Apple’s Trick to Hobble Unauthorized iPhone Accessories

When a company wants to make an accessory for your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch they are encouraged by Apple to enroll in the Apple “MFi” (Made For iPod) Program. Obviously the ‘i’, or ‘iPod’ in MFi now covers a multitude of devices.

The thinking behind this scheme is that any product you buy with the MFi logo is of a guaranteed level of quality. And that is of course true. But it also implies that accessories from other suppliers are not so good.

Another facet of the program is that Apple generates a fair amount of revenue granting these licenses against a percentage of a partner’s sales. Presumably Apple can justify this because the third party accessory manufacturer gets a boost in sales simply because of their product bearing the Apple sticker of approval. So it’s win-win for both parties really.

When we buy cheaper accessories for any of our devices we are all aware of the risks. So we tend to make our choices carefully. After a very bad experience with a cheap USB fan I now have a rule that I never buy them. I might perhaps make an exception if Apple made one. But then I can’t ever see a future where Apple makes anything as crass and tacky as a USB fan, so I am probably safe!

It seems that Apple have gone one step further to “protect” us though.

The Geeks over at Minty Boost have stripped back the veil that was obscuring some of Apple’s USB charging methodology for iDevice peripherals. They did this out of necessity, as a peripheral that they themselves sold had stopped working with new Apple devices each time a revision hit the market.

Long story short, Apple uses a specific combination of voltage levels on USB data lines in approved chargers to allow the device it is connected to to know that it is an approved device or connector.

Apple has done things like this in the past. They famously switched the audio and video lines around in their AV Cable for the Video iPod. So all you had to do to get around that was simply switch which cable you connected to which input on your TV on the cheaper cable you probably already had at home for your video camera. But I think that little slight of hand must have made Apple a few hundred thousand sales of those before word spread.

Do you think this is sneaky of Apple, or fair play? Let us know your view in the comments…

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Stephen NorthcottApple’s Trick to Hobble Unauthorized iPhone Accessories

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