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Director / CrewHi, I'm Scotty from Strange Parts. I make videos about ridiculous technology adventures, including assembling my own iPhone in China and adding a working headphone jack to an iPhone 7. AMA!

Sep 7th 2017 by scotty314 • 11 Questions • 605 Points

Hi there Redditors - Scotty from Strange Parts here.

You might know me as the guy who assembled his own iPhone 6s from parts bought in the electronics markets in Shenzhen, China: https://youtu.be/leFuF-zoVzA

I just added a working headphone jack to an iPhone 7: https://youtu.be/utfbE3_uAMA

Thanks for all the amazing support - Reddit was super instrumental in getting out the word on both of the videos I've made, and I've really enjoyed all the questions and ideas you've sent my way.

I'm in China at the moment, so timezones suck, but I'll be around for the next few hours answering as many questions as I can about Shenzhen, the electronics markets, iPhones, and whatever else you want to hear about.

Lastly - I'll be doing a youtube live video Q&A today at around 3pm Eastern, 12pm Pacific. Subscribe to the youtube channel here to get notified when it goes live, and when I post future videos: http://strangeparts.com/subscribe

Proof that I'm me: https://twitter.com/strangepartscom/status/905842010849918976

Edit: I'm going to take a break to do some live Q&A on youtube: http://youtube.com/strangeparts. But I'll be back here after to answer more questions.

Edit 2: I'm back! Thanks to everyone that tuned in for the youtube Q&A - sorry it was a bit rough getting going. The internet in China is challenging at times. It's pretty late here (5am), but I'll try and answer a few more questions before I crash for the night.

Edit 3: Thanks for all the questions everyone - I'm going to have to crash for a couple hours, but will try and check in and answer more questions in the morning. Good night from Shenzhen!

Edit 4: I'm back - I'll be popping in and out and answering questions as I take care of a few other things. So if you have any more burning questions, fire away.

Q:

Hey Scotty,

Big fan of your videos. I love how simply you narrate your story spanning over months.

I have a few questions:

1) Did you major in Electronics? How did you become good with circuits?

2) How do you finance your spends on spare parts and equipments?

3) It was tough to see you almost give up in your latest video. How did you find the motivation to keep going after spending so many months and messing up the phone display?

A:

1) Did you major in Electronics? How did you become good with circuits?

I've been into electronics ever since I was in elementary school. I would beg my mom to take me to Radio Shack to get parts and books. But I ended up majoring in computer science, and only took a few formal electrical engineering courses (an intro to analog and digital, a microprocessor course, and a digital electronics course). I'm mostly self taught on the hardware side of things.

2) How do you finance your spends on spare parts and equipments?

A mixture of savings, and now, gradually, income from youtube ads and selling framed circuit boards to fans. I also own a small saas company that brings in some money.

3) It was tough to see you almost give up in your latest video. How did you find the motivation to keep going after spending so many months and messing up the phone display?

Yeah, that was a pretty tough week. Ultimately, I just really wanted to be able to say I'd actually done it, and show off a working phone. And I didn't really give myself permission to stop until I could prove to myself it couldn't be done. I almost did, but not quite:)


Q:

Hey, I just thought it would be a good idea to start a patreon sometime in the future? That's the first thing I looked for when I saw your recent vid as I wanted to support. I'm sure there are others who would want to support too, and might help with expenses.

I can't believe you bought a microscope for the project! Now I want my own microscope.

A:

Been getting lots of suggestions about Patreon in the comments on this video. It's something I'm considering.

And the microscope is probably the best tool purchase I've ever made. $300 including the camera, and I feel totally superhuman when I'm using it. Tiny solder work that was impossible without it is now within reach, and I don't have particularly good hand-eye coordination. One thing I'd say though is to make sure to get an optical microscope, not a digital one where you're looking at a screen. Delay and resolution matters a lot.

Edit: I forgot to say - I'm super flattered people are so eager to support me and what I'm doing, via things like Patreon. Just want to figure out the right next steps.


