Do not open your Apple Watch Ultra

The Apple Watch Ultra has just started making its way into the hands of customers, and unlike previous Apple watches, it has four exposed screw heads on the bottom of the device. I like to look inside my technology, whether to add a thermal pad to the M2 MacBook Air to improve performance, or just to see what’s inside to make this technology work. The moment I saw the screws on the bottom of the Apple Watch Ultra, I knew I wanted to look inside. But I guess I shouldn’t …

The bottom of the Apple Watch has four P5 pentalobe screws. These are the same screws that stick to the underside of your MacBook, and while they’re not as common as a Philips or flat-blade screwdriver, pentalobe screwdrivers aren’t uncommon either. After removing those four bolts, the first complication came – there’s a very small o-ring around each bolt. These are undoubtedly part of the extreme water resistance of Apple’s high-end smart watch. When I started screwing in the four starting screws, it turned out that it was almost impossible to tighten them without the O-ring partially slipping out of its place.

Nevertheless, I continued, well aware at this point that some of the watch’s water-resistance might be compromised. After these screws were removed, the only way to proceed was to use a spudger and thin washers to separate the ceramic back of the watch from the titanium case. It was well sealed, and the moment it broke off that thin waterproofing was destroyed. In addition, there are two thin ribbon cables connecting the back of the watch and all its health sensors to the battery, screen, processor, and body of the watch. I had to be careful when separating the two to avoid damaging the cables.

Challenging an open Apple Watch Ultra

Removing the back panel did not reveal much of the internal components. There was a large black piece with the Apple logo on it, but the two buttons to release the Apple Watch straps came out, and three of the four springs had disappeared into the abyss of my carpet.

There was no immediate error with the watch after removing the back panel of the watch, but understandably it couldn’t connect to my phone. There were three more screws – three-winged this time – and the little metal plates holding the black piece in place, but when I took it out and started lifting it it became clear that this was a bit too big a job. There seemed to be a lot of ribbon cables connected on the other side and there was no good way to disconnect them on the back of the watch. Getting to them probably involves removing the display by softening the glue and then separating it with a pick pick. This way, you could access the internals of previous Apple watches, but the display seam on the Ultra didn’t seem like a great way to open it, which I was sure I could do without cracking the display. The Apple Watch Ultra display is sapphire which, while more scratch resistant, is potentially more prone to cracking. That’s probably one of the reasons Apple expanded the watch’s metal case around the flat sides of the display.

At this point, I put everything back together as best I could. Reconnecting the two ribbon cables connected to the underside of the device proved quite difficult. The watch strap removal buttons, now devoid of tiny springs, rattle at the touch of the watch. And the little rubber o-rings around the bolt stick out a little. With the sealing rings being incorrect and the adhesive seal broken, the water resistance of the watch is certainly not close to the factory standards. I certainly wouldn’t take it for diving at this point.

No doubt in the days to come we will see a more complete destruction of the watch than the iFixit people. They will definitely come further in the Apple Watch Ultra than I am. I’m sure someone more skilled than me could do a better job of disassembling and reassembling the watch without damaging the waterproof so much, but unfortunately. I definitely recommend waiting for their guide to satisfy your curiosity rather than taking your own watch apart, as otherwise you might be left with a non-waterproof (or worse, broken) version of Apple’s most durable smart watch.

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