What Has Happened to Apple’s Quality Control?

As one who has worked on nearly every Apple product produced, it must be said, I have been repeatedly disappointed in Apple’s ever degrading quality control.

On the surface, Apple have made many improvements and advancements to their ranges.

Their MacBook Pro ranges have incredible potential, while losing the optical drive (the ever debatable ‘redundant’ feature according to some), the PCIe SSDs speed and the retina display quality is an incredible feat, while keeping the machine so slim at the same time. But the way in which the display is built makes LCD replacements near impossible for the majority of engineers. (we have carried out a number of these repairs at TheBookYard, but because the LCD is not a sealed unit, and the displays were constructed in a clean room environment, it is an extremely time consuming and difficult task to undertake. But that’s for another blog post entirely). They also have the ‘integration’ issue, with so much being combined into one primary (and very expensive) component. The logic board has integrated RAM, integrated GPU, integrated CPU, the battery is sealed to the top case (the top case, keyboard, trackpad and battery is one service spare according to Apple. Go figure. Replace half the machine for one fault? How’s that economical?) and the MagSafe 2 socket is a bit iffy to say the least… I’ll not even get started on the 12″ MacBook Retina range (2015 model) and its repairability.

The iMac ranges are a similar story. The’ve added 4K, then 5K to their iMacs while slimming them down drastically and reducing the excessive heat created to allow full management by a single fan (thats right, the 2012-< iMac ranges only have one fan!). Also with their super slim LCDs with its ‘Gapless’ glass panel, that not only reduce glare, but were noted as being sealed to prevent dust from getting between the panels. (Having serviced many of these later ranges, we’ve found that not to be completely true. They are ‘gapless’ by design, but they are not sealed fully. Dust often falls down between the LCD and the backlight sheets, leaving big ‘specs’ under the panel. its really disappointing that they are not hermetically sealed during their clean room construction)

On the other hand, they are so much less repairable and/or upgradable than their predecessors. With their ‘sealed construction’, a replacement VHB tape kit is required whenever the machine is opened. They also fit their hard drives with specific firmware that maps the internal SMART disk data in a unique way. (all drives do this, but there is a standard language used, just not with Apple…) This means you cannot fit an industry standard hard drive without fiddling with external sensors on replacement cables, etc. Not only that, with their ‘all-in-one’ design principles being used in their later designs, they are combining more and more functions into single serviceable parts. The logic board no longer just houses the CPU, but it now houses the GPU as well as a number of surface mounted thermal sensors and functions, which makes repairability more costly if a fault is to surface down the line.

But to get back on track, the true reason for this ‘rant’ is to talk about their lack of design quality. As time goes by, their are any number of quibbles and issues with products, most of which are minor and do not happen to the majority of the public. I’m not talking about the signal dropping issue of the iPhone 4, or the ‘bendy’ iPhone 6+. I’m not even talking about the Magsafe 2 charger, and its ability to lose connection with the slightest touch. Most of these happen on occasion, and although in hindsight, they could have been prevented by more extensive pre-release testing by the design team, they are not, as i would say, a complete design flaw.

The late range (2012-2013) iMac ranges hinge/clutch mechanism is another story entirely…

You may have heard of these hinges breaking. Typically, when the clutch breaks, the perfectly balanced body of the machine will drop down on its leg. As this is quite a common problem (anything that Apple actually admits to being a problem by extending an exchange/repair programme for is something to make note of), I took to seeing what the issue was. Some faults can be caused by excessive force, but this hinge issue is a complete design flaw. What engineer would trust an entire machines weight to a small piece of plastic!? Let me explain…


The hinge mechanism is a big chunk of hunky metal, with strong, twisted springs. This is perfectly strengthened to counter the weight of the iMac (fun fact, they first introduced the ‘Feather Touch’ display tilt on the iMac G4 range).


This is the hinge

But the real flaw, and the part that breaks (and caused Apple to start an extended 3 year exchange programme), is the mount that not only holds the tension of the spring, but that takes the brunt of the strain when the hinge is flexed.


A broken hinge

The two Torx T8 screws in the middle can be adjusted to change the hinge tension, but the mount underneath is made out of plastic! No wonder it breaks!


This is the hinge with the broken mounts

So… The bottom line is that, inside this beautifully designed piece of kit, is a tiny piece of plastic that is supposed to support your machine.

