This Is The Chip Apple Is Using To Stop You From Buying Cheap Cables

If you're looking for a cheap, third-party Lightning adaptor to go with your new iPhone 5, you might want to hold off. An authenticator chip has been found in Apple's official adaptors, and third-party adaptors won't work without it.

Peter from Double Helix Cables found the obnoxious little chip while dissecting one of the official Lighting cables. Positioned between the cord's USB contact and the power pin on the Lightning plug, the chip seems to be the key to keeping Lighting cables and adaptors proprietary.

These kind of authentication chips aren't uncommon in more sophisticated accessories, but this is the first time one has shown up in something as basic as a charging cable, smack in the middle of the power line. According to Peter, the chip doesn't block the data lines, but you need data and power to connect by USB. That could mean any number of things.

This could mean that it's less nefarious than a authentication system, that it's just for power regulation - but it looks like a serious microcontroller of some sort, it doesn't look like a garden variety voltage regulator that I've ever seen. It has a mirror-finish shiny metal exterior with lasered numbers on it, it does not look like a generic black IC. If it really costs $3.50 for a lightning plug, then it could be something quite high tech. Whatever it is, it's expensive and highly miniaturized. And the cable isn't going to function without it, that I can tell at this point.

"There is basically no way [third-party adaptors] are functional cables," Peter told Apple Insider. "You can't just build a Lightning cable by making something with the same shape and connectivity." So while third-party connectors out there will fit the ports on your devices, they probably aren't going to actually work. So if you're in a hurry, official adaptors are probably your best bet.

If you can wait, you might want to sit tight and see if someone can figure out how to fake those chips, which could be difficult. Peter put it this way in an email to us:

It remains to be seen whether the chip can be reverse engineered. Nobody that I know of managed to crack the MFi program before, since digital Apple docks and other MFi certified stuff were always quite costly and only coming from well established name brands that participated in the program. I never saw any off brand, super cheap version of the iPod USB digital audio interfaces that cost hundreds of dollars. If the chip has some code on board that makes it authenticate with the iPhone, then it may be hard to duplicate for sure. If it's doing a "smart" function like pin assignment or something crazy like that, then it definitely is going to be mandatory. Apple has said it's a "smart" connector but it is horrifying that just a basic power charging/sync cord like this requires additional complexity. But until some serious engineers figure out exactly what the chips do (MFi people are under NDA so I don't think they can tell us without breaking NDA) then it remains open for debate why this cable is like this.

It could take some serious brain power to get to the bottom of what this chip is actually doing. Until then, the only surefire option that your old peripherals will work with the iPhone 5 is to use Apple's official adaptors. [Apple Insider, Double Helix Cables]


Comments

    And yea verily, it mattered not to the the iPeople revelling within the walled garden of Apple delights

      You are hilarious. All your apple-related posts are razor-sharp wit worthy of the likes of Tolstoy.

      But honestly, the fact that I'm the only one replying to your posts should hint to you that humour is not your strong point.

        Everyone thinks of changing their smartphone, but no one thinks of changing themself.

      Forsooth, Virt. Listen not to the cacophony of yonder upstart! Thou art a poet and a wordsmith. Smash away, my good yeoman. Without Day, Night shall wither and die.

    True apple fan boy will never buy anything that ain't blessed by apple anyway

    What is really disappointing, is that they only look at their interest here....Consumer is completely neglected, and that's a shame....I don't think this strategy will pay for them in the long run....Technologically, it is great, but so was Betamax...

    While I like Apple products, I have been a MacOSX follower since it's inception, it seems that they are losing this connection with consumers which made their success

    And yes, I got an iPhone5 and still love it, even with it's shortfalls !! :-)

      I feel the same, Andreas. I have my fair share of Apple products, but have seen the decline in the focus on the original ideals they had, and more on aesthetics and form factor over functionality. While I still love my new iPhone, I will definitely be considering an android device as my next purchase... But then again, who knows - maybe the next iteration will be a big step up?

        Well, I've been using Macs since OS 9 and I've never seen this mythical "focus on original ideals" that you speak of. OSX is just a proprietary version of another UNIX OS, BSD, which has been around for ages. And the only original thought I could see in the infamous hockey-puck mouse was something like "it doesn't matter how terrible it is, as long as it looks different to everyone else's mouse we'll be able to sell it", which seems to be the philosophy that has powered them to their current market position. The iPod is really the only remotely original product they have come up with and even that is the inevitable evolution of the original Sony Walkman. Apple's success is built largely on perception, not reality, and it was always going to be increasingly hard to paper over the cracks and maintain the illusion.

          How was the iPod original? It came out in October 2001. I was running a 6Gb creative nomad before the iPod came out. It did look like an ugly old portable CD player though. Don't forget the first iPod could only sync with a Mac as well.

            Original ideals, not ideas.

            Ideals being their motivation behind their products - an alternative to the mainstream consumer products and software.

              Ai, was meant to reply to MotorMouth, not Simon sorry

            Oh, I remember my Nomad. Still have it stashed away. Those were the days.

          I liked those hockey puck mouses! I still can't see why everyone hated them, they looked great and it didn't take that long to get used to them.
          The only issue I had was the crappy rollerball getting filled with gunk so easily.

    Wouldn't this have something to do with the fact that you can insert the plug either way, maybe is just a controller for switching something.

      Spot on. But it's much more popular to start frothing at the mouth about Apple being jerks.

