Three weeks ago, robotics engineering student Ken Pillonel created the world’s first USB-C iPhone — and you can now bid to buy the prototype device from him on eBay. Or at least you can if you have very deep pockets.
The project saw Pillonel replace an iPhone X’s Lightning charger with a fully working USB-C port, something that Apple may be forced to do in future by the EU Commission. Now he's giving others a chance to own his handiwork — and eBay bidding for the device has now reached a staggering $90,100 at the time of writing.
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With several hours still to go until the auction ends, there's no telling how high bidding for the item could eventually go, so it's not exactly a carefree impulse purchase.
But if you're technically minded and have a spare iPhone to hand, you could always try your own hand at making one, as Pillonel has also shared full instructions for how to do so. Just be warned that it’s certainly not for enthusiastic amateurs.
The full 14-minute video above outlines the process, and most of it is taken up with the difficult process of reverse-engineering official and knock-off Lightning connectors. A GitHub repository has the technical information for those looking to pull off the same feat.
But even with the trailblazing research already done, you’ll need a steady hand for the iPhone X surgery. Not only is the port physically wider, but the circuitry has to bend round components in order to just fit. That wouldn’t be possible without a super-thin gap between the Taptic Engine and the battery that stretches all the way along. This is what the custom circuit board looked like:
Creating a USB-C shaped hole in the bottom is also something of a nightmare, due to Apple’s penchant for shatter-prone glass on the back and curved edges. Perhaps that means that the company’s switch to squared-off edges would be more mod-friendly. This specific design is just for the iPhone X, but Pillonel encourages anybody who manages to make it work with different models to add a pull request to GitHub, so others can do the same.
If you don't want to shred your nerves (and your warranty) by using their own handset, the eBay option might appeal instead. But Pillonel has some conditions: buyers agree that they won’t restore, update or erase the phone; that they won’t use it as their main handset and that they won’t open it up.
“I guarantee that the phone will work when you receive it but if you don't follow the aforementionned [sic.] guidelines you are on your own,” the description reads. “So basically you can do whatever you want with it but don't expect anything from me if you break something. It is just a prototype.”
Despite these restrictions, the current bidding has reached $90,100 at the time of writing, with a few hours left to run. Not bad for a phone that Pillonel picked because it was “the cheapest iPhone I could get my hands on that was still half decent at the time.”
The EU’s move to make USB-C the universal standard also makes it more likely that Apple will adopt the connector for its iPhones. Technically, the company could simply make USB-C models for Europe, and maintain Lightning elsewhere, but that feels like adding additional costs out of sheer bloody mindedness, especially when recent iPads and MacBooks support USB-C.
Of course, it is possible that we’ll see Apple sidestepping the requirements by releasing an iPhone without ports.
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Freelance contributor Alan has been writing about tech for over a decade, covering phones, drones and everything in between. Previously Deputy Editor of tech site Alphr, his words are found all over the web and in the occasional magazine too. When not weighing up the pros and cons of the latest smartwatch, you'll probably find him tackling his ever-growing games backlog. Or, more likely, playing Spelunky for the millionth time.