Will The Pentalobe Screw Apple?

Apple’s new screws for the iPhone that are hard to find a screwdriver for reminded Treehugger of another situation where the leverages of big business put the screws to the little guy. It’s the story of the “Robertson screw,” a screw with a square-shaped socket developed in the early 1900′s. Despite it being a superior screw that you drive in with one hand, was self-centering, sped up production and reduced damage, you probably haven’t heard of it (unless you’re in Canada, where they’re ubiquitous), thanks to a deal Henry Ford wasn’t able to seal.

The Canadian inventor, Robertson, was approached by Ford who found that using the screws greatly reduced the amount of time to make a car, a whole two hours in fact. But having already been burned by an international group that had driven him into bankruptcy and forced him to spend oodles of money to buy back the rights to his own screw, Robertson refused to license his screw to Ford. Without a reliable source of Robertson screws, Ford went with the less cost-effective, but guaranteed supply, Phillips heads. And the rest is history.

The takeaway: When you get proprietary about screws, you might just end up screwing yourself.

The Pentalobe Screw, And Apple’s War Against Self-Repair [Treehugger]

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  1. Mr. Fix-It says: "Canadian Bacon is best bacon!" says:

    Feh. To foil just about any screw, all you need is a Bic Cristal pen and a lighter.

    And speak for yourself, America. Robertson screws are EVERYWHERE in Canada.

    • GrymOne says:

      “And speak for yourself, America. Robertson screws are EVERYWHERE in Canada.”

      “unless you’re in Canada, where they’re ubiquitous”

      ubiquitous: widespread
      http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ubiquitous
      &
      http://www.google.com/search?q=define%3Aubiquitous&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t
      ;)

    • wackydan says:

      I’ve run across many of these screws here in the US and for deck screws and other fasteners, I will go out of my way to find them.

    • Costner says:

      They are everywhere in the US as well. Although we typically just refer to them as “square drive” rather than Robertson. Thus – I have no idea where this silly notion that the US doesn’t use Robertson screws stem from as many contractors refuse to buy philips for anything other than drywall (where the screw needs to cam out or strip when it is set to the proper depth).

      Truth be told, torx head is slowly becoming the preferred choice for contractors because it works even better than phillips and square drive and due to greater contact surface is much less likely to strip which makes bits last longer.

      • Starfury says:

        I was doing tile in the kitchen and the screws for the hardiboard I used had this drive. WAY better than the Phillips head ones.

      • common_sense84 says:

        Those are not Robertson The square headed screws in the US have a flat bottom.

        These Robertson screws have a pointed tip.

        Thus robertson screws self guide themselves into the hole. US plan square headed screws do not.

  2. spartie says:

    Robertson scews are still fairly common in Canada

  3. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    Robertsons are the shit, and I’m truly sad they have not met with more popularity.

    • Mr. Fix-It says: "Canadian Bacon is best bacon!" says:

      The reason that Phillips are still popular, shitty as they are, is because they don’t get jammed up in their bits on auto-assembly robots.

      From what I’ve seen, neither do Robertsons, but that’s the story I was fed.

    • Snowblind says:

      Doubly so when using a cordless screwdriver.

      The torque created by the electric motor is hell on phillips heads.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      I’d like to explain why, because it is truly so awesome.

      Here are some additional highlights:

      1) Screw driver can lock in better and firmer, meaning less likely to slip, and also…
      2) Much harder to strip the screw and/or the driver because it’s a basic square and the driver had lock in deeper than a phillips or flathead

      The only downside, and it’s a small one, is that it’s hard to lock it in at first, because lock-ins only occur every 90 degrees (360 / 4 sides = 90) – that is better than 180 lock-ins at 180 degrees (360 / 2 sides) but not quite as good as a phillips 60 degrees (360 / 6 slots). Luckily, the design lets you stick it in at any angle and as you turn it will lock itself in (mentioned at the self-centering feature).

      It’s like the metric system: It’s the far better screw/driver to use, but the U.S. is too lazy to make the change.

