Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Tinkering and Repairing

Julia Bluff of iFixIt:

In New York City, a student at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School (ECFS) stuck his head through the doorframe and gave Jeannie Crowley, the school’s Director of Technology, an inquisitive look. “I heard you guys are fixing phones,” the student said. “No,” Crowley replied. “You’re fixing the phone — but we provide parts and support.”

The student’s face lit up. “Really? I’ve always wanted to be able to do that,” he said. “But I’ve been too nervous to do it on my own.”

I think most kids would have their eyes opened at just how straightforward it is to snoop around inside many of today’s tech products. I replaced the SSD in my MacBook Air this past weekend and was pleasantly surprised at how much easier it was than replacing the hard drive in my mid-2007 MacBook Pro. It took just ten screws to remove the back panel and a single screw to remove the drive, as opposed to the far more screws and clips required to remove the top case of the Pro.

But, while iFixIt’s wish that everyone can swap parts well into the future is well-meaning, it’s sometimes at odds with technological progress. I don’t mind that the RAM in my Air is soldered onto the logic board — even though it prevents it from being upgradable, it reduces the likelihood of clips or mechanisms breaking inside, and allows it to be thinner and lighter — all important things in a daily-carry laptop.1

Likewise, while I think that it should be fairly simple to replace a smartphone’s display, I disagree with their negativity on laminated display glass — users should not have to put up with a sub-par display in the off-chance they break its cover glass. I’m also not disappointed by the merging and reduction of device components; the smaller the device, the more it requires consolidation.

More kids should try opening up their devices and peeking inside. It somehow makes it both less and more magical — less, because all of the components are laid bare; and more because a CPU looks much smaller in real life than in pictures, and it’s baffling to consider how much happens inside of that little chip.


  1. And, as I explained earlier this week, computers have gotten way faster while we’re largely doing the same stuff with them. I’m editing HD video in Final Cut on my Air right now and it only gets painful when there are multiple background rendering threads. Otherwise, it’s pretty smooth. ↩︎