Q:

Thought you were gonna redo the charging circuit and merge it with the jack circuit. Great video as always.Can't wait for the next one.

A:

Yeah, I worked on this, but the footage wasn't super interesting, so it ended up on the cutting room floor. It turned out to be pretty gnarly, and would involve a lot of deep manipulation of the lightning signal. Not as simple as just adding voltage onto the charging pins, unfortuantely.


Q:

Hey yo! I loved your first video, and I might even have loved the latest one even more. I love seeing you learn and get better along the way, and the way you stuck with it? Truly amazing. Of course I ordered one of the framed PCBs - so cool to somehow be part of that story (especially as someone who wants to work in EECS in the future).

So, as for my questions - I have 2:

  1. How in the world did you find all the stuff you did? Chip brokers? Microscope resellers? Flexible PCB manufacturers? A lot of weibo-ing, or great contacts, or...?

  2. How much resistance have you met due to your low quantities? You did mention a bit about it in the first video, if I recall correctly, but... has anyone ever told you flat-out "no"? And how did you manage to get the flex PCB manufacturer to print such a small amount for you?

Thank you! I'll be following you in the future, of course. ❤️

A:

How in the world did you find all the stuff you did? Chip brokers? Microscope resellers? Flexible PCB manufacturers? A lot of weibo-ing, or great contacts, or...?

Mostly by just walking around the markets and talking to people. Everyone in the list of people you mentioned I just met in the markets, other than Endy, the chip broker. He was introduced to me by another friend here in China. For other things like factories, Alibaba (or the chinese version 1688.com) and Taobao(like ebay/amazon) are great resources.

How much resistance have you met due to your low quantities? You did mention a bit about it in the first video, if I recall correctly, but... has anyone ever told you flat-out "no"? And how did you manage to get the flex PCB manufacturer to print such a small amount for you?

In china, everything is negotiable:) PCBs in particular are easy to get in small quantities, because there's relatively low overhead for the manufacturer for making a new design, and everyone needs to make lots of prototype boards as they're designing products. So there's a huge demand for it.

Other things, like injection molding, have a much higher setup cost because the tools (molds) are very time consuming and expensive to make. So if you only want to do limited quantities, you end up using a different process, like 3d printing or CNC, and then transitioning to a scalable process like injection molding once you're ready to scale up production.

In general though, smaller factories are more likely to entertain small quantities, as long as they're actually making money in the process.


Q:

how do you recommend getting set up with a celphone/internet in china for traveling? what have you bought over there that seemed like the sketchiest thing but turned out to be legit?

A:

Having a SIM card and China specific VPN is pretty mandatory when traveling in China. VPNs are officially not allowed, but many people use them here to get to sites blocked by the great firewall, such as Google, Youtube, etc. Also, pro tip: sim cards from areas outside the great firewall that are in roaming mode, don't go through the great firewall. Which is handy so you don't have to run a vpn on your phone.

In terms of what I've bought that seemed sketch, but wasn't... Maybe Pocari Sweat? Terrible name for a very tasty and addictive drink.

I have a pretty crazy Shanzhai power bank that I love, too. It plugs directly into the wall (it has a flip out prongs for a power plug), and shows how many amps your device is drawing on a screen. It's way too big, but pretty legit otherwise.


Q:

Hey Scotty, I've watched your first video 3 or 4 times and it's just so damn inspirational. I'd watch an entire series just based on the street markets of China and Shenzhen. Eager to see where your channel goes!

The question that I have is why do you think Apple didn't put a headphone jack in the iPhone 7 when you proved it's clearly possible? Was that plastic piece you pulled out even necessary? Did they want to sell their overpriced earphones? Or do you think wireless audio is the future of electronics?

A:

Thanks! I'm really excited to take the channel beyond just cell phones and China. There's so many cool things for us to explore. I'm actually leaving China next week for a bit - I'll be uploading things more frequently as well going forward.

why do you think Apple didn't put a headphone jack in the iPhone 7 when you proved it's clearly possible? Was that plastic piece you pulled out even necessary? Did they want to sell their overpriced earphones? Or do you think wireless audio is the future of electronics?

