iPhone + Puddle = Uh-Oh!

da-puddleIt’s winter, and my kids love puddles. Puddles are a lot of fun. Until I dropped my iPhone in one.

The kids were looking at the water going into the storm drain. It had just rained pretty hard, and the water was deep, moving fast, and making lots of noise. Every two steps they stopped to look. Kids are great for seeing things that adults have long forgotten. Like water rushing down a storm drain, worms all over the sidewalk, or puddles to jump in. I do my best to be involved, and engage with them on their level. Which means, literally, getting down to their level. So I bent over to check out the water, and out slipped my phone. I should have known better than to have it in my jacket chest pocket. I seldom do that, but the stars (or in this case, clouds) were aligned today.

It went quick

I had just started to bend over. I did not feel it move, but I saw it out of the corner of my eye. I have decent reflexes, and I am pretty good at catching things in mid-air –that is, when I am standing up. But I was too close to the ground. There was no slow motion replay, it went quick. I was reaching as it hit the water, and I got it the moment the splash was closing back in. It was under for half a second.

I wasn’t sure what to do next. I shook off the water and wiped it dry. I turned it over and the clear shell was pretty wet. I snapped it off and dried it some more. I wondered, should I turn it on? Would it short out? The water might not be all the way to the battery yet, so I figured I would turn it off. As I pressed the buttons to shut it down, the screen came on, and it looked fine. For a second I thought that maybe it was water tight enough that a quick dip did not get inside. But it did not properly shut down. The screen went dark, and I could barely see the slider button to finish the shutdown. I slid the button over, and it seemed to shut off.

How much is this going to cost me…

But then it would come back halfway on, to the same dark shutdown screen. Every time I shut it down it would come back. It didn’t want to stay shut down. So much for water tight. How much is this going to cost me…

I would have to figure out cost later. I was without a phone and first thing was get my number forwarded and change my voicemail. So I got on the AT&T website, and promptly got nowhere. Seems that AT&T, in all their wisdom, have no tools on the web to manage phone settings. I can buy stuff, but forward my voicemail? Nope. You do that from your phone. But now my phone was not powering up, and I was afraid of frying the thing. It was frustrating. It should be easy. It’s two clicks with Vonage. Silly dinosaur telcos. OK, then I would just change my voicemail message, and give out my landline number. Bah! Can’t do that from the web, either. Fine, I could just call my number, wait for voicemail to pickup, and enter my password to change it. But where was my voicemail password? I don’t remember setting one up, and I couldn’t find it anywhere. I am as anal retentive about passwords as you can get. A human Forgot Password. Everyone comes to me for their password. But no dice, I didn’t have it in my records anywhere. Fine, I’ll just retrieve it from the website…. but of course, you can’t do that either. Time for phone support.

At least they had humans who picked up. They were not able to setup call forwarding for some reason, but they did help me reset the voicemail password, and I was able to call in and change it. One step forward.

Do It Yourself and Save!

drying-outI got on the internet to find out how to fix the phone. There are chop shops that will do it for a fee (it isn’t cheap for the glass and LCD). But I am a DIY cheapskate, so why not do it myself? I had heard about putting it in rice, but this must happen a lot, there should be some great tips out there. When I got online I found the idea to use a moisture-absorbing product. It is designed to dry out damp, moldy rooms and underneath sinks. Put the phone in a baggy with the stuff for 24-48 hours, suck all the moisture out, then gently warm the phone with a space heater or hair dryer for another few hours.

That approach seemed good, but I wasn’t looking forward to being phone-less for three days, only to risk that it still doesn’t work. This is my work phone. It’s a hassle without it. So I went to the Apple store to see if they could help. The Apple store is great. It is Nordstrom for Geeks. The staff are friendly, helpful, and I have seen them swap out dead hardware. They have that discretion, if it is in the name of customer service, and within reason. I watched once as a teenager came in with a power supply that he had tried to repair. He literally hacked it, with a hacksaw. His dad was behind him for moral support, and I must admit the kid put up a heckuva effort trying to get a free exchange from one of the Genius’s (who was no older than he was). He worked every angle, and the Genius would have replaced it if he had just brought it in as a defective unit. But once you open up a product, forget it.

