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Did Huawei really need to copy the iPhone’s worst feature?

Huawei P9 Teardown

Pentalobes are a totally proprietary, entirely awful type of screw used by Apple to make its products difficult to repair. I know it’s popular for Android manufacturers to be “inspired” by some iPhone features, but this is one thing I could do without copying.

In its teardown of the new Huawei P9, iFixit found a number of encouraging things — modular components, and an easy-to-replace battery are all good things for people who like fixing their phones at home. Unfortunately, Huawei also saw fit to copy Apple’s terrible pentalobe screws.

In case you’ve never had the displeasure of breaking open a recent iPhone, here’s the gist of pentalobes: they are a five-sided screw with rounded tips, basically impossible to open without the right tools. Even if you manged to use some kind of bastardized home-made screwdriver, the rounded tips will probably show evidence that you’ve tampered with them, allowing Apple to not honor the warranty.

As iFixit succinctly put it:

Seriously, there’s no good reason to use pentalobe screws. They are shallow and have round lobes, making them excessively easy to strip. The only reason to use them is to prevent the average user from getting them out.

With that in mind, it’s incredibly disappointing to see Huawei use pentalobes in its new flagship phone. Repairing phones at home isn’t a big problem — only a tiny percentage of the most tech-savvy users will even attempt it, meaning Huawei has gone out of its way to explicitly screw over its geekiest fans. Batteries wear out within one or two frequent years of use, and if Huawei had used some kind of normal screw –heck, even Torx! — anyone with tweezers and 20 spare minutes could do a replacement. Instead, you’re probably going to pay through the nose to ship your phone off to Huawei.

In the past, Apple has been the master at locking down products (there’s even special tamper-evident screws in its new Macbooks); one of the reasons people came to Android and PCs is because they’re a little easier to work with. There’s lots of things that Android manufacturers can learn from the engineers in Cupertino — I just wish this wasn’t one of them.