The word on the street is that Apple’s new Lightning connector for the iPhone has already been cracked, raising the possibility that cheap, but functional, knockoff cables will soon be a reality.
A recent teardown of the Apple Lightning cable revealed the presence of what looked like an authentication chip. The chip in question was a Texas Instruments BQ2025—conspicuously absent from the company’s published datasheets.
“TI does have published datasheets on the BQ2022, BQ2023, BQ2024, and BQ2026. These four chips are cataloged on TI’s website as battery fuel gauges, but they are not identical, with three of them being serial EPROMs and one of them being a battery monitor IC. However, all four do have some common characteristics. All use a single wire SDQ interface (TI’s proprietary serial communications protocol), and all have some basic security features such as CRC generation. So, it is certainly likely that the BQ2025 does have some security implemented on it. It would also seem likely that it includes an SDQ interface.”
From what we can gather, the BQ2025 chip is included merely for authentication purposes, and so makes things more difficult for manufacturers that would prefer not to pay Apple for the privilege of making Lightning-connectable cables. At best, the chip proved a brief stumbling block, and while it may have a slight impact on the unit price of unofficial cables, it certainly looks like cheaper cables are just around the corner.
So is this a good thing? Obviously, for Apple it isn’t. They have gone to the trouble and expense of developing a proprietary connector, and clearly they want to see some return on their investment. If the authentication is being spoofed, then they are not going to get their license fees.
For users of Apple products, however, even those that would prefer to purchase genuine Apple peripherals, things couldn’t be better. It’s a good deal harder to charge $20 for a cable when the competition is charging $5—and the Apple cables are still taking 1-2 weeks to ship. The presence of a functional knockoff may be the incentive that Apple needs to drop prices and increase production.