Tuesday 5 July 2022

The bizarre world of cheap iPhone accessories

Recently I purchased a couple of extremely-cheap Lightning-to-3.5mm headphone socket adaptors on eBay, primarily so I can use a pair of quality over-ear headphones rather than the in-ear Apple buds which I find uncomfortable.

These adaptors come in at under AUD$5 including shipping, putting them at one-third the cost of the genuine Apple accessory. They arrived within 2 days and I was all set to put them to work and feel superior at my money-saving (smug-and-play?), except ... they didn't work.

The adaptor would chirpily announce "Power on!" in my headphones, but then there was no further indication that the iPhone had "seen" them at all. And this was the case for both adaptors I'd purchased.

I was all set to fire off an angry complaint to the eBay seller and get a refund, when I noticed something ... odd ... on the listing:

Why would these Lightning accessories "include Bluetooth support"? Just for fun, I turned on my iPhone's Bluetooth (which I usually leave turned off for battery-saving and anti-h@X0r reasons)...

"Connected!" says the chirpy voice.


So it turns out that these cheap cables are cheap because they don't bother getting certified as "Made for iPhone" by Apple. A "compliant" Lightning device must have some kind of ID in its handshake with the phone, which the phone checks for legitimacy.

So instead, the very clever, very sneaky makers of these cables just use the DC power provided on Lightning pins 1 and 5 to drive a Bluetooth audio interface chip, which doesn't have the same "Made for iPhone" hurdles. The phone doesn't even realise there's a device hanging off there, so there's no way it can check if it's compliant!

Full marks for ingenuity, but I think I'm going to go to an Apple Store and get the real deal. Audio over Bluetooth is quality-compromised, plus this solution uses much more power and I prefer to leave my Bluetooth OFF for the aforementioned reasons. Still - I won't need to return them to the eBay seller - they *do* work and I'll keep them around for backup purposes.