On Spudgers, Dust and iPhone Repairs

Do you know what a spudger is? I'm guessing no. Even Wikipedia had trouble coming up with much information, offering only a brief "orphan" article that cites a spudger as a "general class of tool used for poking or adjusting small wires or components, generally in the electronics or telecommunications industries." Sounds like a great word for the game show Says You!.

Why should you care what a spudger is? Glad you asked. Turns out that, if you want to do any hardware repairs or maintenance on an iPhone (such as replacing a cracked front panel or a dead battery), you'll want this tool. Apparently, a flat-head screwdriver won't cut it.

While most people will leave such tasks to Apple or other professionals, the folks at iFixit.com (no relation to macfixit.com) encourage you to give the do-it-yourself option a try. A recent iFixit article describes how to use a spudger to replace the front panel of an iPhone 3G (further details are in a separate step-by-step guide).

Don't own a spudger? Not to worry. iFixit will sell you one for just $2.95.

Unfortunately, you'll need more than this arcane tool to get the job done. You'll need a replacement iPhone 3G front panel of course (iFixit sells these as well, for $70). You'll also need a suction cup (yes, a suction cup, needed to pull the panel away from the case) and a lot of patience. As iFixit readily admits: "Repairing the iPhone 3G’s screen is a difficult...undertaking." But, if you're up to the task, it can save you money.

I remain more than a bit hesitant. I am fairly comfortable mucking around inside computers, having taken apart and reassembled numerous machines over the years. Still, assuming I can afford the cash (which I can), this sounds like a task better left to someone whose fine motor skills are better than mine. Your situation and skills may be different. You'll have to make that call for yourself. I can tell you that iFixit's instructions are very clear and should make the job as painless as possible.

Even if I never touch a spudger for the rest of my life, I did learn a few interesting facts from this exploration. As stated in an iFixit article: "On the original iPhone display, the glass, touchscreen digitizer, and LCD display were inseparably glued together. Apple changed their design...[for]...the iPhone 3G: [the] front panel glass is not glued to the LCD behind it."

This design change has significant implications. The good news is that the separation makes it easier (and cheaper) to replace a broken front panel.

The downside is that it is also easier for dust to find its way between the glass and the display, not only when removing the glass but just from normal use. I'm guessing that this accounts for why I had to go the Apple Store to have dust removed from under the glass of my iPhone 3G (as described here). My original iPhone, in contrast, has never shown any sign of this symptom.

If you do remove the glass for a repair, keeping out dust can be a huge hassle. As a iFixit person told me: "You have to be careful to manage dust when you're replacing the glass. It's a lot worse on the Intel iMacs. Talk to any tech who's replaced the glass on them and they'll complain bitterly about that last spec of dust that took them 10 minutes to finally remove. Apple actually issues their techs a special squeegee."

So what do spudgers, suction cups, and squeegees have in common? Now you know.