A couple of weeks ago, iFixit programmer Tony Gines aimed a hair dryer at a bunch of broken glass in his living room. Then, armed with only bare fingers and some plastic opening tools, he pulled the glass apart, shard by shard. Is it any surprise that, in the process, he severed a tiny wire that got in the way? (Here’s the wire next to a thumb, for comparison.)

The iPad 2 is light, compact, and has an intuitive user interface. Apple says, “When you pick up the iPad, it becomes an extension of you.” iPad users I know echo Apple on this point — they say using the iPad feels natural, like it’s wired into your brain. So people carry it around everywhere. But it’s also slick. So people drop it. When they drop it, the big glass panel on the front sometimes cracks. Dropping the iPad is not covered under warranty, of course; that’s pretty standard. But did you know that Apple charges between $199 and $419 (plus sales tax) to replace the front glass on an iPad 2? If you break your iPad 2 and stick with Apple-approved solutions, you’re left with a pretty unappealing choice: pay an arm and a leg, or lose your brain extension.

When the front panel on Tony’s iPad 2 cracked, he chose something off-menu — self-repair. I talked to him today about his experiences:

Elizabeth: When you took off the front glass, did it all come off in one piece?

Tony: It did not. It came off in many, many pieces. That took the most amount of time and was the most dangerous. There were pieces of glass popping off and breaking.

I was using a hair dryer, but by the time I got to the broken glass, it had cooled. I found it easier to take the glass off the glue when it was a little bit cooler — more pieces held together. Plus, I didn’t like blowing shards of glass off the counter.

In the process, I ripped through the Wi-Fi antenna. Luckily, I’d read a lot about people ripping the antenna and purchased one before I got started, figuring I would too. The Wi-Fi antenna ended up being the hardest part. I nearly had to take all of the inner pieces out to get to its connector, which, without the iFixit guide, I would have never known how to find. I also had to remove the home button for the glass replacement, which was another guide. So in total, I used three guides, and it took about three hours.

Elizabeth: …To install just the glass, which was much easier to replace in the previous iPad. How frustrating.

Tony: Yes, very frustrating. Apple is definitely not making these things easy to take apart and fix yourself.

Elizabeth: What did you use to secure the new screen? Strips of double-sided tape?

Tony: I actually used fiberglass carpet tape, double-sided. It had the strongest adhesive I could find. It’s better than regular mounting tape because it’s much thinner.

Elizabeth: So, we gave the iPad 2 a 4/10 repairability score when we first tore it down. But since making our repair guides, we’ve considered downgrading it to 1/10. What do you think?

Tony: Well, it’s a tough call, because it IS repairable… but definitely difficult. If you have the parts for it, you can definitely do it. It’s not easy though, that’s for sure — maybe it should’ve scored a 2. However, I don’t want to make it seem like you’d be better off buying a new one. I spent $45 repairing an $800 iPad 2 that would have otherwise cost me $200 or more to send somewhere to fix, or have Apple throw away.

Tony’s right not to be discouraging. We’re always in favor of repair. But the iPad 2 was not designed with repairability in mind. The very thin front glass is held on by a strong adhesive, which means you can only get into the device with heat and careful prying. It’s pretty common to break the glass accidentally while trying to get inside the device.

If you decide to repair your iPad 2, Tony has a word of caution: It will be a long process, it will be difficult, and if you’re not very careful, you might damage other components. By using glue rather than the clips that held the original iPad together, Apple has made the iPad 2 significantly more difficult to repair. From a responsible product design perspective, that’s disappointing.

Photo Credit: Tony Gines

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