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The iPhone 14's Secret
A version of this newsletter was published in my column at Inc.com
Last week, the iPhone 14 went on sale. A lot of reviewers (myself included) didn't recommend buying one. The point I made was that the new features just weren't worth spending another $800 on a new device, especially when you could get an iPhone 13 for $100 less with almost the same specs.
Except, it turns out, the iPhone 14 has a secret new design feature. According to iFixit, the iPhone 14 is the most repairable iPhone in a long time. Removing the display or glass back requires only removing two screws, something that previously required a complex process of heat and suction in order to remove adhesive.
"Apple has completely redesigned the internals of the iPhone 14 to make it easier to repair," wrote iFixit founder Kyle Wiens in a blog post. "It is not at all visible from the outside, but this is a big deal. It's the most significant design change to the iPhone in a long time."
Coming from a company that hasn't been especially positive about Apple's hardware design choices, this is high praise. It's also very good news for every iPhone user.
I'll explain why, but first, I think it's curious that Apple didn't make a bigger deal about this itself. To be clear, it made absolutely no deal at all. Looking at an iPhone 14, you can't tell that it has been designed differently, or that it is easier to take apart. In fact, one of the biggest criticisms of the iPhone 14 is that it isn't different enough from the model it replaces. It turns out, it is in ways you'd never know about unless you tried to take it apart.
The design change wasn't even mentioned in the iPhone keynote earlier this month, and there's nothing on the product page or technical specifications talking about the iPhone 14 repairability specifically. When I asked, the company declined to comment for this story.
On the other hand, it is kind of brilliant. iFixit has long been one of Apple's biggest critics in terms of how difficult it is for users to service their own devices. Everyone knows iFixit is going to tear apart every new device and give it a score. Apple just let them discover the change and tell everyone about it.
If Apple had come out and bragged about how repairable the iPhone 14 was, it would have certainly caught some heat from repair advocates claiming it didn't go far enough. That's just how it goes. Instead, Apple got a bunch of great PR by letting someone else talk about what it did.
I will also mention quickly that the iPhone 14 Pro does not share the same level of repairability--which could very well be another reason Apple didn't want to make too big a deal of this. Why call attention to something that could make one of your other products look worse by comparison.
Still, I think it's worth highlighting that this is very good news, and not just for people who buy iPhone 14s. Here's why:
I don't think Apple ever wants you to repair your device yourself, but not because it's trying to be stingy or control how you use your iPhone. If you have to repair your iPhone it means something went wrong, and when something breaks or goes wrong, that's generally a poor experience. Apple doesn't want you to have poor experiences.
In fact, in April, Apple published a white paper talking about its plan to make repair easier. The very first sentence says exactly that:
At Apple, we aim to create the best experience for our customers. We also believe the best technology is technology that lasts, which is why we design our products to be durable so that they rarely require maintenance or repair.
The problem has been that Apple's design, in the past, has leaned towards making devices that are slim and durable, at the expense of being repairable. Over the past year, Apple launched its Self-Service Repair program, where you can buy official parts and rent the same tools Apple's own specialists use.
I've argued that it's a great option for people who want to be able to repair their own devices, but the truth is that almost no one should try. There's just too much that could go wrong when you crack open a device that small and densely packed with delicate technology.
"The new metal midframe that supports the structure required an entire internal redesign, as well as an RF rethink and an effective doubling of their ingress protection perimeter," Wiens wrote. "In other words, Apple has gone back to the drawing board and reworked the iPhone's internals to make repair easier. It's an upgrade so seamless that the best tech reviewers in the world didn't notice."
If Apple wants to deliver great experiences, this is a good place to start. The fact that it has not only started building more repairable devices, and done it in an iPhone that is indistinguishable from its predecessor in almost every way is a very good sign that it means what it says.
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