Jason J. Gullickson

Jason J. Gullickson

iPod Shuffle battery replacement

I like to fix things and my mother gave me a particularly interesting challenge. The battery had died in her second-generation iPod Shuffle, and she wanted to get it replaced.

Of course the first question most people ask is why; why not just replace it, it’s certainly less work and probably even cheaper than buying the parts. That may be true (to some degree), but she was attached to it, and she’s not the kind of person who just throws things away that can be fixed (or improved!), so she asked me to take a look at it.

I found the idea intriguing because it fits into a category of work I find relaxing. it’s in an area of work that I’m comfortable with (electronics), it’s not particularly mysterious (the process is well-known) but it also requires skill and patients. It’s also a low-risk job because the device is already “dead”, an no-one else is interested in repairing it, so if something goes wrong the outcome isn’t any worse than the origin.

My go-to source for these types of jobs is fixit.com . They have the parts, tools and documentation needed to make work (especially work on Apple products) go smoothly. Of course I probably should have looked a little closer at the 2nd gen iPod Shuffle guide , because I didn’t notice that the job required soldering until I started prying the thing apart.

Like most small Apple electronics, the shuffle is held together largely by adhesives; Apple clearly has no interest in producing serviceable hardware. That said the device is otherwise well-made which makes repair less treacherous than fixing something where the screws are stripped (or so cheap the heads come off when you turn them), or the parts are forced together, etc. Once the glued-on covers are free the rest of the disassembly is done with triple-zero Phillips screws and flexing tiny spring clips.

The real trick is disconnecting the old battery and reconnecting the new one. This requires soldering, which I don’t mind but there’s a couple of complications to this job. The first is that the leads and pads are very small, not quite SMD small but tiny, less than a few mm long and soldered pretty close together on the board. The second problem is that they are located next to a steel spring clip that is mounted at a right-angle to the board, which makes it hard to get into the area with any tools. The third problem is that you’re dealing with a potentially charged li-ion battery with no internal regulation, so short-circuits could get exciting fast , and you’re using a conductive soldering iron to connect leads to pads on the board which are perhaps 2-3mm apart.

Desoldering went rather smooth. I put the motherboard in my Panavise and used a hemostat to hold each wire in turn while heating the solder and pulling gently. They popped-off without a lot of drama and other than being careful to not cross the leads, it was all rather uneventful. Attaching the new battery was another matter.

Maybe I’m just getting old, but the pads and leads were small enough that I needed to use a jeweler’s loupe to see what i was doing while fishing the leads of the new battery around the steel clip and on to the board. This means having my face a couple cm from the work, and the soldering iron. I was pleasantly surprised to not have branded myself at this point.

Once the soldering was over it was simply a matter of reversing the disassembly steps to return the device to its original form. There were a couple of snags getting things to fit right, and afterwards there was still a gap on one side where I think the aluminum of the case flexed while I was prying it apart, but the music played and the controls worked correctly, so I can’t complain too much about the fit and finish.

Overall it was about an hour’s worth of work and a relaxing way to spend a Saturday morning. It’s too bad that so many of our devices are designed to be disposable, because I think there are others like me who enjoy the distraction of this kind of work, and would be willing to do it regularly if there was any way to make a living at it.

Rock-on Ma!