Taking apart the iPod mini

Apple has crammed a lot of stuff into the anodized aluminum enclosure of the new iPod mini, and taking it apart is no easy task. I’m an industrial designer with lots of experience pulling back the curtain and meeting the wizard in PDAs, Mp3 players, stereos, watches and all sorts of other gear. I am usually pretty good at it, having not broken something in years (lots of bug hunts for tiny parts on the floor though). Except my brand-new iPod mini, where I screwed up big time… twice!

The Procedure:

Taking apart the iPod mini

Tools needed:
(1) Wiha 1.5mm flat head screwdriver
(1) Wiha Philips #000 screwdriver
(1) Needle nose pliers or medical (Kelly type) hemostats
(1) Hair dryer

To help illustrate my disassembly adventure, view the iPod mini autopsy photos and follow along.

To begin with, make sure the ‘Hold’ button is locked into the ON position (showing orange) to prevent the internal components to be turning on while you are taking it apart.

The plastic top and bottom plates are glued into place with a tacky adhesive that will soften considerably when heated so use the hair dryer on a low setting to heat up the top plate. Work the area until it’s very warm to the touch. Now turn the mini around so you’re looking at the Apple logo and squeeze the two rounded edges together at the top, causing the enclosure to bow a little bit in the middle. Insert the flat bladed screwdriver between the plastic and the metal (in line directly above the Apple logo) and gently pry the plate straight up. Work around the edges, leaving the area around the ‘Hold’ button till last. When you finally do get to the ‘Hold’ button area, pry carefully and pull the plate STRAIGHT up. Behind the ‘Hold’ button are two plastic standoffs (sort of like tabs) that extend down into the case and push the real switch on and off. If you pry the thing out at an angle, you will break one of these standoffs. That was mistake #1 for me. The actual ‘Hold’ switch soldiered onto the main board broke, so the ‘Hold’ switch no longer works.

Now perform the same procedure on the plastic bottom plate. When it is removed, you will see a shiny sheet-metal plate held in place under spring tension by 4 tabs inserted into reliefs machined into the enclosure. At the end of each of these tabs, you will see a round hole. Use the Philips #000 in these holes and carefully pry each tab out of its slot. The sheet-metal plate will come right out.

Next, you need to disconnect a ribbon cable that connects the scroll/click wheel assembly to the main baord. This ribbon cable is on the bottom of the mini on the left hand side. It is orange. You can’t miss it. Use the 1.5mm blade screwdriver to pry it apart. If there isn’t enough slack in the ribbon cable, don’t worry, as long as you get the connector loose, you have done your job here.

Turn the mini over, looking back into the top, you will see two tiny philips head screws on either side of another metal plate. Remove these with the #000 screwdriver carefully and put them in a safe place (don’t drop these on the floor, you will never see them again).

Now comes the fun part – gently push on the 30 pin connector at the bottom of the mini and all of the main components (on an assembly I call the component sled) will slide right out the top. It is a bit tight, but if you meet major resistance, back off and INSURE you have the ribbon cable disconnected.

This is where I messed up and killed my iPod mini, I forgot to check and I pushed with all my might, ripping the ribbon cable off of the male connector. Oops.

The component sled contains nearly all of the iPod’s internals; the main circuit board, battery, LCD display and hard drive. While the LCD is held onto the ma inboard with 4 plastic tabs, the battery and HD are held in place simply by the tight packing within the enclosure. Feel free to disconnect the battery or remove the HD, they simply unplug from the main board. The LCD disconnects from the board easily, but the electrical connection is EXTREMELY delicate. I wouldn’t mess with it.

Looking through the bottom of the mini, you will see the scroll/click wheel assembly has a long black plastic tab that connects to another machined relief in the aluminum. You will need to use needle nose pliers or the hemostat to pull on this tab while depressing the Play/Pause button on the scroll/click wheel in order to remove the assembly. The problem is that you will probably scratch the scroll/click wheel when you remove and reinsert it. Then again, it IS on the face of the iPod, so it will probably end up getting a few scratches from everyday wear and tear…

Some Parts in Detail:

Enclosure: The enclosure is a single piece of extruded T6-6061 aluminum that has had some finish machining on the top and bottom. It has been Type II Class 1 anodized (for the silver models) and Type II Class 2 anodized for the colored models. This is a really excellent finish, though, having designed and manufactured lots of parts finished in the anodizing process, I can say the silvers will withstand slightly more abuse than the colored models. Also, I would keep the colored ones out of direct sunlight for extended periods of time as the dye used to color them has a tendency to break down over time (it takes a LOT of sunlight though, but I know a lot of iPod mini owners are probably outdoor types, so hence, the caution).

Also, there is a clear plastic window glued into place that protects the LCD screen.