How I Made My Own iPhone – in China!

I built a like-new (but really refurbished) iPhone 6S 16GB entirely from parts I bought in the public cell phone parts markets of Huaqiangbei. And it works!I’ve been fascinated by the cell phone parts markets in Shenzhen, China for a while. I’d walked through them a bunch of times, but I still didn’t understand basic things, like how they were organized or who was buying all these parts and what they were doing with them.

So when someone mentioned they wondered if you could build a working smartphone from parts in the markets, I jumped at the chance to really dive in and understand how everything works. Well, I sat on it for nine months, and then I dove in.

My finished phone

You might wonder why I chose to make an iPhone 6s and not an iPhone 7. I had two reasons. The first was that I already own an iPhone 6s that I bought in an Apple store, and I thought I might end up needing to have an identical phone to the one I was trying to build that I knew was assembled by Apple to compare against. In the end, this was never really an issue, and I never ended up having to open it up. It is nice to be able to show people the phone I built side-by-side with a phone bought in an Apple store though.

However, the other reason, which turned out to be far more important, is that iPhone 7 parts are pretty hard to come by in the markets. It’s not totally clear why this is, but I have some ideas. A lot of the parts come from recycled/broken phones, and so it would make sense that there just isn’t that much supply yet. I also think there’s probably really high demand for iPhone 7 parts, so what parts are available may get traded before they make it out into display cases. In some cases, even iPhone 6s parts were a bit hard to come by (mostly the logic board). I keep asking people about this, and people keep saying things like “there should be more after Spring Festival” (which has come and gone) or “there should be more in a month or two – it’s just a temporary shortage right now”. I’ll keep my eyes out – it’ll be interesting to see how this evolves over time.

A bit more about some of the parts:

The four basic parts to make an iPhone – the screen, shell, battery, and logic board.

Logic board – This is like the motherboard in a computer. It’s the circuit board that has the processor, flash memory, wifi/cell chips, etc on it. Everything plugs into this. The one I bought is refurbished/repaired, almost undoubtedly from a real, legitimately purchased phone made by Apple that was recycled at some point.

It came with the touch id sensor, because the processor and touch id sensor are cryptographically paired. This means that touch id no longer works if you swap out the touch id sensor. This is for security reasons, to make it harder for someone to malicious bypass touch id to unlock your phone without your permission. But it’s a really crappy restriction when it comes to repairing/refurbishing phones.

I really wanted to solder my own logic board, but this turned out to be a much larger endeavor than I thought. Stay tuned for more on this!

Screen – I really wanted to assemble my own. But there were two issues – you need a bunch of bulky equipment and I had an incredibly hard time trying to buy a bare lcd/digitizer. You can get them apparently, but they don’t seem to be readily available over the counter in the markets. So instead, I bought a broken screen from a phone repair booth, and had them completely disassemble and then reassemble it with new parts, other than the lcd/digitizer.

Battery – These are everywhere, and _really_ cheap. Like $5 USD cheap. No clue if it’s real, but I was told it is, and it looks like it is.

Back/Shell – I originally wanted to make a gray phone with a black front, to match my everyday carry phone I bought in an Apple store. That way I would have something to compare against. But I ended up having a hard time finding a logic board with a black touch id button. However, there were lots of logic boards with white touch id buttons with rose colored rings, meant for a rose colored phone. So I ended up buying a second, rose colored back, hence the rose colored phone. The back I bought had an Apple logo, but zero laser markings inside or outside, so I’m pretty sure it’s not from a used phone.

More coming soon!

40 Comments

  • Bra
    Reply

    Very coo! I’m curious, did you keep track of the costs of all the parts (or collections of parts) you bought? Excluding your time, how much cheaper or more expensive was it?

    • lmnshtm
      Reply

      He mentioned in one of YouTube comments that the parts he actually ended up using cost him around $300 but he already had $1000 worth of extra stuff, tools, etc.

  • jim
    Reply

    Hey, the video was awesome! really admire your perseverance and effort you put into this project! How much did this eventually cost? from the parts to the services at the repair store? Thanks!

  • Paulo Magrani
    Reply

    Great job!!! Well done!!! I do fix my own iPhone as well, in Brazil. It is amazing to see how easy and fascinating it is.
    Something that I was really curious is the ThouchID did work at all???
    What could be the reaction of an Apple Genius staring to our unity and achievement. I just wanted to see his face!!! Would be very cool!!!
    Best regards, Paulo Magrani

  • David
    Reply

    Hi, a fascinating video on several levels and very well put together. I would love to see some more of your tech views of China. Please keep them coming!