      • Rebecca K-S says:

        ” not quite as good as a phillips 60 degrees (360 / 6 slots)”

        Um. Tell me more about these mysterious six pronged phillips heads.

        • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

          Ha, was thinking of the torx! It’s friday, I’ve clearly checked out.

      • psm321 says:

        huh? how does phillips have 6 positions?

      • dangermike says:

        As far as orienting the driver bit to the head of the screw goes, philips is far superior. The tapered slot design allows the driver to engage from virtually any angle and progressively slide into a full engagement as bit is turned. And as long as the correct sized bit is used and the screw isn’t some cheap soft metal, stripping really isn’t much of a problem. The lock might not be quite as positive as torx, square, or hex heads but getting the tool onto the screw by feel is much more easily performed on philips screws than any other I’ve used, and this is a huge benefit when performing maintenance or repair on all kinds of machinery (most notably, cars)

        • dangermike says:

          Actually, after looking at the diagram more closely, I don’t believe square drive and Robertson are completely identical. The picture above shows a pyrimidal tip that would likely allow a bit to engage the head from any angle then center and fall into place with no more than a quarter turn. All the “square drive” heads I have ever seen lacked that, having a flat, blunt end that would only be able to engage at the correct angle and may take several turns to locate the proper index.

  4. Rebecca K-S says:

    Having worked as a professional carpenter for several years, I’m quite familiar with Robertson screws, and they are absolutely, without question a superior design.

    • cabjf says:

      I used Robertson screws to build most of my deck last summer. I hated them. If you stripped them even a bit, they were impossible to move. Once the Robertsons were gone, we switched to Torx. Now those were nice. They were very forgiving for a non-handy man like myself and even easier to use.

      • Rebecca K-S says:

        Perhaps there’s a learning curve with them; it’s been years since I first used them and I don’t really remember. I do recall being quite disappointed when I moved to a shop that didn’t use them.

    • Cosmo_Kramer says:

      Waaaaaait a second there, is your name really Rebecca, and is that you in your picture? If so, that’s awesome.

  5. Blueskylaw says:

    When you pay someone a few dollars a day to initially screw them into the product, then pay someone a few hundred dollars to unscrew them when your Apple product breaks, this screw makes perfect sense.

  6. JBTX says:

    You can get the Robertson screws at most hardware / home improvement stores in the US

  7. PhantomPumpkin says:

    How in the heck does that make sense? “Thanks to Henry Ford”? He declined licensing to Ford, not the other way around.

    • wrjohnston91283 says:

      Ford wanted to use the Robertson screw, but Robertson didn’t want to license it to Ford. Ford went with the phillips screw. Presumably, the Philips head became so popular partly due to the fact that Ford used it in all his cars. Had he used the Robertson screw instead, we’d be using Robertson screws all the time.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      Re=read that please/ It doesn’t say “Thanks to Henry Ford”.

      It says “thanks to a deal Henry Ford wasn’t able to seal.”

      Very different ideas.

  8. jason in boston says:

    If something can be made, it can be taken apart. It just takes a little time.

  9. GMurnane says:

    I don’t know how much pentalobe screws cost compared to plain vanilla screws, but I’m guessing there is at least *some* extra cost associated with Apple switching to the pentalobe screws. I don’t think the amount of money apple loses because of accessibility to their devices and the cost to switch to pentalobe screws will be made up by the new lack of said accessibility. Especially since pentalobe drivers can bought.

    • wrjohnston91283 says:

      Having to go out and buy a specialty screwdriver is going to persuade some people from buying them. Not all – those who REALLY want to get into an iPhone will, but my guess is this will prevent many people from opening up the phone. Just like a locked door isn’t going to prevent 100% of break-ins – if someone REALLY wants to get into your house, they will.

  10. Sparty999 says:

    and now you know… the rest of the story… Good Day!

  11. psemkl3 says:

    Whoever ends up with my house is going to curse me daily unless they have a #2 square bit for their screwdriver.

