Rebuilding an iPod Touch

Broken iPod Touch

My wife’s iPod AFTER I fixed it…

Shattered. Completely shattered.

I stood over the pieces of my wife’s iPod Touch, my face distorted into a mocking glare in its reflective back. What I had assumed to be a relatively straightforward affair – Remove broken display / replace with new one – turned into nearly four hours of agonizing futility and ended in complete failure.

The screen was initially cracked, but still useable, and was being used for Skype calls, email and quick snapshots with its damaged screen for over a month. My bold plan was to buy a replacement screen, swap it in and voila, brand new iPod.

Each new iDevice gets harder and harder to fix without a hefty service charge at your friendly neighbourhood Apple store. I’d replaced the front glass on an iPhone 3GS with little fanfare, but the current iPod Touch is a different beast. One that dislikes prying eyes (and hands).

Most damage is done to the glass cover protecting the LCD screen, so with the iPhone, I removed the glass, slipped in the LCD and put it all back together. But the iPod is newer. And thinner. So much thinner. To get it so thin, Apple’s designers had to make some choices, and they chose to fuse the LCD and glass together. Glass cracks, you need a whole new LCD, even if the old one worked fine.

A guy on Craigslist sold me a white front for $25. Not bad. Certainly better than the $100+ a repair would have been or the $200 for a new iPod. Those were sums we couldn’t afford, but $25 wouldn’t break the bank. My wife wouldn’t be too happy with the white iPod, but that disappointment would quickly fade with a working device.

Or so I thought.

Heat gun in hand, iFixit’s illustrated instructions on my PlayBook next to me, I dug in. Quite literally. The iPod’s essentially glued together and you need to cut it all out to get in there. That’s where the heat gun comes in. A few minutes under that and the glue’s all nice and soft, and the iPod’s dangerously hot. Good times.

Long story short (or shorter), the repair didn’t go as planned. I spent about two hours trying to attach the new screen to the logic board (which is placed upside down in the iPod, most likely for comedic effect), and then couldn’t get the whole thing to close without damaging the new LCD.

In the end, my own clumsiness did me in. The iPod slipped from the desk and landed on the floor, the LCD assembly in hundreds of tiny pieces.

My heart sank.

The reaction at home was almost sitcom-like: “I had a broken iPod that worked, and now I have a fixed iPod that doesn’t.”

But if the Romanos and Allens of the situational universe taught me one thing, it’s that you have to keep at it to resolve the story by the time the credits roll. And that Home Improvement is a terrible, terrible show.

Almost immediately, I was on eBay, credit card in hand. I ordered a new part and researched why I’d failed. It turns out iFixit left a couple of useful tips out, like pre-bending the long display connector so you can close the iPod. I found a very helpful video on YouTube and cued up some montage music featuring Talking Heads (I was in an 80s mood, don’t ask me why).

As the days went by, my confidence returned, until finally, the second replacement LCD arrived. This was it, I was now a good $60 in the hole to prove a point: I can fix consumer electronics to an acceptable degree.

iPod and Tools

Second time’s a charm (I hope!)

For two hours, I struggled hooking that display cable into the upside-down port, praying the plastic logic board wouldn’t snap. If you meditate, this one act will put your skill to the test. I spent two hours, and took breaks, until sheer luck would allow the two connectors to meet in the way they were designed and click.

iPod logic board

Apologies for the blurrycam. The LCD connector has to click in UPSIDE DOWN. Pain the a–

I did it.

Some quick testing, and all the parts of the iPod were functional. I sealed it up (taking the video’s advice about pre-bending the cable) and applied new adhesive. It almost worked. There’s a slight gap, about a millimetre, so it’ll need a skin-tight case to keep it snug and toddler-resistant.

But it works.

Both cameras work, the Wi-Fi works, the buttons all work and the ports. My wife finds the contrast between the white face and black screen distracting, but she’s happy it works and can Skype with family. Everything’s back to normal.

Roll credits over me trying to find the “perfect” case.

"New" White iPod

It lives!


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About Ryan

I'm a writer-performer originally from Montreal, Canada where I performed stand-up and sketch comedy. These days I'm an Instructor in the New Media Department at the University of Lethbridge where I indulge in my fascination with creative media and technology. I've written and directed two web series and always seem to have a new project lined up. Busy is good.

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