    • Jacob
      Reply

      Hi 小杜, do you know how much it cost for the logic board (repaired/refurbished) at Huanqi??
      And do you know how much difference in cost between 16Gb vs 64Gb (only logic board)?

  • 小杜
    Reply

    Should add – I made an IBM ‘T62’ in a similar way from parts on Taobao.
    Bought a chassis, all the relevant bits, and mix n matched my way to a pimping (at the time) laptop.

  • @Garysballs
    Reply

    Really enjoyed watching your adventure here and learned two things: 1) I must be a real boring bastard to get pleasure from watching a video of a bearded bloke whose idea of adventure is scouring markets in a faraway country for phone parts; 2) I was surprised that you only saved 50% of the cost of the phone by doing it this way. My guess was that with recycled parts you might get down to 20% of retail price. Thanks for these two learning points!

    • Mark
      Reply

      I’m not sure if he edited it out or not, but he overpaid for a couple of items. I don’t know if he was nervous because he was probably only white guy around or thought maybe Apple Police was tailing him or what. In those markets you never, ever, ever, accept the first price, some people actually will lose respect for you if you take their first offer. So I would take a wild guess and say that he probably was probably overcharged by at least 30-40 percent. I know for a fact that the board he bought for 480 $75 US dollars he paid more than double than what he should have paid. 🙂

    • what the fuck
      Reply

      What if he pays $500 and starts his own Apple manufacturing as an event of revenge ?

      Now he has collected the entire equipment and he knows what to do what not to do !

      Somethings should be encouraged ! It might be illegal but it was his effort !

      If possible give him a job ! than your shit ! law fine !

  • Robin
    Reply

    After 75% of the video i was like, this is super crazy, but the fast forwarding part made me realize your non stop spirit in completing this job. (Y) Salute.

    Robin

  • Kai Liu
    Reply

    Hey I live in Shenzhen and used to visit Huaqiangbei frequently before. But I never come up with an idea about building my own phone like you did. Well done and really a fabulous video! If you like so next time in Shenzhen ping me and I’m glad to be in company.

  • Pinco
    Reply

    I could have done it from my home buying parts on ebay in a week, just because it takes time get all the parts, but it’s possible. 3 hours to assemble it, maybe less. I have fixed many and I know what I’m talking about.

  • gif
    Reply

    I’d like to believe ip7 parts aren’t there b/c every1 smart is boycotting a device that removed the 3mm headphone jack! I kno im never getting anything else apple until they put the headphone jack back in…. they are so annoying. to android for my next upgrade… those OLED displays are so beautiful!

  • Ilas laloui
    Reply

    Hillo .I own a repair shop and I want to do the same thing but with iPhone 7 so please help me and if you want please guide to the places where I can find what I need and any tool that can help me 😋😋 and thank you o its was magical I like your courage and how you did this

  • Khaled
    Reply

    Hi can you tell me what is the name of the school you went to stude phones fix .. i wanna visit china for stude phone fixing all about it if you can help me .

  • 小田
    Reply

    It is a fantastic work and that’s also why I like google companies for open source. I like all of this kind of stuffs, and it is a better option to be a gift then buy a new one.

  • james
    Reply

    Should add – I made an IBM ‘T62’ in a similar way from parts on Taobao.
    Bought a chassis, all the relevant bits, and mix n matched my way to a pimping (at the time) laptop.

  • Mark
    Reply

    I’m certain that I came in way on the backside of this story so hopefully, you will see this. I have just one question for you. Did you edit out the price haggling? When that guy said 480 for the board I could tell that he was highballing you. I’ve heard them go for 150-180. I mean $75 US dollar is pretty good, but these guys expect you to haggle. I was wondering if you were nervous because you said you felt out of place and that the market wasn’t exactly above board….what open market is though? 🙂

  • Parker Gabriel
    Reply

    That Scotty Allen had done this raised the question of whether he knew of any other people who regularly traveled to Shenzhen, as he obviously did, and could assist some American, somewhere, in the formation of a business that could specialize in providing fully customizable, on-demand “smart” cellular telephones for lower prices than mean average for such markets.

    It was a foregone conclusion that Mr. Allen HIMSELF could NOT provide such assistance, which meant that the next best thing, someone who COULD provide it, was appropriately sought.

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