The Apple Watch Ultra is just beginning to get into the hands of customers, and unlike previous Apple Watches, it has four exposed screw heads on the bottom of the device. I love taking a look inside my technology, whether to add a thermal cushion to the M2 MacBook Air to improve performance or just to see what’s inside makes the technology work. The moment I saw the screws on the bottom of the Apple Watch Ultra, I knew I wanted to peek inside. But I may not have…
The bottom of the Apple Watch has four P5 pentalobe screws. These are the same type of screws that secure to the bottom of a MacBook, and while they’re not as common as a Phillips screwdriver or flat screwdriver, pentalobe screwdrivers aren’t as common either. After I took out those four screws, the first complication arose – there is a very small circular ring around each screw. These are, without a doubt, part of the extreme water resistance ratings of the high-end Apple Watch. When I went backwards on those initial four screws, it proved nearly impossible to tighten without sliding the partially straight ring out of place.
However, I continued, well aware at this point that some of the waterproofing of the watch could be compromised. With these screws out, the only way to proceed was to use thinner and spacer gaskets to separate the watch’s ceramic back from the titanium case. It was airtight, and the moment he removed that thin insulation it was destroyed. In addition, there are two thin ribbon cables that connect the back of the watch and all its health sensors to the battery, display, processor, and case of the watch. I had to be careful while separating the two to avoid damaging the cables.
Taking off the back panel didn’t reveal much of the interior. There was a large black Apple logo component, but the two buttons used to release the Apple Watch straps came out, and three of the four springs in the abyss of my carpets were gone.
With the watch back panel removed, there was no instantaneous error from the watch but, for understandable reasons, my phone could not connect. There were three more screws – triple wings this time – and small metal plates holding this black component, but as soon as I removed them and started lifting it, it became clear that it was a pretty big job. There seem to be several ribbon cables connected to the other side of it, and from the back of the watch, there doesn’t seem to be a good way to separate them. Accessing these may involve removing the screen by softening the adhesive and then using an opening to separate it. This is how you can access the internals of previous Apple Watches, but the Latitude on the Ultra doesn’t seem to have a great way to unlock it and I’m confident I can do without breaking the screen. The Apple Watch Ultra’s display is sapphire, which, while more scratch-resistant, is likely to be more prone to cracking. This is probably part of the reason why Apple has stretched the watch’s chassis up around the flat sides of the screen.
At that point, I put everything back together as best I could. It proved difficult to reconnect the two ribbon cables attached to the bottom of the device. The buttons for removing the watch strap, which now lacks some small springs, collide with the watch’s accents. And the small rubber rings around the screw stick out a bit. With the o-rings in place and the adhesive seal breaking, the waterproofing of the watch is nowhere near factory standards. I definitely wouldn’t consider scuba diving at this point.
There’s no doubt that in the coming days we’ll see more of a full-on watch tear from iFixit employees. They will definitely venture further away from the Apple Watch Ultra than I did. I’m sure someone more skilled than me could do a better job of disassembling and reassembling the watch without much damage to the waterproofing, but unfortunately. I definitely recommend waiting for their guide to feed your curiosity, rather than taking your own watch apart, or else you might be left with a non-waterproof (or worse, a broken version) of Apple’s most durable smartwatch to date.
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