Watch how a man built an iPhone for $300

4 years, 1 month ago - April 13, 2017
An engineer says he bought everything at public phone parts markets in Huaqiangbei, China. And he's made a video to prove his case.

It's only an iPhone 6S 16GB. And who wants one of those?

Still, here's Scotty Allen building one from bits and pieces.

Allen told me that he spent two years at Google working on web search as a software engineer. He's been traveling for three years and now lives part time in Shenzhen, China.

The explanation for his building project, he says, is that "You know the thrill of walking down a back alley in hopes you might find something amazing? I f***ing live for that."

So here is a 23-minute video of how he painstakingly put together his phone.

The idea was to go around the public cell phone markets in the Huaqiangbei area of Futian, which is known as a significant home of electronics manufacturing.

First, Allen looks for phone backs. It doesn't seem that hard to find many in various conditions 

Then he gets some laser-engraving done, finds the parts for the screen and watches as local artisans prepare those parts for his purpose.

Where, though, to find the guts? This is, Allen says, the most intimidating part. There are tiny chips involved. Can he, for example, construct his own logic board?

"The biggest obstacle was trying to solder my own logic board," he told me. "It got to the point where that seemed more and more insurmountable. Not only is the soldering incredibly small -- you need a microscope, very fine tweezers, and incredibly steady hand. And not only are there hundreds of parts that need to be soldered, but I was also running into issues with how I'd test my soldering work as I went along, as well as where to even find some of the parts, like the processor."

In the end, he bought one.

I won't spoil the ending for you. Oh, you can imagine it's relatively happy. Allen says in the YouTube comments that most of the money he spent was wasted.

"I spent well over $1,000, but a lot of that was parts and tools I didn't end up needing. I'd say it's probably around $300 worth of parts in the actual phone," he said.

Apple didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. Allen says in the video that despite this project that took a couple of months to complete, he isn't really a phone guy.

What he discovered, however, is that building an iPhone is little different from building your own desktop computer. It's just that everything is much smaller.

Most moving for me is the world that the video reveals -- one that Allen compares to the 1982 sci-fi classic "Blade Runner." As he wanders in his Bourdain-esque manner, we see thousands of stalls selling parts and characters behind every counter, brimming with their own little expertise.

You, though, are wondering what happened to his creation. "It's sitting on the desk right next to me, here in Shenzhen," he told me.

Allen theorizes that many discarded iPhones end up at these markets and says he's impressed with Apple's engineering.


Text by Cnet

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