If you own either the 2012 or 2013 27″ iMac range, please be careful when moving the display up and down, as pushing it too much will put considerable strain on this plastic mount. It would be a shame for Apple’s exchange programme to expire and you to break it while trying to get a better viewing angle.

A thing to note, is that Apple’s current service spare replacement hinge for these models has the same design, but they have used a thicker plastic. This should make it much stronger, even though it is still made of plastic. But even still, what were you thinking Apple?


Top – broken original hinge. Bottom – new Apple Service Spare replacement (ASP)

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Fitting Unibody MacBook Pro keyboards

Although Apple does not treat the keyboard in the late 2008 to mid-2012 MacBook Pros and 2008-2012 MacBook Airs as a service spare (they only supply it as part of the complete top case/unibody chassis), it can be replaced on it’s own with a little work. You have to remove pretty much everything from the laptop to get to it and there are over 50 tiny Philips #000 screws holding it in place, but it can certainly be worth the effort. This post is intended to avoid some of the common pitfalls in replacing the keyboard and in particular, handling it and connecting it back up to the logic board. It is not a guide on how to take the laptop apart. Although it is still possible to replace the keyboards on later Retina models, it is much harder since Apple started using tiny rivets instead of screws to fix the keyboard into the unibody chassis.

Once you have removed all parts needed to get clear access to the keyboard (battery, fans, logic board, optical drive, hard drive etc. – See appropriate iFixit guide), carefully peel off the backlight sheet by working round the edges avoiding tearing the black backing sheet. If you are replacing the backlight sheet as well, you don’t have to worry about damming the old one.


The backlight sheet consists of three layers : a thin plastic mask, a clear plastic diffuser and a thin plastic backing sheet containing the backlight LEDs themselves, which is white on the front and black on the back. Try and remove the three together so they stay attached to each other as this avoids the need to align them later. Once removed, store it in a clean bag or clean location so that the adhesive round the edge of the backing sheet stays sticky which will help when re-attaching.

Make sure you have a really good, sharp, #000 phillips screwdriver to remove all the tiny screws holding the keyboard in. Don’t bodge it with the wrong tool because if you strip one of those tiny screw heads, you’re in trouble. Once removed, fitting the replacement keyboard in place is a pretty straight forward reverse process.


When replacing the backlight sheet, make sure the little block LEDs on the backing sheet are properly located in the holes in the diffuser sheet. If they are not then the backlight will not work.

After re-fitting the logic board, you need to connect the keyboard’s flex cable to the socket on the logic board which sounds simple but there are a surprising number of things that can go wrong here.


Firstly, the logic board socket has a thin plastic clamping bar along the rear edge which if you have never done this before, you might not realise is there. This needs to be lifted before you can insert the flex cable. This bar is very delicate and becomes more fragile with age. If it breaks, you have a big problem as it can’t be fixed, the keyboard won’t work without it, and to replace the socket means replacing the logic board unless you are a dab hand at surface mount reworking. Our advise is don’t use any tool to lift the bar as this puts all the pressure applied on a tiny spot along the clamp bar. Using your finger nail works well or even the nails of two fingers so you can spread the load needed to lift the bar along the length of it. When lifted, the bar should flip up and sit vertically as shown above.


Next, check the state of the end of the flex cable. It is quite common for the end of the flex cable to become dog-eared during storage or handling. Make sure that the corners of the flex cable are not curled up or folded over at all. There should be a clear blue plastic strip along the rear edge of the flex cable (above left) which is essential to give the flex the correct thickness to be clamped securely by the socket. Ensure this blue strip is in place and not curled up. The electrical contacts along the front edge of the flex (above right) can easily be covered with grease or dirt from handling so if in doubt, gently wipe the contacts with IPA (isopropyl alcohol). These contacts are printed onto the plastic surface and can be wiped off if cleaned roughly so be very gentle.


Now you are ready to insert the flex cable but don’t use any kind of hard tool to do this like a spudger or screwdriver. Doing this can damage the tracks in the flex cable rendering the keyboard useless. This has happened in the photo above and as can be seen, one of the tracks has been scratched through completely. Some models have a black plastic tab attached to the back of the keyboard flex which acts like a boot strap and this should be used to ‘pull’ the flex into the socket. If there is no tab, just used your fingers. If the flex will not go into the socket easily then one of the following has probably happened :

  • The flex is not aligned with the socket correctly
  • There is dirt of fluff in the socket
  • The corner of the flex is folded over
  • The clamping bar is not fully lifted

Once the flex is inserted as far as it will go and is sitting straight, push the clamping bar down but again, don’t use a tool for this; gently push it down along it’s length with your finger.

