Fantastic Bits and Where to Find Them: The Tri-point

Fantastic Bits and Where to Find Them: The Tri-point

I love repair—but I’m also a geek about new tech, which is probably what makes me uniquely suited to be iFixit’s YouTube host. I like fixing old phones as much as I like examining new ones. And last year, like lots of other people around the world, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the newly-released iPhone 7. Which is convenient, because it was my job to take it apart on YouTube.

After a cursory tour of the upgraded software features, I got ready to open up the iPhone 7. I loaded my driver with the first bit in any iPhone repair: the pentalobe. That opening gambit has been consistent since Apple introduced the screw to its iPhone lineup back in 2010. With the screen open, I grabbed my Phillips and prepared to get under the shields holding the display cables in place.

Suddenly, I realized … we’re not in Kansas anymore. Y000 screws—the tiniest of all the tri-point screws—were, unexpectedly, in the place where Phillips screws had been in previous iPhone models.

What’s a Tri-point?

If you’ve never seen a tri-point—you’re probably not alone. They’re pretty rare, even in electronics. Tri-points look a lot like Phillips screws, only with three points to the Phillips’ four. And unlike the tri-wing, which has a small triangular hole at the center where the offset slots meet, the tri-point’s slots meet straight on and dead center.

Tri-point screw driver

Tri-point

tri-wing screw and driver

Tri-wing

Phillips screw and driver

Phillips

The tri-point isn’t proprietary to Apple—it’s just uncommon. The tinier the screw gets, the more obscure the tri-point becomes, and the less likely you are to have a screwdriver for it in your toolkit. It’s called “security by obscurity.”

Before the tri-point made its debut in the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, Apple introduced tri-point screws in the 13-inch, Mid 2009 MacBook Pro in the same role as the pentalobe screws in the 15-inch, Mid 2009 MacBook Pro: to secure the battery.

Why Apple decided to use the tri-point in 13″ models and the pentalobe in 15″ models, we couldn’t say. But it appears that the tri-point ended up winning out; Apple began using the tri-point to secure batteries on all MacBook and MacBook Pro models within a year—abandoning the pentalobe for that purpose. You’ll need a tri-point driver to replace the battery on any MacBook or MacBook Pro (non-Retina) models released between Late 2009 and Mid 2012. But the tri-point really gained prominence in 2015, when Apple put the Y000 (the smallest tri-point screw of all) into the Apple Watch.

The screw was so small, in fact, that we didn’t have a bit small enough to fit it. Undeterred, our teardown engineers filed the smallest tri-point bit we had down to size. It worked, and we got back to the business of tearing down.

Once the teardown ended, we reverse engineered the screw and produced a corresponding bit. Now, a Y000 tri-point bit comes standard in the 64 Bit Driver Kit, which is why I was lucky enough to have the right bit when the Y000 screw popped up again in the iPhone 7 last year.

Of course, Apple isn’t the only company that favors the tri-point. Larger tri-point screws have been used for years in Japanese hard drives. And Nintendo uses these screws, too. If fact, we recently spotted a few tri-points guarding the entrance to our new Switch.

Now that Apple is using the tri-point more liberally, I’m pretty sure that the tri-point is about to move out of the shadows and into the limelight. So, if you’re into fixing small e-things, it’s probably a good time to add the tri-point to your toolkit.

Lord knows, I’m glad I had mine. Without a Y000 handy, my iPhone 7 teardown would have ended as soon as it began.

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