    • HalOfBorg says:

      If someone takes up the floors in my bathroom or entryway, they better have a square-head driver with them. We put down bathroom backerboard with them.

    • shepd says:

      I do hope you really meant a red handled driver.

      There’s no numbers to size Robertsons, just colours. Unless you’re talking about those low quality pieces of junk from China. :-)

      • Rebecca K-S says:

        This may be true for mechanical screwdrivers, but certainly not for bits used in a gun. I’ve never bought or seen either screws or bits labelled as anything but #1, #2, etc.

        • Eilonwynn says:

          There’s actually, according to my machinist uncle, a huge difference between “square drive” and “robertson.” – hence the difference in colours / numbers / etc.

    • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

      I found a bunch of install kits that were all security torx, and I use them all the time for random repairs.

    • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

      you could be really nice like the people who i bought my house from and leave a few things. they didn’t leave me a screwdriver but i have plenty and there’s nothing odd about these. but they did leave me a few cans of touch up paint for the various rooms, peg hooks for the pegboard walls in the utility room, etc. it actually helped close the deal.

  12. Branden says:

    Robertson screws are quite common here in Canada, I can vouch for their superiority, in fact if you walk down the screw aisle at any Home Depot store here they will easily outnumber all other types of screws. They are the only kind of screw used for wood framing and such.

    Unlike standard screws the driver doesn’t slip off, and unlike Phillips screws their heads don’t get mangled up nearly as easily. Always wondered why such a perfectly designed screw never caught on in the States, now I know: anti-Semites.

  13. dolemite says:

    Er…my dad uses square drive screws all the time in his carpentry work.

  14. donjumpsuit says:

    Umm,
    This doesn’t make sense. Apple isn’t in the buisness of making more efficient screws, they are in the business of making sure people pay $79 to have a battery replaced in one of their products, not $8.50 and done by a teenager.

  15. borgia says:

    These are quite common in furniture making. Just don’t ask for them as a pentalobe, search Square Recess Screwdriver, and those can double up as a replacement just fine. The tamper proof torx screws were always a bigger pain especially since you can buy the screw drivers easily and thus the screws aren’t tamper proof or providing any extra function over a standard torx.

    • Rebecca K-S says:

      Pentalobes are an entirely different screw from the Robertsons discussed here (click the ‘new screws’ link).

      • borgia says:

        The pentalobe was just a mistype I wasn’t addressing the apple story, but the Robertson story of the consumerist so just switch the two

    • Mr. Fix-It says: "Canadian Bacon is best bacon!" says:

      This violates the first tenent of the Maker’s Manifesto: “If I can’t open it, it’s not truly ‘mine’.”

      Also, is it me, or are there a few stealth-edits on this article?

  16. Verucalise (Est.February2008) says:

    I agree, I like this design much better than a regular phillips head. It’s a shame it’s not more common.

    The pentalobe is a ridiculous idea.

    • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

      Not really. For years cellphone/HDD makers have used very small torx screws(like t5), the kind many kits didn’t contain. If you knew where to buy them, you could get a kit that had them. This is almost exactly like that. I bet another reason for the switch is that the pentalobes are less prone to strip.

  17. GrymOne says:

    “And speak for yourself, America. Robertson screws are EVERYWHERE in Canada.”

    “unless you’re in Canada, where they’re ubiquitous”

    ubiquitous: widespread
    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ubiquitous
    &
    http://www.google.com/search?q=define%3Aubiquitous&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t
    ;)

    • Rebecca K-S says:

      I noticed this too; I’m acting uncharacteristically and giving people some credit and assuming there was a quick edit.

  18. zegota says:

    Uh, Apple doesn’t want to make money off these screws. They want to prevent Apple hardware owners (Ha! Apple laughs at your use of that term) from getting in and either modding the hardware, or repairing it without going to an officially approved source.

    • Cosmo_Kramer says:

      Yeah, this article doesn’t make much sense. I don’t see how this relates to Apple at all, with the exception that it involves screws.

