My iPhone suffered one too many drops recently and as a result the glass was shattered. Although the iPhone glass is incredibly tough it is not indestructible. It is glass after all! Well, I did my research and I tried to fix it on the cheap. This is my sad story.
Basically the iPhone screen is constructed of three layers, the famously smudgy glass screen sandwiched on top of a glass digitizer and finally the LCD. The parts are all fused together and as such the iPhone was never designed to just have the glass screen repaired. The screen, digitizer, and LCD come as one part, therefore, if the glass screen breaks you must replace the whole LCD part. After reading early reports of how difficult or near impossible it is to repair just the broken screen I wanted to buy a replacement OEM part on-line and be done with it. However, all the on-line dealers were out of stock and those who had stock were charging $200 plus shipping.
The second option was to have Apple repair or replace the phone. However, because I am Canadian and the first generation iPhone was not sold in Canada, they would not support me. I could drive to the States (which is precisely what I did to originally purchase the phone) and have an over the counter, out of warranty repair done for $199, but factoring in driving time, this was not a very attractive option. Therefore, I had no other choice than to buy a $20 glass screen from eBay and follow my fellow broken glass and broken-hearted iPhone owners on the Mac Rumors thread in the quest to find a cheaper DIY solution.
One of the biggest challenges that people attempting the repair were encountering was separating the broken glass from the digitizer. Therefore, I researched many options for removing epoxy glue as this was the best guess as to what was bonding the glass screen to the digitizer. However, whether it was acetone, methylene chloride, NaOH, or denatured alcohol (also known as methyl hydrate* or fondue fuel) it either had the potential to harm the other components of the iPhone or harm me! Therefore, if I encountered difficulty with the glue I was ready to apply heat with a hair dryer as a safe alternative.
I also researched the best glue to use once it came to bonding the new glass screen to the digitizer. The following were all good suggestions:
- Loctite E-30CL optically clear epoxy
- Loctite 349 Impruv (also 363 – both are optically clear)
- Masterbond EP30HT
However, anything that was labeled optically clear was far too expensive and the cost was starting to approach the cost of taking it back to Apple. Therefore, in the end I settled for a tube of E-6000 (about $8) because I could pick it up at the local Michael’s craft store.
At first, I attempted to remove the glass without taking apart the phone but I quickly changed course when I noticed a very tiny rubber gasket around the edge of the glass. Not wanting to unnecessarily destroy any existing parts, I watched PDA Parts’ iPhone take apart video on youtube, bought a case opening tool ($3), and proceeded to take apart the phone. This was a lot easier said than done.
When I was a teenager, I tied fly fishing flies for spare cash so I am pretty good with finicky little things. I also consider myself quite handy with electronics, but getting into an iPhone is damned near impossible! After destroying the case opening tool and making very little progress, I employed the combination of a razor blade and a tiny flat head screw driver to separate the back casing.
Basically, if you want your case to be unblemished head down to an Apple store and have them repair or replace your phone or go buy a new one.
In the end I did get the case open but not without a number of cosmetic blemishes. I didn’t take the phone completely apart but rather opted to just remove the back covering and chrome metal rim. The process of removing the broken glass actually turned out to be a lot easier than expected. By sliding a razor blade between the broken glass and digitizer and lifting upwards, the glue separated from the digitizer quite cleanly. I would suggest using safety glasses as most of the screen glass shatters when lifted and very tiny glass shards and dust go everywhere within a three foot radius.
Everything was going relatively well until I discovered that I had cracked a corner of the digitizer. In the end, I had cracked two corners of the digitizer but I was hoping that this would be inconsequential.
Once I got all of the broken glass off, the underlying digitizer cleaned up very nicely just by scraping the excess glue off with a razor blade and then polishing it with my shirt. There is absolutely no need for applying heat or using any chemicals to remove the glue. The glue is very rubbery and behaves a lot like silicone.
I tested the naked digitizer and unfortunately, it looked like there was a consequence to cracking the digitizer. Its behaviour was quite erratic. Nonetheless, I was optimistic that this was related to not having a glass covering so I went ahead with gluing the new glass covering onto the digitizer. The glue went on crystal clear but air bubbles between the two layers of glass were a problem, therefore, I applied pressure to more firmly squish the two parts together. It was working quite wonderfully until I cracked the new piece of glass! It would appear that the blacked-out ends where the button and ear piece rest were not flush with the digitizer. This allowed some give in the centre of the glass and allowed it to snap with pressure.
Rather than throw my now rather useless iPhone against the wall, I decided to completely take it apart in the hopes of ordering the full OEM LCD part. In recent days it appears Apple has released stock and you can now get them from many places on-line for $169.
My assessment of the iPhone thus far is that it is a disposable electronic device and unfortunately, not really meant to be repaired. Having said that, I do think it is possible to do this repair but you will need not only a lot of skill and patience but also a good heaping of luck.
*UPDATE: I am now quite certain that by lifting the glass screen towards the outside edges of the digitizer caused the damage to the digitizer. The more I think about it, the more I think it is possible to do this repair successfully. As long as you are careful and move from the outer edges inward in removing the broken glass you can avoid putting pressure on the edges of the digitizer which appear to be quite fragile. The other thing I would do differently is to completely remove the whole LCD part so you can avoid not having the glass screen flush against the digitizer when you glue the new glass in place. Of course, then you would have to be very exact in the alignment of the new glass. As I said, a little bit of luck is probably necessary!