I don't really know. I think it's possible it was a somewhat last minute decision. I just took a picture of the two plastic pieces in question: https://imgur.com/a/Wv1Az The piece on the left is what I think Apple is trying to say is the barometric vent. It plugs into the bottom side of the case (the wall where the lightning jack is), and blocks water from coming in the grille holes on the bottom left side of the phone. It must have some sort of membrane or flexible material that allows pressure to equalize inside the phone.

The other, much larger thing, is.... A piece of plastic? That's what takes up most of the room where I put the headphone jack. As far as I can tell it's just a clip that holds the taptic engine connector onto the bottom flex cable. But boy is it big if that's all it does...

Sorry for the potato quality photo. If this isn't clear, I can try and take a better photo.

Giving them a huge benefit of the doubt, I don't believe Apple did this just to sell headphones. I do think they genuinely believe wireless is the future, and probably intend on using the space in future designs of the phone. As best I can tell, it looks to me like maybe they made the decision to remove the headphone jack late in the engineering process.

I'm looking forward to seeing the inside of an iPhone 8 to see what's changed:)


Q:

Hi Scotty, Congrats! Can you give us an idea of what took the most time and what was the most frustrating?

A:

Thanks! The electrical design probably took me the longest. I had to massively simplify it for the video to keep the length down (the first rough cut was 7 hours).

I made probably 4 different breadboarded designs, 3 different iterations of rigid pcbs, and 3 versions of flex pcbs. Turn around time on flex pcbs is a week, and 1-5 days for rigid pcbs. So that adds up...

In terms of most frustrating, two specific things come to mind (though there were countless frustrating things):

  • the first iPhone 7 logic board I bought went on the fritz, I think because I was using it outside a phone sitting on a silicon mat, and it overheated. It started having crazy display glitches, and then eventually went into a reboot loop. I eventually took it to a repair shop that said it was a problem with the soldering on the cpu, but couldn't repair it. In the meantime, I was using a 6s logic board for testing, which was electrically the same as a 7. Or so I thought. Turns out I managed to design a circuit board to add a headphone jack to an iphone 6s (which already has one), but that didn't work on an iphone 7, that doesn't. Definitely an FML moment. But fortunately it was a pretty simple design change to fix it (I was using a switching chip that wasn't specced for 3v, which apparently the 7 is more sensitive to). Unfortunately all this got left on the cutting room floor because of time constraints.

  • When I was trying to put the final phone together and kept breaking screens. That was a really low moment, because I felt like I was pretty much out of things I could shave off to make it fit. I did end up finding one or two more though:)


Q:

Did removing the part of the iPhone 7 that was described to be used for the barometer have any affect on the phones operation?

A:

Other than the phone not being waterproof anymore, no, none at all.


Q:

Hi Scotty. Could you please make a short list of the type of liquid paste you used to solder with air on the small circuit board?

A:

Just look up "solder paste". Nothing super particular about the type of paste I'm using.


Q:

Hey Scotty, in your last video did you say that you are interested in covering interesting stories and visiting interesting places. Are you interested in coming to Norway to experience a unique husky tour?

A:

Hey Scotty, in your last video did you say that

Yes, that sounds interesting:) Email me at [email protected] if you have some more info.


Q:

Well shit, good for you then man. That's awesome!

A:

In the words of George Mallory, when asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, "because it's there".

I had walked through the cell phone repair markets, and seen all the parts, and tools, and flurry of activity. But I didn't really understand how it worked. Who was selling what to whom? What were all the parts? Where did they come from and where were they going? Was it possible to build a complete phone? How much could I make from scratch?

Building my own phone was an excuse to explore all of that, to learn a lot more about how phones are put together, and to tell a cool story in the process.

As for getting hands on experience - just start. Pick something you're excited to make or take apart, and just try. The best hackers and engineers I know learn by just diving in.