  19. HalOfBorg says:

    I’m confused. A square screw is NOT a pentalobe (meaning 5 lobes).

    http://guide-images.ifixit.net/igi/J2ZmCuhThPJdtneB

    This is a pentalobe.

    • Rebecca K-S says:

      Try reading the post again.

      • HalOfBorg says:

        So they’ve BEEN using square-heads? I don’t use apple stuff myself – no money.

        • Rebecca K-S says:

          Okay, try reading the post… AGAIN.

          This post is not about pentalobe screws. It’s not about Apple. It’s about Robertson screws and Ford.

          • jesirose says:

            It’s not like the explanation is the first sentence of the article or anything like that, which would make it easy to understand, you know?

            Oh wait. It is?

            “Apple’s new screws for the iPhone that are hard to find a screwdriver for reminded Treehugger of another situation where the leverages of big business put the screws to the little guy. “

        • nutbastard says:

          *facepalm*

          go drink some coffee or something.

  20. creative differences says:

    i am a canadian, and a really dislike robertson screws. you need to have about 157 different screwdriver gauges on hand to accomodate all of the possibilities (unlike philips, where you can make do with a similar size, robertson must fit *perfectly*).

    also, i have shredded many robertson heads. something about the size and shape of the square slot makes it extremely likely to degrade into a useless circle with the slightest slip of the screwdriver.

    • HalOfBorg says:

      If you are using the proper size driver, it should not ‘slip’. A square shaft can’t turn in a square hole. Just need proper drive AND proper pressure – don’t let it back out. THAT will round off the tip of the drive and it all goes to hell after that.

    • Rebecca K-S says:

      And by 157 you mean… three? I’ve never used anything other than a #1 and #2 Robertson bit. A wrong-sized Phillips bit will work in a screw in a pinch, but if you’re doing very many, you’ll strip both screw and bit in no time. The notion that Phillips is a “one size fits all” screw is just absurd.

      If you have that much trouble shredding screws, I suspect the problem is not with the hardware.

      • creative differences says:

        wow, trouble picking up on sarcasm/exaggeration?

        true, absolutely it is user error… i don’t happen to work as a professional carpenter, i’m just a handyperson around the house. and i have my preferences.

        • Rebecca K-S says:

          No, it’s just an absurd exaggeration. If you needed ten different bits to make square drive screws practical, that’d be ridiculous, but seriously. Three. Not any different from phillips.

          • creative differences says:

            there are 5 sizes, not 3. nice try, but maybe get your facts straight before you strat trying to own teh interwebz.

            but more importantly, screw on a sense of humour. it’s probably compatible with your beloved robertson screwdriver.

  21. Sian says:

    copyedit

    sped up production and reduced damaged,

    reduced damaged?

    • Veeber says:

      Phillips are designed to slip out if when you apply too much effort. When it slips you tend to dent the material you are screwing into.

      • jesirose says:

        Causing damages, not damaged. Something was damaged. Damaged can’t be caused. Damage or damages.

        Damn.

  22. Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ゜-゜ノ) says:

    Good thing Apple makes more than just screws, eh?

  23. Mr Grey says:

    I’m sure Harbor Freight’s Central Tool will have a pentalobe – Screw driver out soon enough.

    • Rebecca K-S says:

      Yes, and it will no doubt last long enough for you to remove two screws.

      • Mr Grey says:

        Depends, I bought some small screwdrivers for my laptop (a little orange case cost 2 bucks IIRC) and they have worked great I have another set at work, and use them almost daily

        • Rebecca K-S says:

          Yeah, they certainly sell some products that last. But overall, yikes – it’s amazing that quality that low exists.

          • dangermike says:

            And it’s exactly why, being in a chemical industry, I refuse to allow the qualification of any raw materials from China. The closest we ever got was when, during a cost cutting measure, I was asked to evaluate some calcium carbonate which turned out to be titanium dioxide. And which wasn’t labeled in any manner consistent with international trade laws. So basically, they sent me a 2 kilo package of unmarked white powder. I’d be surprised if I’m not on some watch list somewhere now.

