Broken iPad screen? Don't junk it, repair it

Profile picture for user pwainewright By Phil Wainewright August 16, 2014
Summary:
When it splintered on my son's tablet, I quickly became an expert on broken iPad screen repairs. The good news? They're not as costly or time-consuming as you think.

broken ipad
I had some bad news for my son a couple weeks ago. Cradling it carefully, I showed him the shattered touchscreen on his iPad 2. It had survived many months with several cracks, but that morning he had slammed it down in a fit of temper and the toughened glass had finally given way.

It was a shock, but fortunately, we already had a plan in place. A week or two previously, the tablet's wifi had stopped working. Thinking to use up a spare pot of birthday money, my son immediately grabbed my wife's laptop and started scouring Amazon for iPad deals to buy a replacement. I suggested a potentially less costly and greener alternative: a repair.

I had remembered seeing a BBC report a few months back about a do-it-yourself iPad repair. A quick Google search revealed plenty of self-help tutorials on fixing a broken iPad screen.

I particularly liked the crowdsourced amendments on the iFixit front panel replacement guide, which pools the benefit of various people's experiences of carrying out the repair. Also good is iMore's step-by-step guide to replacing a cracked or broken screen.

Parts, including the replacement touchscreen glass, are readily available for a modest price from these sites and elsewhere. (Interestingly it seems that the metal back of the case is the most expensive, but then that is the part that comes with the precious Apple logo engraved upon it).

My research also helped me identify the location of the wifi antenna — directly below a patch of glass that, broken long before, had started lifting away from the bezel. It was clear this was what had disturbed the antenna. Replacing the broken screen and the antenna itself would not only fix the problem but also bring the iPad back to its original, blemish-free state.

Checkered history

The tablet has had a checkered history since arriving in our household three years ago as a gift from a vendor's analyst day. Thinking to make use of it myself, I made the mistake on arriving home of showing it to the kids. I had very little use of it thereafter.

I had thought of adding a screen protector, but before I had a chance to do so, the screen acquired an array of scratches. At that time, my son was still at an age when he enjoyed pushing model trains and cars around the house. I was horrified one day to find him pushing the iPad, face down, along the corridor to the kitchen, while making high-speed train sound effects.

A year later, during a struggle over possession, the iPad unexpectedly flew out of his grasp. It glanced his brother's head (drawing blood but fortunately causing no serious injury) and struck a nearby wall. That incident caused the break above the wifi antenna. But it was another year before the breakage worked loose enough to start affecting its operation.

Throughout the three years, the iPad has had near daily use. The kids have explored a range of games, starting with early addictions to Smurfgrabber, Going Nuts and Where's My Water?, then graduating to the ubiquitous Minecraft and a succession of YouTube games commentaries. Favorites today include Transport Tycoon, Sunshine Cruise Lines and Pocket Planes (my son still loves pushing vehicles around, but does it virtually now).

All of this history is a huge testament to the build quality that Apple puts into its devices. Knowing how resilient the tablet had proven, I felt sure it would have several more years of useful life if it were repaired.

Tricky repair job

The only catch with a do-it-yourself repair is that this is quite a tricky operation. The iPad leaves the factory as a sealed unit — the screen is bonded on with adhesive during manufacture. The only way to remove the screen is to melt the adhesive using an industrial-strength hot air blower or similar, and then gently lever it away — taking great care not to damage any of the delicate components located directly under it.

This is reckoned to be a two to three hour job for an inexperienced amateur. I reckoned five to six hours to be on the safe side. Despite this time commitment, I felt drawn to the challenge, perhaps spurred on by the thought of delivering the repaired tablet to my grateful son after many hours' selfless labor. But a wise voice inside my head whispered of the potential disappointment if, as seemed likely, something went awry.

Throughout my life, the single biggest cause of various DIY disasters has been a lack of the proper tools. Reading through the comments on the various how-to guides, it was evident this was the most common cause of problems others had experienced when replacing a broken iPad screen — and there was no clear consensus around the best tools for the job.

I reasoned that the best way to resolve this obstacle was to turn to someone who already has the right tools and plenty of experience of successfully completing the job. I realized that I needed to find an iPad repair specialist.

A quick search soon turned up a shortlist of repairers in the UK and I selected Leicester-based iPaq Repair and Parts.

The fully repaired iPad has arrived back today, ten days after sending it off, with a completely new screen and wifi working once more. Suddenly it looks almost as good as when I first unpacked it three years ago. My son is delighted and has spent much of the day catching up with his favorite games.

The cost? A very modest £53.88 ($90) for replacing the screen and wifi antennna, including taxes and overnight courier. I would probably have spent more on parts and tools had I attempted the repair myself.

Now my son has enough money left over to add a screen protector and case, which I hope will keep the iPad safe for another three or more years.

Verdict

  • Don't write off an iPad just because of a cracked or shattered touch screen.
  • Alhough Apple's manufacturing process seals the screen in place, it is possible to remove it without damaging other parts.
  • The glass screen is not an expensive part and removing it provides an opportunity to replace other parts if they are faulty.
  • It's possible to replace a broken iPad screen yourself but it's a fiddly, time-consuming task that risks causing further damage.
  • There are plenty of reputable repair services that will do the job for a very reasonable price.
  • In our throwaway age, repair and reuse is often neglected but it's a much more efficient means of conserving resources than scrapping and recycling.