The title of this blog (while true) was triggered by a recent event that happened to me at the local Apple Store – the place that prides itself with having a genius bar.  Far from being a place where outside geniuses congregate to trade complex proofs of abstract theorems, it is basically a glorified help desk where the self-proclaimed “geniuses” are on one side of the bar (the employee side, of course) while the other side is populated by the poor unwashed teeming masses seeking salvation for their technical transgressions.  No matter if the customer has a PhD in engineering, and invented some of the technologies used in the original Macintosh and other things (oh, did I reveal that the customer in this story is me?), we are all treated alike by the geniuses – that is, with condescention and pity.

I showed up with a simple problem.  My iPhone 3GS battery was in serious need of replacement.  How did I know?  Well, it would completely discharge in standby mode in about 8 hours.  So, I went, phone in hand, to ask a simple question: “How much does it cost to replace the battery of my iPhone?”  Now this is a question that has (I would think) a simple answer, expressed as a number.  But instead I was asked if I had installed the latest iOS upgrade.  This was tantamount to me asking if the fresh fish was any good, and, in response, being asked if I’d ever been to Vermont when the trees were in peak color.

Of course, my question may have exceeded the domain of genius of the person assigned to help me.  Had Apple made it easy for their customers to replace batteries themselves, this issue would not have emerged in the first place.  I would have gone to the battery department and put a new battery in my basket to check out.  But, in its infinite wisdom, Apple decided that batteries should be hidden from view, without making sure that they actually last longer than the reasonable lifetime of the iPhone.

So, I left the store and went online to buy a new battery for my phone.  Now I have to say that anyone who does what I’m about to describe needs to be very careful, comfortable working with very small parts, and extremely patient.  The new battery arrived along with a special tool and a set of instructions I supplemented with some youtube videos.  I set up a clean spot on my table, set up my magnifying desk lamp, and went to work.

Once you remove the two tiny screws from the bottom of the iPhone, you use a suction cup to gently, but steadily, pull the glass display out of the phone housing.  This, alone, is not for the faint of heart.  Once the display is removed (along with three cables, one of which is hidden) the fun begins.  As a mere non-genius, I assumed the battery would be near the front of the phone since it is the one thing you are likely to need to replace.  But, no, it is at the very bottom of the case, requiring that you remove the circuit board from the phone.  This is held in place with 7 screws (one hidden) that are about the size of poppyseeds, and the removal of five more cables, one of which is plugged into the underside of the circuit board (more on this later).  On removal of this board, the battery lies revealed in all its glory where it was quickly dispatched to wherever it is that good batteries spend eternity, and the new battery put in place.

The instructions at this point were to “reassemble the phone.”  In other words reconnect the cables, screw the board back in place, and push the display back into the housing (without breaking it.)  This was like telling a new surgeon to “put the organs back where they belong and sew the body up.”  Now what the battery supplier forgot to mention is that the camera connector (the one on the underside of the circuit board) is almost impossible to put in place when you can’t see what you are doing.  So, I un-assembled everything again, and this time removed the camera also, so I could plug its cable in before putting the board back inside the housing.

Net result?  My iPhone now works beautifully, the battery lasts for days, and I will probably never do this again.  I’ve always loved working with my hands and know my way around soldering irons, drills, and other tools of all sizes.  But this task was at the limit of my vision and required the steady hands of a brain surgeon.  In short, if Apple had simply answered my original question, I would have gladly spent the money to get my phone working again, with Apple adding to its bottom line.

I have no idea why Apple makes it so hard for people to get simple stuff done, but remember, there is always another way.

Just don’t drop the screws on the floor.

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