I fixed the iPod!

An inspirational story...


The Symtom

A few months ago, Simona told me - out of the blue - "my iPod is sad!" I didn't really know what that meant but then she showed me... It's a cute diagnostic, I guess, but not very informative. I Googled around and saw that the normal cure for the sad is to 'reset' it and get it into disk mode. I tried to do that about thirty times and it just wouldn't go into disk mode. Now, according to the Apple website, if you can't reset the iPod and put it into disk mode, the hard drive is most likely dead. Finally, frustrated, I say "I am going to fix it oldschool" and smack the back of the iPod with my palm. "Let's see now" I said jokingly, turning on the device. WORKS!

A few weeks later, the same thing happened. The iPod is sad. The Simona is sad. I try to reset the iPod - nothing. I whack it against the mattress - all of the sudden it's back to life. A definate pattern emerging. Next time it's sad - Simona's on the phone. I say hit it - she hits it - it works.


The sadpod. You can't see the sadness on the screen, but it's there...

The Diagnosis

So what's going on? Is it a hard drive problem like Apple says? I can't really imagine a way in which a hard drive could be dead such that whacking it would bring it back to life - maybe the heads are stuck to the platters? But I decide that more likely something is lose - and by hitting it just right, I reconnect whatever is out of contact.


The Surgery

Time for Dr. Ed to operate. The plan is simple:

1. Open the iPod    2. Find whatever's loose   3. Fix whatever's loose  4. Close the iPod! 

Opening the iPod

If you have an iPod, you know there's no obvious way to open it. There're no screws or any twisty things. The only seam on the iPod is between the metal real half and the plastic front pannel. It seems like that's where the attack must be made.

Now, an iPod is a pretty aesthetic item and I didn't want to go stabbing at it with a screw driver. Instead, I wanted to find something that's softer than the metal / plastic pannels but still thin and hard enough to wedge into the seam. The perfect tool turned up right on my desk - my groovy guitar pick!

Jamming the pick into the top, I worked it clockwise...

As I worked the pick around the seam, I noticed that the two halves - once wedged apart - didn't really have a tendency to snap back together...

Say YES to crack! Separating at the seam!

Once the seam opened up sufficiently, I could see the tabs inside the case. Pushing them inwards allowed the two halves to really separate...

One side is fully separated, with the tabs visible...

Once the one side is separated, the other half is easy. I opened the iPod gently - and it was the right thing to do - the two halves are connected by a pretty fragile ribbon.

Two halves separated - note the ribbon in upper-right corner still connecting them.


Finding the Loose Connection

Now's the time to find whatever's loose and causing the problem. I knew it wouldn't be an obvious disconect - otherwise no amount of beating the iPod would put it back into place. In particular, I was concerned on the connection between the hard drive and the iPod itself, because it seemed like other things were working - the iPod was alive enough to display the Sad Face, it responded to clickwheel presses (ie the request to turn on/off,) and it was able to draw power. The one thing it was clearly not capable of doing was going into disk-mode. This caused me to begin by inspecting the hard drive and its connection first.

Lifting up the hard drive

The picture above shows the hard-drive (the blue-ridged rectangle from the previous picture) lifted up. The brown/orangle thing on the left side is the ribbon connecting the hard drive to the iPod. I am suspicious of the fact that the iPod side of the connection is covered by sticky black tape.

I peeled off the tape and looked at the connection. It looked pretty solid but I was suspicious of the fact that Apple bothered to stick that tape on there. Looks like they knew this might be a trouble-spot for the ribbon coming loose? I used my fingers to jam the ribbon further into the slot. It looked to me like it actually went in about a millimeter deeper than it used to.

Could this be enough? I put the two iPod halves together without snapping the tabs in, and turned it on. The Apple on the screen lit up! Seconds later, the menu came up. We were in business. I turned off the iPod. Restuck the sticky tape as snugly as I could. Put the pannels together and pushed them together until the tabs snapped. Turned on the iPod. Still works!

That's what I'm talking about!


For something that Apple would have you think is a serious problem, this was a damn easy fix. Granted, there was a bit of luck involved - my theory that the problem was simply a lose connection didn't HAVE to pan out. My analysis of which ribbon was most likely to be lose by interpeting the sticky tape as a sign Apple suspected a trouble-spot didn't have to pan out either. But it happened to be that the logical conclusions worked out to be correct and the fix was relatively easy. In fact, I was afraid that there'd be at least scratching on the case from prying it open, but using the pick was exactly the right move - there's no damage from this at all!