Pulling back the curtain on Apple's Lightning connector licensing program

Pulling back the curtain on Apple's Lightning connector licensing program

Way back in our iPhone 5 review, iMore mentioned new restrictions Apple had put in place for their new Lightning connector licensing program. Now, thanks to iOS device accessory maker mophie, even more information has come to light. Ross Howe, vice-president of market for mophie, spoke with Brian X. Chen of the New York Times and revealed:

When a hardware maker signs up with Apple’s MFi Program, for companies that make accessories for Apple products, it orders a Lightning connector component from Apple to use in designing the accessory. The connectors have serial numbers for each accessory maker, and they contain authentication chips that communicate with the phones. When the company submits its accessory to Apple for testing, Apple can recognize the serial number.

While the chip can be, and is being, reverse engineered, Apple could also theoretically issue software updates that would disable Lightning products that did not use authentic chips.

In controlling Lightning products in the way, Apple also has some control over the quality of such products. Apple’s policies with these accessories ensure that the market isn’t flooded with cheap knock-off products that could potentially damage the Lightning, and thus Apple, brand.

The most take away is that Apple wants the best possible user experience with its devices, and by exerting some control over third-party hardware, they make sure that customers have the best experience however they use their devices.

Source: New York Times

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Joseph Keller

News Writer for Mobile Nations. Fascinated by the ways that technology connects us.

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Reader comments

Pulling back the curtain on Apple's Lightning connector licensing program


I think the best experience for me is that I would not have to pay so much for a cable that I only use to charge my phone…

Thanks for the informative article however!

Indeed. "We want the best user experience" is the lie they tell to cover the fleecing and poor product choice they give their customers. The insane prices and short lengths don't serve a whole lot of customers, but it serves apple quite nicely.

Best possible user experience.... as a result, an Apple charging cable costs more than an unlocked Nokia or Samsung feature phone (with, ahem, a charging cable.)

Apple fans put up with this. Others jsut roll their eyes.

Screws everyone that has to pay $29 for a POS adapter for every accessory when they upgrade to the iPhone 5.

Spin it all you want to me it's nothing but gouging their customers. There's no excuse not use micro-USB like the rest of the world. Except that you can sell adapters for insane prices. I could buy 3 HDMI cables for what Apple is charging for lightning cables. I could barely stomach the Amazon branded lightning cable for $15.

I agree on the gouging part: cables, adapters, and phones/pads with higher memory are a true rip-off. Disagree on 'no excuse to not use micro-USB'... the lightning connector is a vast improvement in ease of use over the micro-USB. Easy to insert (since no right-side-up) even in the dark.

Just one question. Is anyone that responds to these articles actually a "fan" of Apple or a customer of Apple? It seems like after I get done reading just about every story I can count on scrolling down and hearing people bash just about everything about Apple. I'm not a "fanboy" I just prefer Apple products, so I buy them. Sometimes if you want quality you have to pay a little bit more.

Quick question for those who think it is only about the money (when, time and again, these "it's just for the money issues appear as a blip on the Apple balance sheets).

Put your non-tech blog reading person hat on for a second.

Then answer this question.

You buy a $3 "lightning cable" from monoprice or the like. It stops working, or, better yet, never works. It's "Just a charging cable" is the thought, so who do you blame? Apple. Who's reputation/satisfaction is impacted? Apple.

It is called protecting your reputation and brand.

No different than the auto industry. They ALWAYS tell you to use factory authorized parts. Generally more expensive. They don't stop you from using any generic part you want, but you are responsible for the costs associated if something does happen. Those speculating that Apple will somehow via a software update make these not MFi accessories stop working need to take off their tin foil hats. Apple has enough to do that wasting development resources on a never ending battle with those who wish to circumvent the authorized way of doing things to INTENTIONALLY block these from working is a waste of time.

Apple can not account for every possibility hence they set up the MFi program. Then, there is a certain level of confidence that when Apple changes something, they will know what the standards they have outlined, that are being followed by the participants in the MFi program, impacts are and account for them.

"Quick question for those who think it is only about the money ..."

What else is it then about but money? Apple exist to make as much money as possible. Everything they do aims to fulfill this goal. All they care of is to maximize the money they can hoard from you. They do nothing for any other purpose. So... go figure what it is about. It is about their making money on you. And Apple have become very good at making money on their customers. Very good.

