NEW YORK CITY – The spiderweb pattern of cracks on the touch screen is becoming equally as iconic of an iPhone image as the silver Apple logo on the back.
"Sometimes they drop them as soon as they walk out of the store," said Gopal Gupta, a muscle-bound 42-year-old repairman sitting shirtless at a table in the pedestrian section of Broadway near 34th Street here. iPhone innards were spread before him as a customer who gave his name as Richard looked on.
Richard had the classic broken-screen problem and had gone to a nearby AT&T store seeking help. They sent him to Gupta. Thirteen minutes and 40 seconds after Richard handed Gupta the phone, he received it back with a fresh screen. Total cost: $52. A friend had been keeping time, and Gupta noted that it might have been a personal best — his previous record, he believed, had been 18 minutes.
Budget iPhone repair is an industry unto itself, but Gupta's business shows just how lean the operation can be. Most days he sits either at that spot or about 20 blocks down Broadway in Union Square Park. Word of mouth brings people to him. He also has a website at Repairs4Less.
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When it's hot, as it was on a sweltering Friday last week, Gupta takes his shirt off. If it rains, he goes to a Starbucks or McDonalds.
"I did an iPad repair in a bathroom because I needed a heating gun. So I used a hand dryer to take the glue off," said Gupta "Whatever way is necessary to do the job."
Meanwhile, his wife repairs iPhones from their home in Forest Hills, Queens.
Gupta, who doesn't own a smartphone (it's too expensive, he said), fell into the work two years ago when he lost his job repairing hospital medical equipment. He had already been doing computer repairs, and one day someone asked him if he could replace an iPhone screen.
Gupta mastered the operation, which is about 75 percent of his business, he reckons. But iPhone-related repairs, be they screen replacement, water damage or other issues, are about 90 percent of his business overall. Gupta offers to fix anything, including iPads, laptops and other smartphones, such as HTC models. The first time he works on a new type of device, Gupta does the repair for free, he said, acknowledging that the device is a "guinea pig."
Other phones are rare, however, even the iPhone's main competitor, the Samsung Galaxy S line. "It's like $200 for the [cost of the] screen," said Gupta. "I had only one customer come."
He's plenty busy with iPhones. "Sometimes I get so many calls I can't handle it," said Gupta. But that could all change, he said. If, as rumored, the iPhone 5 comes with a screen that uses the extra-durable Corning Gorilla Glass, screen repairs could be a rarity.
Gupta has fallback options, however, as his brand-new business card shows. One side of the card features photos of gadgets and advertises repair services. The other side depicts Gupta on a beach in swim trunks, showing his sculpted physique, with the words, "Personal Gym Trainer. Life Coach."
"I go to the gym every day," he said of his qualifications for being a trainer. "So I might as well see if I can get extra money." And the life coaching? "I just thought about this," he said.
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