More than Black and White; Personalizing the iPhone
- Image lovingly borrowed from a Hong Kong supplier.
Ever since Steve Jobs was hired back at Apple, his decision to radically streamline the number of available products was instrumental to Apple’s post-clone resurgence. Limiting the number of options available to the customer reduces confusion at the retail stage, and benefits Apple by reducing the number of SKUs and increasing the margin on each device manufactured.
However, that hasn’t stopped customers from taking matters into their own hands. The New York times ran a piece about customers swapping the front and back of their iPhone 4(S)’ for parts in various colors and materials. Aftermarket LCD/digitizer and battery cover combinations have been available for some time now on the grey market. It started with white conversion kits, originally priced at over $100 before the white iPhone 4 was made available. Then, over time, conversion kits in other colors started to emerge out of Asian markets.
But who makes these aftermarket parts? The most likely candidate is Foxconn. Apple pays Foxconn for a certain rate of output, but Foxconn owns the assembly lines. Originally, the white conversion kits had a peculiar issue with yellowing*, something that was later confirmed by comparisons between the original white review units sent to publications and the white retail model, which explains why the white iPhone 4 was so late to market. Clearly, Apple was experimenting with white iPhones, and little stands in the way of Foxconn dumping some industrial dye into the hopper after hours.
The piece goes on to explain that people aren’t stopping at colored conversion kits, but some choose entirely different materials for the battery cover. There are metal, leather, and wooden covers available if you know where to look, but one would be wise not to choose metal; it blocks the internal wifi antenna.
* A note from the author - I actually used to perform these conversions for people for a little extra money on the side. I have personally fought with asian suppliers and battled with parts of an inferior quality; for example different colored LCD/digitizer combinations can interfere with the proximity detector. To make matters worse, these parts are manufactured after hours and as such Apple’s stringent quality control is not in effect. As a result, it is not uncommon to get a part from Shenzen that is slightly warped along the vertical axis, which is particularly problematic because after forcing the screen into the chassis the digitizer is extremely likely to crack at the slightest concussion due to torsion. Also, as a small correction to the article, swapping your screen definitely voids the warranty, without question. On all iPhones there is one screw located somewhere on the motherboard with a VOID stick over top, and you must unscrew that to replace the LCD.