When you have a tablet or smartphone, you basically wait with an axe over your head. Is this the day that I accidentally drop my tablet? Will my cat knock over my drink and drown my phone?

That day happened to me this spring. My iPad 3 took a fall from a car seat onto the driveway, right on a corner. I panicked at first, and briefly cursed myself for not purchasing AppleCare+. I took a deep breath, gathered my emotions and the broken iPad from the pavement, and looked up my repair options.

  • Send it to Apple. – $Half the price of the iPad, but you get a new one.
  • Send it to a repair site – $129-$199 depending on the site. Trusting your iPad to the whims of the carrier service and the store proprietors. Is this the time you want to cheap out on your vendor?
  • Attempt the fix itself. – $60ish. Riskiest. Possible financial outlay with no sure guarantee.

I looked up the iPad repair guide on iFixIt.com. I went through the steps a few times to familiarize myself with how everything came apart and went back together. It really didn’t seem that hard. Being the kind of guy who likes to take things apart and put them back together again, I figured I’d try to salvage my iPad myself. Here’s how it all went down, and what I learned along the way.

The repair

The damage pre-repair. No enormous spiderwebs, but not just a crack or two.

The full screen showing the two different damage spots.

Started heating up the glue under the glass with a hair dryer since I didn’t have a heat gun. This was an extremely tedious process. You can see one of the guitar picks I used as wedges—to keep the glass from resticking—at the bottom. As I moved around the edges, the screen continued to splinter, so I put down some clear packing tape to keep the pieces from flying everywhere. That’s why the screen looks all bubbly.

A close-up of a corner. Once I’d gotten under the edge in one spot, I noticed the rubber gasket was getting damaged, so I decided to let the glass crack inside and then cut back to the edge to minimize damage.

The screen separated. Can’t totally set it aside as there’s a ribbon cable that connects around to the underside, so this made the cleanup around the display panel a delicate process. That cable’s super thin, so I had to keep it all together as I moved it around to chip away at the glass left stuck to the aluminum.

Finally all cleaned up and ready for disassembly!

The big black rectangles are the battery. The thing lifted up is the display panel. Have to be VERY careful here, to not get fingerprints and finger oils all over the panel and to not sever or damage the second flat ribbon cable attached in the lower left.

Traced the cables back to this port, which I carefully disconnected. There’s tape on it, so be sure to peel that off first.

Alright. Old glass disconnected. Display panel disconnected. Final clean up on the frame. Pictured at left is the strip of adhesive bits that came with the new glass. I thought this looked a little skimpy to hold down the new glass, but I dutifully peeled off the pieces and tried to guess the best place to stick each. Of course there were no diagrams on where to put them!

PICTURE MISSING BECAUSE I WAS FRANTICALLY PULLING BACK UP THE GLASS. Well, after I put those strips down, I carefully reassembled the display and new glass…carefully set down the glass on the strips, making sure everything was lined up, and set it under a stack of heavy books to set up for the night. After 12 hours, I checked on the iPad. Much as I’d guessed, the glass wasn’t sticking very well to those little strips of adhesive. Luckily, I’d bought a roll of 3M (yeah I know) tape designed for screen repairs. I used the hair dryer to reheat the glue and peeled back the new glass, which thankfully came up easy. I then cut and placed down adhesive on just about every square inch of available frame to ensure a better fit, focusing on the corners which were the first to show signs of delaminating the first time. After I got everything peeled and ready, I carefully set back the glass and this time, I also reheated the glass/adhesive right away to help everything get nice and sticky. Then I stuck it back under the stack of books, and added a few more for good measure.

Final images, after 12 more hours under pressure. The frame was still scuffed up from hitting the pavement, but the corners were solid and the glass looked fantastic. You can see along the edges where I damaged the rubber gasket prying the broken glass away, but it’s hardly noticeable in everyday use.

The other corner. Looking pretty good.

The final, repaired iPad. The replacement glass looks and feels like new, and was just as responsive to touch as the original panel. Success!

All in all, this repair took me about 4-5 hours of work. Tedious work to be sure, but not too bad! And I was very pleased with the results.

Lessons learned:
  • Get a damn heat gun. The dinky hair dryer did not put out serious heat, and took forever to heat the glue up enough to delaminate the glass.
  • Patience, young one. If you rush this, you’re going to end up chipping little pieces away from the frame for quite some time. By rushing (and not getting the glue hot enough), I cracked the glass quite a bit more. This made clean up and frame prep for the new glass very time-consuming and tedious!
  • You can do it! iFixit is an amazing resource for tinkerers or those who aren’t afraid of trying to save some serious cash.
  • Invest in some tools. It appears that I’ll be trying to save screens for some time, so I’m going to get some decent plastic spudgers. My set of micro screwdrivers has already proven worthwhile.
  • Get the gasket. It came separate and I thought I would be able to get the glass off without damaging it. It is very thin and fragile. The metal scraper damaged the rubber gasket, and even the plastic spudgers and picks would’ve probably damaged it. Spend the extra bit of money.