I love repair—but I’m also a geek about new tech, which is probably what makes me uniquely suited to be iFixit’s YouTube host. I like fixing old phones as much as I like examining new ones. And last year, like lots of other people around the world, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the newly-released iPhone 7. Which is convenient, because it was my job to take it apart on YouTube.

After a cursory tour of the upgraded software features, I got ready to open up the iPhone 7. I loaded my driver with the first bit in any iPhone repair: the pentalobe. That opening gambit has been consistent since Apple introduced the screw to its iPhone lineup back in 2010. With the screen open, I grabbed my Phillips and prepared to get under the shields holding the display cables in place.

Suddenly, I realized … we’re not in Kansas anymore. Y000 screws—the tiniest of all the tri-point screws—were, unexpectedly, in the place where Phillips screws had been in previous iPhone models.

What’s a Tri-point?

If you’ve never seen a tri-point—you’re probably not alone. They’re pretty rare, even in electronics. Tri-points look a lot like Phillips screws, only with three points to the Phillips’ four. And unlike the tri-wing, which has a small triangular hole at the center where the offset slots meet, the tri-point’s slots meet straight on and dead center.

Tri-point screw driver

Tri-point

tri-wing screw and driver

Tri-wing

Phillips screw and driver

Phillips

The tri-point isn’t proprietary to Apple—it’s just uncommon. The tinier the screw gets, the more obscure the tri-point becomes, and the less likely you are to have a screwdriver for it in your toolkit. It’s called “security by obscurity.”

Before the tri-point made its debut in the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, Apple introduced tri-point screws in the 13-inch, Mid 2009 MacBook Pro in the same role as the pentalobe screws in the 15-inch, Mid 2009 MacBook Pro: to secure the battery.

Why Apple decided to use the tri-point in 13″ models and the pentalobe in 15″ models, we couldn’t say. But it appears that the tri-point ended up winning out; Apple began using the tri-point to secure batteries on all MacBook and MacBook Pro models within a year—abandoning the pentalobe for that purpose. You’ll need a tri-point driver to replace the battery on any MacBook or MacBook Pro (non-Retina) models released between Late 2009 and Mid 2012. But the tri-point really gained prominence in 2015, when Apple put the Y000 (the smallest tri-point screw of all) into the Apple Watch.

The screw was so small, in fact, that we didn’t have a bit small enough to fit it. Undeterred, our teardown engineers filed the smallest tri-point bit we had down to size. It worked, and we got back to the business of tearing down.

Once the teardown ended, we reverse engineered the screw and produced a corresponding bit. Now, a Y000 tri-point bit comes standard in the 64 Bit Driver Kit, which is why I was lucky enough to have the right bit when the Y000 screw popped up again in the iPhone 7 last year.

Of course, Apple isn’t the only company that favors the tri-point. Larger tri-point screws have been used for years in Japanese hard drives. And Nintendo uses these screws, too. If fact, we recently spotted a few tri-points guarding the entrance to our new Switch.

Now that Apple is using the tri-point more liberally, I’m pretty sure that the tri-point is about to move out of the shadows and into the limelight. So, if you’re into fixing small e-things, it’s probably a good time to add the tri-point to your toolkit.

Lord knows, I’m glad I had mine. Without a Y000 handy, my iPhone 7 teardown would have ended as soon as it began.  

Gwendolyn Gay is the host of and writer for iFixit’s YouTube channel, which boasts more than 100,000 international subscribers. As host, she tears down the newest consumer electronics, walks viewers through device repairs, and showcases innovative repairers around the world, that—like iFixit—are fixing the world, one thing at a time. She is passionate about teaching repair, and bringing international awareness to the connection between repair, reuse, and sustainability.

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