I break a lot of iPhones. In fact, it's part of my job.
The iPhone SE was collecting dust on my desk when I saw the announcement that Apple was launching its Self Service Repair program here in the US. It would appear this new program is aimed more toward DIY-ers than people looking to save money, especially if your broken phone is still under warranty.
Since I consider myself to be fairly handy when it comes to projects like this, I decided to order a repair kit and find out if I could bring some new life to this phone that had essentially become a dangerous paperweight.
Download the repair manual
I started my Self Service Repair journey at selfservicerepair.com. This is the website Apple has set up for ordering parts, as opposed to the website used for ordering the iPhone itself
Before you even think about ordering any new parts or tools, Apple encourages you to download and read the repair manual for the phone you're looking to fix.
I located the manual for the iPhone SE and it's a mere… 79 pages long.
Be sure to check out the specific instructions for the repair you're looking to do. I focused on the section for replacing the display, but there are also good tips on how to deal with the broken glass on your phone and how to handle damaged batteries.
There's also a section on some of the tools you'll be using and other supplies you probably should to have on hand.
Undaunted by the manual so far, I moved on to ordering the parts and tools I would need to complete the job.
Repair parts and tools are available for the iPhone 12 and 13 series, as well as for the latest version of the iPhone SE.
The service isn't just for screen repairs. You can replace the battery, bottom speaker, camera, SIM tray and the taptic engine inside.
Prices vary from phone to phone and job to job. The recommended display bundle for the iPhone SE, which includes the new glass, adhesive and screws costs $129.56 plus tax. This is about what it would cost to get your screen repaired by Apple, but without the sense of accomplishment of doing it yourself!
Apple does offer a credit for returning the part you're replacing. I sent my broken glass back for recycling, so my price should come down to around a hundred bucks for parts.
Before I could add the bundle to my cart, I needed to provide two pieces of information.
First, the serial number or IMEI number to identify the phone that you're working on, which can be found on the box your iPhone came in. Alternately, on your iPhone, launch the Settings app and go to General > About to find the IMEI, which should be shown as a 15-digit number.
Second, to ensure you've read the repair manual and understand what you're getting yourself into, you need to enter a six-digit code found somewhere in the manual.
I'm not going to tell you where to find the code in the manual, because I think it is a good idea to look at the instructions before you dive in. But I will tell you that the code is different from device to device, so the code in the manual for the iPhone 13 is different than the code for the SE.
With that out of the way, ordering the tools was much more straightforward.
Depending on your experience as tinkerer, you might already have some of these items at home, so you could just order the remaining tools you need. Of course, there are other tools on the market that you can buy that might end up being cheaper than the ones offered here.
But unless you plan on doing repairs like this fairly often,I think renting a complete kit is the way to go. For $49, you get all the tools you need to do the job. The kit is specific to the iPhone model you're working on, and you get to keep the kit for a week.
That brought my total to $178 for parts and the tool kit rental.
At this point it should be noted that by renting the kit, you're agreeing to a $1,200 (plus tax) hold being placed on your credit card to cover the cost of a lost or damaged kit. The fine print says that when the kit is returned within 7 days, complete and undamaged, that the hold will be released within 5 to 7 days.
There was no turning back for me, but I wouldn't blame you for investigating other options at this point.
Removing the damaged screen
As expected, the tool kit came in a large, black rolling case, with everything packed neatly inside. A separate, smaller box contained the replacement screen and other parts.
In addition to the tools that come in the case, the instruction manual also recommends having some extra supplies on hand for your convenience and safety, including safety goggles, cut-resistant gloves and an electrostatic discharge wrist strap and work mat.
Once I had my work area set up, the first matter of business was to remove the damaged screen. This was the most challenging part of the whole process.
The Universal Display Removal tool that came with the kit looks really cool, but I couldn't get it to do much of anything to help me get the screen to budge. I suspect this is because the screen on my iPhone SE was so badly broken, the suction cups couldn't form a good seal on the surface, even with the protective cover installed.
I wrestled with the tool for about 15 minutes before I ended up just prying the old screen off until I could break the adhesive holding it in place. I don't recommend this method if you are replacing the battery and need to keep your unbroken screen intact. But in my case, brute force was the best solution.
It's worth mentioning here that the process for removing the display from the iPhone SE is different from that of the iPhone 12 and 13 series, which requires applying heat to loosen the adhesive. I didn't get to try out the heated display removal fixture described in the manuals for those phones, but it looks even more complicated than the tool I tried to use.
With the screen out of the way, disconnecting the display's cables was easy enough. The repair manual very clearly showed how to do this. Keeping track of all the tiny screws was a different story, but that's why I bought extras.
Installing the new iPhone SE display
After scraping off the remaining adhesive residue, the phone was ready to receive its new screen. Naturally the first step here is to apply some new adhesive.
There's little margin of error when trying to get the thin strip of black adhesive in just the right place around the frame of the iPhone. Luckily, the display bundle came with enough supplies for two attempts, because I nailed it on the second try.
After reattaching all the little cables and screwing everything back in place (do yourself a favor and look up how to magnetize a screwdriver -- I wish I had done this before I started), it was now time for my favorite part.
The display press is the coolest tool that comes in the kit, and sadly, you only get to use it once. It's basically like a big juice press you use to squeeze the new display into place. Once the 30-second timer is up, the display press goes back in the box, unless you want to buy one of your own for $216.
I finished things off with two fresh safety screws near the lightning port, and the repair job was done, but one more step remained.
The repair manual indicates that after performing a display replacement, "You will need to contact the Self Service Repair Store support team by chat or phone to initiate System Configuration."
The manual states that the System Configuration process helps to ensure that new parts are calibrated, firmware is updated and biometric sensors like Touch ID are configured correctly.
I reached out to a support agent via chat, which was very simple. The whole process took about 20 minutes, during which time I was able to power on the phone for the first time and confirm the new screen was actually working! And nothing was on fire!
On the whole, I'd say that replacing the screen on my iPhone SE with the Apple Self Service Repair Kit worked out just fine. The screen works great, and after I put a new case on the phone, I could ignore the broken back glass (which isn't a part covered by the Self Service Repair site).
However, besides the display press, I'm not sure this big tool kit was worth the effort. The display removal fixture didn't work for me, and I only ended up needing two of the four screwdriver bits, which I probably have around here somewhere already.
The support manual was very helpful, and told me exactly what I needed to do -- even if I did bungle a couple of steps along the way.
In the future, if I choose to do a repair like this again, I'll likely opt to just buy the tools I need to supplement the ones I already have (minus the display press).