      • dangermike says:

        I can’t believe how prevalent Harbor Freight is when we have so many ACE stores around with similar prices and more knowledgeable staff members.

        • MikeHerbst says:

          My local ACE recently closed – they didn’t own their space and the rent kept going up.

          My choice now is to either hit one of two Home Depot’s within a 4 mile radius that often don’t have what I need; hit the local industrial hardware store near my work which has EVERYTHING, including higher prices; or travel much farther distances (which puts the next-nearest ACE and the Harbor Freight equidistant) or buy everything online… ugh.

  24. evilpete says:

    I use “square head” all the time, I prefer them.

    Phillips head screws had an advantage because they would “cam out” before they were over torqued and snap.

  25. e065702 says:

    I heard a similar story with one minor detail added; due to the tight fit of the driver into the Robertson square head, the screws tended to shear a lot easier.
    For a user that is driving a lot of screws at very high speeds (i.e. Ford production lines), this could be a big problem, in that you have to manually remove the already driven part of the screw every time.
    Speaking from personal experience (I love the Robertson screw and use it every chance I get) I have to think this story might be accurate

    • webweazel says:

      This is what I heard, too. They went with other drive (Phillips?) screws because they could not be over-torqued. The driver would pop out more easily before screw damage occurred. Square drives can be cranked down to massive proportions because of the positive lock on the driver/screw, which would probably lend to sheared screws quite often on the line.

  26. menty666 says:

    I think the square head is what shows up on screws designed for cement board. Easy enough to find here in the US.

  27. fr34k says:

    Maybe I should invent the Arthur head, (if you dont get it watch TV)

  28. MikeHerbst says:

    I’m just happy I have learned yet another name for the “square drive” screw.

    I’ve always referred to them as “Posi-drive”, which I guess is a more-recent brand-name applied to a particular driver/screw set, but I’ll be using “Robertson-Head” from now on, just to confuse people a bit more. :)

    • MikeHerbst says:

      Also forgot to add:

      The key performance criteria for any screw and driver combination is “cam out”, i.e. the tendency for the driver bit to climb out of the recess in the screw (like it’s on a cam lobe) when torque is applied.

      In my experience, most Phillips screws seem to have cam-out specifically built IN to the design, hence the tapered tip on the driver that matches a tapered recess on the screw. Can’t figure out WHY you would design it that way, since the taper makes the driver want to climb out of the screw unless you counter with downward pressure at the same time you apply torque.

      Posidrive/Robertson, torx, Allen/hex, and most other driver/fastener combos seem to be much more resistant to cam-out by design, which in my mind makes them superior.

      • dangermike says:

        It allow much more rapid centering of the tool in the screw since it can begin to engage at pretty much any angle and cam in with a little pressure. Also, it helps prevent the screw from being overtightened.

    • Mr. Fix-It says: "Canadian Bacon is best bacon!" says:

      Posi-Drives are a different kind of screw altogether… similar, but not identical to, a phillips.

      • MikeHerbst says:

        Holy-heck, you’re right! I’m not sure where I picked up the term, been using it for years – apparently incorrectly! Well, that settles it, I’m sticking to Robertson-head from now on.

  29. Beeker26 says:

    I suspect this is going to wind up as a class action lawsuit against Apple for altering owner’s products without their permission. It’s one thing if you want to release new products with these screws, it’s another when you do it on products that people own without their knowledge or permission.

  30. bigd738778 says:

    And another huge reason I will never own an Apple product. Apple is now the company they were making fun of with their 1980′s Orwell Commercial. I am still amazed by the Applebots who defend this company like the slaves they are. LOL

  31. GreatWhiteNorth says:

    Robertson’s reason for developing the screw? He was a traveling salesman selling tools and one of the tools was a “push” powered screwdriver – most folks who looking into Grampa’s shed full of tools have seen one of these with a spiral shaft that turns the screw when pushed – that during a demo with a standard slot screw jumped the screw head and tore into his hand. I suspect it pissed him right off. So being a good Scotsman he knew he could do better and designed the Robertson screw.

