Meet the man who built his own iPhone

Scotty Allen decided to build an iPhone 6s using spare parts sourced from street markets while in Shenzen, China.
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Scotty Allen decided to build an iPhone 6s using spare parts sourced from street markets while in Shenzen, China.

Some people will go to huge lengths to save a few bucks on their next smartphone.

Standing in a line for several days or committing to a 24-month contract are two commonly used tactics.

Scotty Allen, a software engineer, has taken this to the next level. He decided to build an iPhone 6s using spare parts sourced from street markets while in Shenzen, China. I caught up with him to see how it was done.

What inspired you to build your own iPhone 6s?

A friend originally came up with the idea, after seeing all the cellphone parts in the markets, and wondering if it was possible.  A lot of my motivation was similar - wondering whether it was possible, especially as someone who speaks very little Mandarin.  But also, I wanted an excuse to dive deeper into the markets, and see how everything fits together. 

How much did it cost in total in the end (excluding airfares and travel costs)

I've spent over $1000 at this point, but a lot of it was duplicate parts I didn't end up using and tools I didn't end up needing. I'd estimate the cost of the actual parts that went into the phone at around $300, maybe a bit more (I wasn't keeping perfect track).

In the documentary, it looks like you burn a lot of shoe leather sourcing parts, were they hard to obtain? 

Not really. Mostly it was just hard figuring out what I needed, and how and where they were sold, and how to figure out if what I was getting worked. It ended up being much simpler than I expect though, once I understood how the markets worked. 

Where did the parts come from? Were they surplus from the Foxconn factory, taken from old phones or other means?

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I think the bulk of it is used parts from legitimate iPhones. But there's probably a mixture of parts from other sources too.  It's a bit hard to tell.

Did you need any special tools?

In the end, no, unless you count that special pentalobe screwdriver Apple insists on using for the two outside screws. Some of the kids in the market that do repairs also have one really long fingernail they use for prying up connectors, but I haven't got quite that hardcore yet.

Really just a couple screwdrivers and a pair of tweezers are pretty much all you need for the main assembly.  The big exception is the screen - there's lots of bulky and expensive specialty tools necessary to do the lamination, which is why I ended up going to a screen repair booth, rather than buy all the equipment myself. 

It looks like fiddly and complex work. How hard was it to assemble the iPhone?

Less hard than I thought it would be.  It's conceptually very similar to assembling a desktop PC, just everything is a lot smaller.  It requires a steady hand and some patience, but definitely not super hardcore.

How is the home-built iPhone going? No faults so far?

It's been mostly fine.  Everything works - wifi, the app store, phone calls, etc. I did agree to test a screen for a friend after I finished shooting the video, and forgot to unplug the battery and fried the logic board when I slipped. That was an expensive mistake, but nothing that a trip to the markets couldn't fix.

Do you think there's going to be any fallout now that your documentary has surfaced? Apple must be unhappy?

There's been no negative fallout yet that I'm aware of. I don't think anything I did is wrong - it's not really a lot different from restoring a car from parts in the junkyard.  Hard to see how Apple could find too much fault in that.

What's next? Any plans to build any other phones?

I had a total blast building this phone and making the video, and I definitely want to do more of it.  More videos, more travel, more technology, and yes, probably more phones.

 - Stuff

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