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Mystery chip in Apple Lightning connector exposed

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Expert analysis lends credence to it being a security measure

Apple Lightning dock connector adapter stock 1024
Apple Lightning dock connector adapter stock 1024

When Apple unveiled its new Lightning connector, there was a bit of sticker shock surrounding the adapters that offer compatibility with older 30-pin dock accessories. The company is charging $29 for the basic adapter and $39 for one that integrates a small cable. Some had hoped that third parties would be able to produce alternatives on the cheap, but it was soon discovered that Apple had incorporated a chip widely believed to prevent any type of unauthorized or knockoff Lightning-based accessories.

An in-depth look at the connector by Chipworks seems to bear that theory out. The silicon expert discovered an unannounced Texas Instruments chip it believes is intended for security purposes. Advanced imaging of the chip in question revealed circuitry Chipworks says is "consistent with a serial communication chip including some simple security features." The company isn't done researching either and points out that while they seem heavy handed, these changes could ultimately benefit users down the road:

It is actually very interesting that we may have found a chip with (likely) some modest security in this cable. In this case not only related to securing their revenue stream for cables or ensuring reliable and high quality (licensed) peripherals, but in delivering useful product features that are not necessarily in the consumers top of mind. We are planning a full systems analysis on this device to further understand exactly what is going on.

So it seems Apple's "Made for iPhone/iPod" initiative will remain the only way to go for your Lightning needs — at least for now. According to recent reports, cracked chips that circumvent Apple's authentication scheme have been uncovered in China and are said to work just as well as the real deal. It's hard to substantiate those claims at such an early stage, though there's clearly a concentrated effort to find a way around Cupertino's restrictions.