Here's why new iPhone and iPad accessories are so scarce

Lightning cable in the wild. Credit: Photo: Flickr/p_a_h

One accessory maker speaks up about exactly how Apple controls their own after-market.

As seen at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show, Apple’s delays and reluctance to issue licenses for the charging ports of its newest iPhones and iPads shook up a large portion of the accessories market. How does one company hold a huge industry full of clever people hostage, over what is essentially a rather fancy USB cable?

The New York Times has the answer, after speaking with representatives from Mophie, perhaps the leading maker of cases with extra battery power. Mophie justreleased its Helium case for iPhone 5, while the iPhone 5 itself has been out since September 21, 2012. I’m not a project manager, but I have to assume nobody would prefer to wait nearly five months to release an accessory for a device that saw demand for three million units in its first 72 hours.

[How Apple sets its prices and Buying guide: iPhone 5 cases]

Mophie’s representatives told the New York Times what the deal was with their battery case on Thursday. Here are some choice excerpts:

When a hardware maker signs up with Apple’s MFi Program … it orders a Lightning connector component from Apple … . The connectors have serial numbers for each accessory maker, and they contain authentication chips that communicate with the phones.

“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,” said Ross Howe, vice president of marketing for Mophie.

Okay, but DVDs once had unbreakable encryption, and iPhones could not be hacked, and video games have never been copied, right? So why is Apple’s attempt to lock down Lightning accessories somehow far more successful?

The chip inside the Lightning connector can be reverse engineered — copied by another company — but it probably would not work as well as one that came from Apple, Mr. Howe said. Apple could also theoretically issue software updates that would disable Lightning products that did not use its chips, he said.

There you go. Third-party accessory makers would have to mitigate their risk in reverse-engineering and defying Apple by raising prices, consumers can’t find the products in normal retail channels (or at least any retailer that wants to stay in Apple’s good graces), and there’s always a chance your nightstand iPad dock will just stop working one day.

Now you know, and now you get a sense why Bluetooth seems like such a smart multi-device hedge for so many gadget makers.

Read more of Kevin Purdy's Mobilize! blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @kevinpurdy. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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