The Apple Watch Ultra is just starting to get into customers’ hands, and unlike previous Apple Watches, it has four visible screw heads on the bottom of the device. I like to take a look inside my tech, whether I want to add a thermal pad to an M2 MacBook Air to improve performance or just to see what’s inside that makes the tech work. The moment I saw the screws on the bottom of the Apple Watch Ultra, I knew I wanted to take a peak inside. But I probably shouldn’t have…
The bottom of the Apple Watch has four P5 pentalobe screws. They’re the same kind of screws that hold the bottom of the MacBook, and while they’re not as common as a Philips or flathead screwdriver, pentalobe screwdrivers aren’t uncommon either. After I took the four screws out, the first complication occurred – there is a very small o-ring around each screw. These are undoubtedly part of the extreme waterproof ratings of Apple’s high-end smartwatch. When I went to screw the first four screws back in, it proved almost impossible to tighten them without the o-ring partially slipping out of place.
Nevertheless, I continued, at this point well aware that some of the watch’s water resistance might be compromised. With these screws out, the only way to proceed was to use a spudger and thin shims to separate the ceramic back of the watch from the titanium case. It was well sealed, and the moment it pulled away, the thin waterproofing was destroyed. Additionally, there are two thin ribbon cables that connect the back of the watch and all of its health sensors to the battery, display, processor, and body of the watch. I had to be careful while separating the two to avoid damaging the cables.
Removing the back panel didn’t reveal too much of the interior. There was a large black component with an Apple logo, but the two buttons used to release the Apple Watch bands came off and three of the four springs disappeared into the abyss of my carpet.
With the back panel of the watch removed, there wasn’t any kind of immediate failure from the watch, but it understandably failed to connect to my phone. There were three more screws – this time tri-wing – and small metal plates holding the black component down, but when I removed them and started to lift it, it became clear that it was a bit too much of a task. There appeared to be several ribbon cables connected to the other side of it, and from the back of the watch there didn’t appear to be a good way to disconnect them. Getting to them probably involves removing the display by softening the adhesive and then using an opening pick to separate it. This was how you could access the internals on previous Apple Watches, but the seam on the screen on the Ultra didn’t seem to have a good way to open it, which I was sure I could do without cracking the screen. The display on the Apple Watch Ultra is sapphire, which, while more scratch-resistant, is potentially more prone to cracking. That’s probably part of the reason why Apple extended the metal body of the watch up around the flat sides of the screen.
At that point I put everything together as best I could. Reattaching the two ribbon cables connected to the bottom of the unit proved rather difficult. The buttons to remove the watch band, now missing some small springs, rattle with the haptics of the watch. And the little rubber o-rings around the screw stick out a bit. With the o-rings out of place and the adhesive seal broken, the waterproofing of the watch is certainly nowhere near its factory standards. I certainly wouldn’t go diving at this point.
No doubt we’ll be seeing a more complete teardown of the watch from the folks at iFixit in the coming days. They will definitely venture further into the Apple Watch Ultra than I did. I’m sure someone more skilled than me could do a better job of taking the watch apart and putting it back together without as much damage to the waterproofing, but alas. I’d definitely recommend waiting for their guide to feed your curiosity, rather than disassembling your own watch, or you could be left with a non-waterproof (or worse, a broken) version of Apple’s most durable smartwatch clock to date.
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