Lastly, remember to re-connect the tiny orange flex from the backlight sheet to the logic board as this is easily forgotten.

Hopefully these tips will help you avoid some painful mistakes and if you need any parts or tools for your repair, scoot on over to The Bookyard.

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Apple and their Tamper-Proof Screws

As with any electronic device, you can only hope to complete repairs if you are well equipped with the tools necessary to open and diagnose each range you may encounter.

As we at TheBookYard have encountered nearly every Apple product range, I thought i would shed some light on the somewhat more difficult to identify or source tools that are needed for some ranges.

This is not aimed at being an exhaustive list of the tools used in all Apple ranges by any stretch of the imagination, but rather a look at some of the more specific tools that a typical tech savvy individual would not have in their tool repertoire for iOS devices and the Unibody Macbook/MacBook Pro ranges.

Pentalobe Screw

Pentalobe Screw

Tri-lobe or Tri-wing screws

Tri-lobe or Tri-wing screws

Starting with some of the more recent generations, they have started using Pentalobe and Trilobe screws, which are variations on Torx and Philips, which are more standard screws.

Torx differs from Pentalobe because it has 6 points and Pentalobe only has 5. Tri-lobe also differs from philips because it only has 3 wings instead of the typical 4.

In Apple devices to date (early 2014), the pentalobe screws are used in 3 different sizes.

(Please see the links below for the tools on our store)

Used on the second revision of iPhone 4, all iPhone 4S and iPhone 5 ranges, as well as the iPhone 5C and 5S.

These screws are only used on the bottom of the devices to hold the digitizer unit in place, so are not used elsewhere within the phones, but you cannot open the units without this tool. (the first revision of iPhone 4 used standard philips screws)

Used on the bottom cases of the following MacBook Air and MacBook Pro Retina models.

Macbook Air 11″ and 13″ Late 2010, Mid 2011, Mid 2012, Mid 2013

MacBook Pro Retina 13″ and 15″ Late 2012, Early 2013, Late 2013

These screws are only used on the bottom case for the above models, so you cannot open them without this tool. Internally they use standard Torx tools, but use T5 widely, which is typically not found in standard Torx sets (they usually go down to T6)

Click here for the T5 screwdriver if you don’t already have one

Used on the following ranges to attach the battery to the top case unit. (The bottom cases use standard #000 philips screws to gain access to the internal components)

15″ Unibody MacBook Pro Mid 09

The Tri-lobe tools come in a number of different sizes and are typically either used as an alternative to the 1.5mm pentalobe to hold the battery in (some just use philips), or as an adjustment screw for the trackpad unit (some just use T7 torx)

For removing the batteries and/or trackpad on the following models, we recommend the value #00 tri-lobe, but there is a premium version available that is of better quality for more continuous use. The following tools will do the job.


13″ White MacBook Unibody Late 2009, Mid 2010

13″ MacBook Pro Unibody Mid 2009, Mid 2010, Early 2011, Late 2011, Mid 2012

15″ MacBook Pro Unibody  Mid 2010, Early 2011, Late 2011

17″ MacBook Pro Unibody Original 2009, Mid 2009, Mid 2010, Early 2011

For adjusting the trackpad on the following models, we recommend using a slightly larger #0 or #1 Tri-lobe screwdriver.


13″ MacBook Unibody Late 2008

15″ MacBook Pro Unibody Late 2008

for the full Tri-lobe premium set (including #1,#0,#00,#000) see the link below

There are a number of other special tools needed for ranges such as the PowerMac G5 (pre-intel model) and the Mac Pros (intel model), but  we’ll not delve into this quite yet. If you have any ranges that you are working on and are unsure of what tools you need, drop us an email and we can add the details here. We even have tools and techniques for opening the displays on the Unibody ranges, as well as iPads, which some find to be rather difficult. if we get enough interest, I can do a post about how to open a Unibody display.

I hope this proves useful when dealing with some of Apples later ranges. if you use the wrong tool, you risk stripping the head and damaging the screw. If this happens you can try going to a slightly larger tool size and gently notching a new groove, or you may need to drill it out, which is not an easy process. So please ensure you are using the correct size tools for the range you are working on.

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