    This will be a good profit boost for apple, i don't think it's something that will lose them alot of customers.

    The smart little Apple-tax collector. Works better than most national tax agencies.

    Apple are just protecting their customers from the disappointing user experience of cheap cables.

    It's no different to the way Apple protect its customers from the sub-standard user experience of web browsers other than Safari, Flash, and, syncing via means other than iTunes.

      Spoken like a true fanboi

        I think that you missed the sarcasm

          That's the ironic thing. Even though I was being sarcastic, what I said was actually true!

          'Tis indeed a wondrous era in which we dwell.

      Yeah, the same way Sony "protected" their customers with proprietary media and cables. How thoughtful of them!

      You're so right, every time i plug my phone into one of the many microusb cables i have laying around a little part of me can't help crying. oh, if only i'd bought a iphone, i could be charging with a white cable..oh wait, here's one

      You are being sarcastic right?

      Because when I think of "disappointing user experience", "unstable" "slow" "bloated" and "needs a serious software rewrite" I think of Itunes and Safari. Do not even get me started on Flash either, which isnt even an Apple product and one in which Apple is replacing with an even worse product called Edge.

      The difference here is you can not choose to replace or even improve the cable with a superior one. You are stuck with the same crappy cable that is coming out of the same crappy factory as the one you would have bought in China.

    It's on the power contacts, and USB is DC while the cable supports plug reversal. Seems to me this ic switches current direction. But it's cool to hate Apple ATM so by all means have fun Android fanboys.

      seems to me without actually looking at it that *apple isn't doing anything wrong they couldn't possibly I believe in them still they're still a good company right*

        Lets summaries the facts:
        Apple has changed the cable one time in 10 years.
        Samsung has changed theirs 18 times in the same timespan.
        The new cable supports plug reversal.
        There is a currently unidentified IC attached to the power traces on the new connector.

        My inference that the ic might have something to something to do with plug reversal is just as rational as the theory that is Apple locking things down, which I am against but is within their rights to do. Apple has done plenty of things wrong but until more is known this cant be confirmed as one of them.

          Samsung may have changed their plug 18 times, but they are now using a industry standard. So standard that Im charging my phone with my old Nokia charger, and my car charger, well I dont have to buy a new one with every new phone now. Seems like Apple are doing a cash grab because they know idiots will pay.

      Indeed.. until proven otherwise, since there really aren't a great deal of third-party cables around right now to test with, I am going with this.. they would have had to do something on the cable side of things to keep everything as small as possible..

      And yes.. reverse engineering this will be a piece of cake for the Chinese.

      There are reversible USB connectors out there. They don't have chips like this as far as I know (would need to research a bit).
      Though I don't think there are reversible microUSBs

    Seriously, non of you know why its there, and no one has confirmed the third party cables don't work, but hey, lets just slam apple and people who buy thier stuff becuase if makes us look cool.

      A FUD story!

    No wonder they didn't want a micro USB....
    What an annoying technological step backwards. We are going to start seeing more restrictions with technology than advancements/freedoms from now on...

      dude the 3rd party ones work just fine and are $8 on ebay, this story is a beat up

    I think you are all getting down on something that hasn't even been confirmed! This is all just theory, and to jump straight to the conclusion that it is nefarious is hardly reasonable.

    The one thing that struck me about the Lightning cable was that it was "smart", the main feature being that you can insert it in either orientation. I wondered how this works. My theory is that the chip in the cable handles the detection and switching. Bloody clever if you ask me.

    Does this mean that other wont be able to make cables? Who knows? I don't know what arrangements Apple makes with its accessory partners. My experience with OEM cables is that there are very few that make a good quality cable. I bought several iphone/ipod cables in the past that were very cheap, and the connector housings just fell apart. You get what you pay for.

    After losing an EU court decision in favour of having universal plugs, Apple one ups that and puts an authenticator on a proprietary plug.

    True innovators right here.

    so I have a 3rd Party adaptor and a USB CABLE , and they BOTH WORK FINE.. explain this BS story please???!?

      +1 yeah the cheapo ebay specials work just fine. Can't Gizmodo do just a tinsy bit of research prior to running ridiculous stories. But love how the iHate (or hatesheep, still deciding on the best term) crowd jumps straight on the bandwagon.

    "The greater they tighten their grip, the more star systems will fall through their fingers"

    There are those of us, who, no matter how awesome a product is truly created, will always turn to the competitor that is open, honest and who encourages competition.

    Is the practice referred to as 'third line forcing' illegal?

    Gotta get dat cash!!

    Knowing electronics, the chip must have *at minimum* two diodes per power connection internally, which means it probably also has a charge pump if it's 5V compatible USB line. So if it's "smart", it's not super smart, just a bus switcher with rectifying power inputs. But there are more possibilities, since as long as it's between the bus lines between the device and the...er...other device... there's an awful lot you can do to make things tough for the competition.

    For now, assume it's a simple self-powered bus switcher; then, when everyone's breathed a sigh of relief...WHAMMO! Nobody's cables work anymore unless they're Apple. That's a good approach for a monolith.

    Similar to, say, HDMI, which so many people have bought into not realising the lockin effect it's already starting to have on proprietary content (up to the audio loophole, anyway). Very clever, don't have proprietary content until everyone is using HDMI because it's so convenient... then WHAMMO. In HDMI land, the sky really is falling.

    Lol at the apple fan bois who ridicule apple but already have a iphone5 lol

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