Jeez, heaven forbid a company tried to make money. I'm sure you spend all your time at work for free. Better not try to make money for something that you do or make. Apple operates in a capitalist market. Whatever the customer is willing to pay is the fair price. Obviously people are okay paying what Apple is charging. I am. I pay for the reputation in the brand to take care of me, I pay for the service, I pay for the ease of use of the device, I pay for the integration into my existing ecosystem. Why should Apple be vilified for making money when that is the job of EVERY SINGLE COMPANY that isn't a non-profit?

Non-profits are also in the business of making as much money as possible in a capitalistic market. Some use it to make a difference, and others use it to pay themselves...

Apple is smart enough to exploit their loyal, mainstream, mostly non-tech userbase to enhance their profits on high margin accessories, because 90% of their customers have bought into their product image, and will pay the price, because they want the main product, and never consider the cost of accessories when purchasing a product.
I'm smart enough, or at least aware enough to consider the costs of the ecosystem, but Apple has created an image-based market for their products, and 99% of their purchasers will readily spend an extra 5 - 10% of the product's price for an important "accessory" once they have the product.

And the same principles applies to the printer market, except that printers aren't "image" items. It's the supplies that provide income, not the product. Apple, amazingly, like it or not, has created a market that can demand premiums for both the products, AND the extras, without having to really worry about the extras affecting the purchase decision of the product itself.

Yeah, its crummy and distasteful, but if you ever bought an hdmi cable, then you should know that you weren't paying for better quality. Only a convenient way to support media providers to have control over your content and devices.

Does it suck for us who give a damn? Sure. But then again I don't use apple products, for many reasons, this being only a small one of them.. You are all right to call them out, but then again, their job is always to make profits first. And they do it well in spite of us who don't want to buy in. That's the ultimate choice we have in capitalism... If you don't support the product or the company, you can choose not to "buy in". You may not change their direction, but at least you aren't being manipulated by their business model and supporting something you don't see as compelling enough to support in its entirety.

Notice I said "only about the money"

It is not only about the money, and that was especially true with Jobs. Say what you want about him, and I am sure he was a bit of an egomaniac, but it wasn't about the money. He felt he could put a "dent in the universe" and many believe he did.

If your only pursuit is money, you will ultimately fail.

Why can't they just use micro-usb like everyone else? It works with absolutely no problems, and cost a whole lot less. I think that is where the "gouging" opinions come from, and justifiably so.

You might be right, but does it do everything that Apple is doing with the Lightning cable? Does it require a separate connection for protected content output? A co worker has Droid Razr Maxx HD and it has like 2 or 3 different connectors on it. one for charging, one for HD content. That is part of it, I am sure. And if it bothers you so much, you can use micro-usb and get the adapter.


I like the lightning connector much better than the USB that seems to get loose or stop working after a while.

While I wish it was cheaper, I'm ok with Amazon's $15 cable.

Already you can buy very cheap lightning cables and converters at dealextreme. Don't think these suppliers signed up for the MFI programme.

or apple just wants the money, plain an simple. im a huge apple fan, and even i can see that. im ok with it though, because i only ever bought apple chargers anyways. still kind of crappy though


If you buy the "quality" argument, then you must also buy the "they don't have an SD card slot because it would take up too much room". It has nothing to do with the fact they can charge you $100-200 more for higher capacity permanent limited internal storage, when for that price you could buy ten SD cards and be on your way to unlimited storage.

I have an iPad3, iPhone4, and an AppleTV. I have them because they work together and the apps I want are on these platforms.

But the iPhone5 finally turned me - I want a phone with an SD card, and I am not repurchasing $100's of accessories, so when I upgrade my phone, it will be an Android. And as I replace each device, it will likely be a non-Apple product. I love my iPad, but without an SD slot that I can freely access without Jailbreaking, it's been very difficult. Just too limited.

Apple makes great products, but they just cripple them in ways that are transparent money grabs, and the other devices are starting to outpace them with features anyway. It doesn't have to be that way, I was hoping new leadership would change this direction, but it hasn't and unless it does - no more Apple products for me.

I know people like to use this 'money grab' argument, but Apple isn't making products for everyone. They are making products for most people. Most people never upgrade a hard drive, ram, or anything on their computer. And if the nonSD slot is your reason for not purchasing apple, that is your choice. Bit to say it is a money grab when other manufacturers follow suit? Is a bit of an admission that you have your opinion and no amount of discussion or truth will change your mind.