1. Repairing the Glass Front Panel on an iPhone 3GS

    brian on 2010.12.04
    at 04:05 pm

    You’ve dropped your beloved iPhone and smashed the front glass. There are few things more sad. This scenario played out for my wife, who had dropped hers this summer, only 9 months into her AT&T contract. Luckily the phone was still very usable; it was just not easy to see anything on the top third of the display.

    If you’ve cracked your iPhone, you may already know that your warranty does not cover accidental damage (although, you should check with your credit card company…some, especially AMEX, will pay for a replacement if you bought it with a qualified card!). You’ve probably inquired with Apple and they’ve told you they offer a “service replacement” for $200. Cheap? No.

    It is possible to repair an iPhone yourself and probably for less than $200. You can find repair kits and extensive instructions online. Let me put this out there as a (former) triple-Apple-certified technician: it is not easy to repair your iPhone. My recommendation is that you don’t try this yourself unless you’re experienced at repairing electronics with extremely small components and tight tolerances.

    Now that I have that disclaimer out there, I do have experience repairing Apple electronics. So I repaired my wife’s display using a kit and instructions from It was not easy. The instructions themselves rank the repair as “Difficult”. The repair is very simple, but one step in particular is very difficult. Removing the front glass panel from the components that are glued to it is challenging. With the proper tools, it took me more than an hour.

    I’m writing this post for anyone who has also bought the iFixit iPhone 3GS Front Panel kit so if you get stuck where I got stuck, hopefully Google has lead you to this post and my commentary is helpful.This kit cost me about $40
    Starting the repair
    The iFixit kit I bought included the glass front panel, the digitizer (the part that enables “touch” to work), custom-cut adhesive strips, a metal spudger, a black plastic spudger (which we called a “black stick” in my day), and a modular, magnetic precision screwdriver kit with many small phillips, torx, hex, slotted and star-shaped bits. The kit also has a pair of tweezers, which isn’t needed for this repair. It’s housed in a nice plastic case, and I’m psyched to have a kit like this around again. Lastly, they include a generic suction cup to help you grasp and lift the display.

    The instructions are not included. You must access these from their web site. I used my iPad to show them. If you’ll be away from the Internet, you’ll need to print them out or otherwise have them ahead of time.
    Instructions via iPad
    For someone who’s good with this sort of work, everything is pretty easy up until step #15. In step #15, you need to remove the glass from the carrier (for lack of a better term—iFixit calls it the “the touch screen plastics”) that holds the glass to the phone, and also houses the ear speaker, the ambient light sensor, the proximity sensor, and, at the bottom, the home button. Needless to say, this part is critical to the operation of your phone! But getting the glass off of it is difficult for several reasons.

    1. The adhesive is very strong.
    2. The carrier is very thin plastic and easy to bend or break.
    3. There’s a bit of a rubber gasket that’s not mentioned in the instructions that obscurs the seam between the glass and the plastic.
    4. You’ve smashed the glass, so it may be in 100 tiny, sharp pieces.
    5. There are delicate sensors embedded right where you are trying to pry.
    6. They suggest you use your fingernail to split the glass from the plastic. This could be dangerous if your glass smashed like mine. Even so, since you can’t really see the seam, you’re not really sure where to stick your relatively thick nail.
    7. Since the glass is smashed, it lacks the structural rigidity to pry.

    That’s a lot of variables. This one step took me one and a half hours.

    Here’s how I addressed the situation.

    • Perseverance. When they say to keep going back to the heat, do so. That softens up the adhesive, but becareful not to soften the plastic, and make it even more malleable. I did not have a heat gun, I used a hair dryer on hot, at low speed.

    • I used their supplied metal spudger instead of my finger nail. If you don’t have fine tuned motor skills with tools like this, you can do a lot of irreversible damage with this. Someone else online suggested using a knife for this step. Both tools could also do serious damage to your hand when you slip. You will slip, so don’t blame me if you stab yourself. For the record, I told you to leave this to professionals.

    • That damned gasket. I discovered it’s part of the plastics, but you need to nudge it a bit to find the seam. Also refer to the new part to see how wide the glass is.

    • It’s hard to tell from the photos what parts belong to the glass and which belong to the plastic. Answer: anything black on both exists on both. If it’s clear (you know, glass) or the #2 cable, it’s part of the glass. If it’s metal, it’s part of the carrier.

    • Smashed glass near the parts you’re trying to pry will prevent you from prying. I lot of the time I spent on this step was simply extracting small, sharp (!) shards of glass from the adhesive. This is precarious because, for me, the whole top was smashed, meaning I had to work carefully around the speaker and all of the sensors.

    • Once I plucked out all the small pieces out, the rest of the glass was easier to leverage and pry from the plastics. The bottom, which was not smashed on mine, was much easier for me to separate. However, I still used the metal spudger. The adhesive is very strong, and I used the heat often, and twisted the spudger to help separate the two sides.

    Pulling the glass from the plastic

    Once I got the two pieces apart, I went to work peeling out the remaining adhesive. The tolerances are tight, and unless you want your display raised out of the sides of your iPhone, peel this out. It also makes it easier to adhere your new adhesive bits.

    The iFixit adhesive bits that came in my kit fit well. But there was no indication that this was two sided tape. I didn’t know if I had to peel a top piece off, or if this was some heat-activated adhesive, because there were no markings or instructions other than “place”. In may case, the top part was orange and after a little work I was able to separate the top from the clear adhesive.

    The moment of truth is sticking the two bits together. Luckily, since Apple’s manufacturing tolerances are tight, I had little trouble here. Take heed of their warnings on the placement of the cables or you’ll be up a creek!

    At this point you reverse course and reassemble the phone. I made it back with no concerns, other than the gasket. If you sliced yours up like I did mine, it’ll stick out from the phone. Try your best to lay it flat, while you’re setting the display into the phone body. I can still see the gaps on my finished product.

    In conclusion, if you have the chops for this repair, the iFixit kit was well made and a fair price, considering all the tools it includes. Hopefully this post fills in the gaps for you if you’re stuck in the same situation.

    Posted in: Apple · Technology


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