Apple’s Lightning Shows Just Who Is In Control of the iAccessories Industry

For almost a decade, Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) has used a uniform system for input/output on all of its iPods and iPhones: the beloved 30 pin connector. Then, with an announcement of the pending iPhone 5, that all changed as fast as, well, Lightning.

In September 2012, Apple announced plans to abandon the 30 pin system in favor of a smaller, more powerful and sleeker looking system. Named Lightning, the new plug poses some different issues for aftermarket hardware makers, making it more difficult for companies to work with Apple’s licensing program to produce hardware (cases, speakers, adapters, car chargers, etc.) for the ever-changing array of Apple products, according to the New York Times. Last year, aftermarket hardware for Apple products was a $2 billion industry, the Times says.

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The publication sat down with Mophie (Privately Held), a company that produces — among other things — battery-infused cases for iPhones, to extend battery life. Mophie described how the process works for the new connector, but more specifically, how it gave Apple a tighter leash on accessory makers.

When signing up for Apple’s MFi program (the design program that allows companies to incorporate Apple tech into their products), the company orders a Lightning connector unit from Apple to use in designing their product. Each unit issued is associated with a unique serial code, allowing Apple the track the unit to the original party who requested it…

“If you took this apart and put it in another product and Apple got a hold of it, they’d be able to see it’s from Mophie’s batch of Lightning connectors,” explained Ross Howe to the Times. Howe is Mophie’s vice president of marketing.

Rumors are circulating that, although the Lightning can be reverse-engineered and placed in unauthorized devices, a software update from Apple would render these non-approved devices useless.

From a business perspective, this would not only encourage hardware makers to participate in Apple’s stringent licensing requirements, but heavily discourage the making of cheap, knock-off products that could be disabled by a simple software update.

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Not quite ready to give up your 30 pins yet? For $29, Apple can offer you a 30 pin to Lightning adapter, although be aware that it may not fit in your old iAccessories.

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