iScrewedUp: a Cautionary Tale

Alex: I just want you to know, you’re a one in a million friend!
Marty: Thanks, Alex! You are a true friend!
Alex: And I’m sure you won’t mind when I tell you…
Marty: What? Tell me what?
Alex: I broke your iPod!
Marty: What?
Alex: The buttons were so small! It made me mad!
Marty: The horror!
Alex: It was an accident!
Marty: I’m gonna kill you!

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (2008)

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A few weeks ago, Wife and I were in her car going…I don’t remember. Somewhere. It doesn’t matter, does it? Jeez, just let me tell the story.

So we’re in her car, and we decided that we wanted to bring a little entertainment along. Specifically, we wanted to hear The Mike O’Meara Show podcast. I brought my iPod with us and plugged the cable into the car’s radio jack designed for such things. We were enjoying the show and, when we reached our destination, I disconnected the iPod from the cable, letting it hang free. Then, as I do with my own car, I put the iPod into the console between the two front seats.

The important difference between my console and Wife’s, is that there’s room in my console for an iPod. Not so much with hers. So when we shut the console’s lid, it damaged my iPod. I didn’t discover this until we got back in the car and discovered that the screen was completely screwed. I couldn’t read the top half at all and I could barely make out the bottom half. Dammit.

So, online I go, looking into what it would take to get the iPod fixed. And, believe it or not, here (not the previous paragraph) is where the story takes the ominous turn. In researching how to get my iPod repaired, I learned that there are basically three ways you can go:

  1. Take it to the Apple store (quite pricey);
  2. Go the postal route and send it to one of several companies that do such repairs (cheaper, but still pretty pricey);
  3. Fix it yourself, it’s easier than you think (quite inexpensive).

Fixing things is not something that scares me away, and given the step-by-step directions that one can find online, it seemed like a not-so-tough option. Also, given that my iPod is well out of its warranty period, opening the unit up wasn’t going to void anything. So I chose a dealer and ordered a replacement screen and a couple of plastic gizmos called “Pry Tools”, which would assist me in opening up the iPod.

Naturally, as soon as I placed the online order I got an auto-reply email that read “We’re on vacation and we’ll fill your order next week, thanks.” That was my own fault, though; there was something about it on the webpage that I’d overlooked.

So two weeks after my original order was placed, I received a padded envelope with my screen and my pry tools. I broke out a couple of iPod repair websites—one of which demonstrated with a video—and set to work.

This is where things got ugly.

barely cracked open. What you now see inside is attached to the front. The first step, according to all of these sites, is to use the pry tool to pop the back of the iPod away from the front. You essentially have to use something non-marking, such as the plastic tool, then you can use something a little harder to finish the job. And the pictures, including the video, all make it look relatively easy to get the pry tool in between the two surfaces and then open up the crack to the point where you can separate front from back. It is NOT, in fact, easy at all, and I broke both my pry tools trying.

I went back to the Internet to see what I might be missing, and I came across a website that recommended I run a hair dryer, set to “high”, on the iPod to loosen/melt the glue that’s holding the front to the back. Sure enough, the job got easier after using the dryer, although I had to run it longer than the site recommended. And, I had to use a harder-edged item to get the initial pry started. One site recommended a butter knife, which worked OK.

pulling apartI finally got front separated from back and had to be careful at this point because there are flat “ribbon” cables that still connect the two halves of the unit.  In the photo at left, you can see the battery (in the back half) and the hard drive (suspended from the front). The screen is at the left side behind the hard drive. So you have to disconnect the ribbon cables to make it more accessible.

In addition, the front half has six tiny screws that have to come out so that you can remove the electronics board from the front. The screws are also holding in a metal plate that backs up the screen, so you have to take them out in order to get to the screen.

Removing the screws and separating circuit board from front half was easy, however removing the ribbon cables was not nearly as easy to do as the directions suggested. Essentially, I broke the hold-down for the screen’s ribbon cable, and one of the other connectors as well (I forget which, now).

So now what I have is a small pile of electronic parts, including a brand-new iPod screen, and no iPod. And it’s probably going to be awhile before I can afford a new one. Take heed, folks, at my cautionary tale. This is one project that, despite the hype, is NOT nearly as easy as they would have you believe.