. There were no special tools for taking them apart back then. I used everything from plastic toothpicks to a pocketknife. And just like today's iPhone, the original was filled with tiny screws. Compared to today's iPhones, the first one really looked like a prototype on the inside.

iPhone 3G

The second iPhone, which was called the 3G not the 2, looked a lot like the first one, but had a single piece back that was more heavily curved. External screws made their first appearance in the 3G. And thanks to these screws and an improved front panel design, it was much easier to crack open the iPhone 3G compared to the original.

The interior of the iPhone 3G also looked a lot less like a prototype. For example the battery was not soldered to the system board. Still it's striking to see how large the board is compared to the newer ones.

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iPhone 4

The iPhone 4, which was actually the 3rd generation iPhone, remember we got out of sequence with the 3G, had a whole new design. And while it still had external screws, you now opened the case by removing the back cover.

This was the first time we saw the now familiar interior layout with an L-shaped system board sitting next to an elongated, rectangular battery. It was also the first time an iPhone processor would have an "A" marking. In this case it was the aptly-named A4.

Despite being filled with tons of tiny screws, cover plates, and clips, the iPhone 4's design made it one of the easier early iPhones to crack open.

iPhone 4S

With the iPhone 4S (Apple began its practice of adding S to the name of off-year models that had new hardware), it basically had the same exterior design as the previous year's iPhone. Unfortunately, Apple made the 4S a bit more difficult to crack open than older models by using special pentalobe screws on the exterior. These screws first appeared on the Verizon version of the iPhone 4. Although the 4S was remarkably easy to open, getting one was not. I waited in line at the Apple store for over 13 hours to buy the one I cracked open.

iPhone 5

The iPhone 5 had the same general shape as the 4 and 4S, but the newer device had lots of hardware updates and a redesigned case. It was also taller, thinner, and lighter than the iPhone 4S, and the old 30-pin connector had been replaced with a Lightning port.

With the iPhone 5, Apple returned to a design that required you to open the phone by removing the front panel. And given that you opened the iPhone 5 from the front, the hardware layout that you saw was basically a mirror image of the iPhone 4 and 4S.

Unfortunately, the metal shields on 5's system board were soldered in place. Seeing the chips underneath was impossible without cutting off the shields, which I don't do, because I always want to put the phones back together and have them work.

iPhone 5S

Being an off-year upgrade, the iPhone 5S didn't have any major design changes; it did, however, have some new hardware, such as the fingerprint-scanning Touch ID Home button. Unfortunately, the new button made the 5S a bit tricky to crack open, thanks to a fragile ribbon cable that connected it to the circuit board inside.

iPhone 6 and 6 Plus

With the iPhone 6 and larger 6 Plus, Apple once again significantly redesigned the phone's exterior. Compared to the original iPhone, cracking open and disassembling these models was a breeze. And once you were inside, there was lots to see.

iPhone 6S and 6S Plus

As an S model, it was no surprise that the iPhone 6S looked almost identical to the 6. You really had to crack this one open to see the updates. Luckily, by this time we'd stopped using pocketknives and plastic toothpicks. The iPhone 6S had lots of hardware updates, including 3D Touch technology, which detects how much pressure you apply to the screen, a new Taptic Engine, and a body made out of series 7000 aluminum alloy. A more rigid aluminum than used on the 6, and likely used to avoid another "bendgate" saga.

iPhone 7 and 7 Plus

And that brings us up to the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. Looking at the 7 and you might not immediately notice the differences between it and the 6 or 6S, but Apple made lots of hardware changes to the ninth generation phone.

For starters, the adhesive holding the display to the body was a bit tougher to get through than on previous models. There were new tri-screws holding components in place. The Taptic Engine was larger. The 7 and 7 Plus had a new shape and a new water-resistant gasket. And, there were a host of new or updated chips, including the A10 Fusion processor and motion coprocessor.

Then there was probably the most controversial change Apple ever made to an iPhone: removing the 3.5mm headphone jack.

Yes...the original iPhone I cracked open still works

A lot's changed since I dissected that first iPhone back in 2007. Today's iPhones have bigger screens, thinner profiles, better hardware, and of course there are now over 2 million iOS apps. But one thing that hasn't changed: The iPhones I crack open still work when I put them back together. Just like the original.

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