Geeks all set for iPad striptease

Geeks all set for iPad striptease

On March 12, Kyle Wiens and Luke Soules woke up before dawn. Their plan demanded that they be among the first to get their hands on the device.  So at 5:30 am, the minute Apple began taking iPad orders on its web site, Wiens and Soules — do-it-yourself repair evangelists and co-founders of a company called iFixit  — placed theirs.

As delivery addresses, they entered several US locations where their research determined the iPad is likely to arrive soonest. They could tell you which ones, but they would have to kill you.

Armed with heat guns, suction cups and other tools of the trade, the duo will set out on Saturday to reveal some of the tablet’s most closely guarded secrets: the design and components that make it tick. If all goes according to plan, by the time the lines outside Apple Stores start to thin, iFixit will have provided a blow-by-blow account of its “teardown” to the world, complete with a photo montage.

Such details are manna for the Apple faithful, and iFixit has made a name for itself in technology circles by providing them fast. To do so, Wiens and Soules must above all make sure they are among the very first people to be in actual possession of these hotly anticipated gadgets. And this being Apple, one of the world’s most secretive companies, each launch presents a different set of challenges.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Apple does not like anybody monkeying around with its devices. This after all is a company that won’t even let users change their iPod and iPhone batteries. It has fired executives over leaks and sued bloggers to halt their revelations.
But there is nothing Apple can do about teardowns. “What we do is completely legal, but if they could stop us they would,” Wiens, 26, said with a touch of pride.

What Apple can and does do is make its devices tougher for him and others to decrypt. One reason Apple frowns upon teardowns, say experts, is that it is reluctant to broadcast that it doesn’t manufacture the widgets itself. “Apple really wants end users to think that Apple makes this thing, that Apple makes the iPad, not Foxconn, Samsung, Toshiba,” Soules said.

Rebels with a cause

For iFixit, these techno-stripteases are more than just publicity stunts designed to promote its business (though they are that for sure.) They are also, to hear Wiens and Soules tell it, a cause. The two businessmen say one of their goals is to cut down on electronic waste that ends up in landfills by demonstrating the old-fashioned virtue of repair, extending the lifespan of devices.

Wiens said it was his mission to make repair “sexy”. He refers to Apple as a “closed company”, because it doesn’t want its users repairing its products. “We used to fix things in this country, back in the 1950s it was cool to tinker with your car, but that changed as it became more of a consumer culture,” he said.

Wiens and Soules launched iFixit, which sells Apple parts and provides free online repair manuals, as teenagers in 2003 out of their college dorm at California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo.

It is now a thriving small business that employs around two dozen people and generates more than $2 million in annual sales. Wiens’ father ran a Harley-Davidson dealership, and he said Apple’s cult appeal has a lot in common with that of the motorcycle maker. “Mystery attracts attention, and Apple is a master at getting attention,” he said.

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