    All my life I have used these screws for every project that needed screw fasteners. I’ve even used them with my Grandpa’s “push” screw drivers and not once damaged my flesh.

    All considered the best features of the system are that the screw is held firmly in place on the driver tip and this scales from tiny screws to obscenely large screws that can only be driven with a bit and brace or power tools.

    Best fastener system ever!

  32. Jimmy37 says:

    ifixit.com has a kit to replace these screws.

  33. Robert Nagel says:

    The model T took 93 minutes to assemble. The Phillips head screw was introduced in 1937 and was first used by GM. By 1937 Henry was mostly out of the picture and he only came back with the death of Edsel in 1943.
    Nice story, but not true.

  34. Andy S. says:

    And who cares, really? This isn’t a new tactic. Nintendo has been using weird tri-wing screws in their consoles for years now.

    And as with the tri-wing screws, these pentalobe screws are only going to stop casual modders. Anyone who really wants to get into their iPhone will just buy a pentalobe screwdriver and be done with it. You can already pick one up on eBay for ten bucks.

  35. Mthree says:

    It’s interesting that this is making the news just now. I thought that Apple had made this switch a month or so ago, And the Robertson, as noted here, is still popular in construction and woodworking and used quite often – I just finished a box in a DIY project at home.

    FTR, pentalobe bits and screwdrivers are available in specialy electronic stores and some small technical driver sets today.

  36. duncanblackthorne says:

    GIve it a week, you’ll be able to buy pentalobe drivers off of dozens of internet retailers, problem solved.

  37. ben_marko says:

    A lot of fuss over what is essentially nothing.

    The new screw will have new screw drivers being bought up by repair shops around the world soon enough. So who really gives a rat’s a**.

    Not me.

  38. caoimhinnn says:

    I don’t know how many people casually tinker with their iPhone guts–that is, open them just to see what makes them tick. But, I have to think that the iPhone owners who are seriously interested in opening the device to replace the battery will be perfectly capable of locating the pentalobe driver.

    Besides, I’m sure the distributors of the iPhone batteries on eBay will be generous enough to include a cheap pentalobe driver with the purchase of a battery. I’ve purchased iPod batteries that have, ostensibly for free, included the tools used to pry the device apart. Before that, MANY years ago, I remember buying faceplates on eBay that included a cheap Torx driver in the proper size.

    Concerning this Robertson screw, can someone tell me what you all mean by self-centering? Rebecca has pointed out that this makes the screw easier to work with than Philips, but I don’t understand the action of it all. How does the pointed recess at the bottom of the square assist the centering of the driver?

  39. VonAether says:

    Wait, you don’t have Robertson screws in the US?

    My mind is blown. This is like when I found out that the US doesn’t have Smarties, or ketchup-flavoured chips.

  40. Levk says:

    So… in other words, iPhone has some sorta stock options in screwdriver company? Really only reason I can see them changing the screw.. It will not stop anyone just slow them down for a second.

  41. TPA says:

    Robertsons Rule! I routinely replace every Philips/flat screw I remove with a Robertson when I can. I’m just surprised they’re not more common in the US.

  42. Kevin says:

    Everybody calm the hell down. Pentalobe screwdrivers are on eBay right now. Not having a particular tool when it’s readily available is not a cause for alarm.

  43. freqman says:

    “When you get proprietary about screws, you might just end up screwing yourself.”

    Did anyone else read that in Mike Brady’s voice?

  44. dullthud says:

    The way I heard it, Ford wanted to use the screws without PAYING for a license. When Robertson refused, Ford blacklisted him, barring any of his suppliers from using Robertson screws if they wanted to deal with Ford. This is why they are still rare in America, despite a superior capability.

  45. CapitalC says:

    I have stripped more than my share of Phillips screws but unless Robertson and Torx screws are made from cheap materials, it’s very rare to be cursing at those ones.