Alas, I was told Apple will not replace soggy iPhones. (A little online research shows there is a water sensor in the headphone jack, which my guy looked at before giving me the bad news) They said it would seem OK for a while, but then die a slow death, as if by water torture, as the moisture makes its way throughout the device. The guru gave my baby about three months to live.

What did I have to lose?

Between slow death and 3 days in a bag, I decided to take charge. I would take the phone apart, dry out the pieces and put it back together. What did I have to lose? If I did nothing, my chances looked slim. The phones have a tight seal. Not watertight, of course, but once water gets in, it’d be hard to get out. My strategy was to use the baggy method to dry out the dissambled parts, then put it back together. This would get every bit of moisture that might be trapped inside. Besides, how fun would it be to crack open an iPhone? I had seen plenty of pictures on the ‘net of stuff being taken apart, why not me? In addition to fast reflexes, I am pretty handy with tools. I’ve got some good parlor tricks with wine corks, too, but that’s another story. At this point I was determined to fix my phone.

toolsI found a good website with step-by-step photos of how to dismantle the iphone. My wife recently picked up some jewelry tools. I have a shop light. I was ready to rock. I have built car engines before. In high school I took auto shop, woodshop, and metalshop. These days all I do is Photoshop. It would be good to return to my greasy-fingered roots, albeit in a high-tech, miniature fashion. My eyesight is holding steady -one of them, anyway. It was a chance to reclaim a little shop-towel glory. Best of all, no gunk under my fingernails.

Anyone who has rebuilt a carburetor (before you needed a degree in mechanical engineering to do it) knows you must be careful as you take them apart. They have lots of little pieces and screws, you put them in little piles on clean white paper, draw circles around the piles and number them. Then reverse the steps to put it back together. It’s painstaking, but it works. I could this. I set up my work space. I had my paper. I had my website. I got to work. Getting the LCD off was nerve-wracking. Jamming an exacto knife under a small piece of glass that is wedged tight into a small, slippery case, and then prying really hard. I was more worried about slicing my hand than cracking the glass.

workingEverything was so tiny. If you have ever removed a clip from inside your computer, it is just like that, except the size of a lentil. Fingers are too big, so the tip of a knife blade or small tweezers are needed. I put the dismantled pieces in a baggy with the chemical, and left it for the rest of the day.

Taking apart is easy.

Of course, taking apart is much easier than putting back together. I wished I had one of those watchmaker magnifying lamps. I was squinting a lot. The screws were smaller than the tick I pulled out of my son’s neck. It was impossible to hold them into place by hand, and the tweezers were too big. Finally I placed each screw on the tip of the screwdriver, held upright to balance it. This is much harder than it sounds. Just letting go of them without them falling off the tip of the screwdriver was maddening. Then I held the phone above and put the screws in that way. Of course I got some of the screws mixed up and had to take them out, get it all sorted again, and carry on. I held my breath as I pressed the tiny clips back on. I didn’t want to press too hard and crush them, but they have to snap into place.

partsHalfway through, the dreaded ‘extra piece’ showed up. With any project there is something left over. It was some kind of clip. But I didn’t know where to put it. I finally located it on the website. It held the camera in place. It had a tiny hole for the screw, and a tiny arm holds the camera. When I say camera, this thing is half a centimeter across. The lens is smaller than a pinhead. Fortunately I could place it with the tweezers, and it stayed put while I used the tweezers again for the clip, which was maybe 3 millimeters long and 1 wide. Phew! Almost there.

funky-screen2I got all the parts, screws and clips back in place. Last thing was the LCD screen. It only took a little squeezing to snap it back in. Now for the moment of truth. I put the cable in the bottom of the phone to make sure it still fit, then plugged it into the charger, and voila, it worked. The LCD was a little messed up, mostly in the lower corner, which I could live with (what choice did I have at this point). But all my data was intact, the phone worked, the camera worked, it all worked. It has worked without any problems for a couple weeks. I was feeling triumphant. The digital equivalent of a four barrelled Holly carb was all systems go. Time to go to the app store and reward myself.

I will keep the phone in my pants pocket from now on.

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