MFi Certification Is the “Apple Tax”
Sure, many iPhone, iPad, and Mac accessories are pricey. Whatever the reason, you shouldn’t buy ultra-cheap uncertified cables and accessories for your Apple devices because, in the end, they might cost you more than the overpriced alternatives.
Why? Well, because they aren’t MFi-Certified, of course!
MFi (Made for iPod) certification began way back in 2005 as a way to ensure that iPods (with their bulky, 30-pin connectors) would work with all accessories and chargers. Remember, there was a time when everything from alarm clocks to cars had built-in, 30-pin connectors. To gain MFi certification and advertise products for the iPod, manufacturers had to run products through Apple compliance tests. These tests checked for safety (overheating), durability, accessory compatibility, and headphone jack controls. Manufacturers also had to pay royalties to Apple, in case you’re wondering.
The MFi certification process is virtually the same today. Manufacturers run their iPad and iPhone accessories (Lightning cables, gamepads, Bluetooth controllers, and so on) through compliance and safety tests, pay Apple some royalties, and gain a “Made for iPhone” badge on their product packaging. In the end, people get reliable products, manufacturers get to wave around MFi licenses, and Apple gets some extra cash. Each Lightning connector on an MFI-certified cable or other device has a tiny authentication chip, so your device knows it’s an MFi-certified accessory.
Why Are Uncertified Apple Accessories So Bad?
Let’s get something out of the way: not all uncertified Apple accessories are necessarily bad. If you have an uncertified gamepad or a pair of headphones that work like a dream, that’s great! But, generally speaking, uncertified Apple accessories—especially charging cables—are trash.
A quick look at Apple’s counterfeit guide is all you need to understand this. Apple accessories, like Lightning cables, are set to ultra-specific standards. They’re made at consistent sizes with consistent Made for Ipodcomponents, with smooth, perfectly spaced contacts. Unlike USB cables, all Lightning cables need to be identical.
The Lightning cable on the left is MFi-Certified. The cable on the right isn't.
When Lightning cables don’t fit these criteria, they may conduct electricity incorrectly or accumulate heat. They may wiggle inside an iPhone or iPad’s charging port. If you’re lucky, they’ll break or overheat before your Apple device does.
As for other accessories, like wireless gamepads and headphones, the name of the game is simply compatibility. You should expect these accessories to work correctly in any situation. If there’s a skip track button, it should work correctly. If you jump from an iPhone 8 to an iPhone 10, your accessory should still work.
How to Check If a Charger or Accessory Is MFi-Certified
Checking a charger or accessory for MFi certification is a relatively easy process. If the product’s packaging has a “Made for iPhone” or “Made for iPad” badge, then you can usually trust that it’s MFi certified. If you’ve thrown away the packaging, you can look up the product on Google or Amazon.
Hold up! You can “usually” trust that a product with an Apple badge is MFi certified? Isn’t that a problem? Yes, my friend, that is a serious problem.
While Apple’s intense and selective certification process is great for ensuring quality and reliability, it also encourages companies to produce counterfeit MFi products. That’s why Apple provides a handy MFi search engine and counterfeit guide on its website. If you aren’t sure about a product’s authenticity, check it on the search engine or compare it to Apple’s counterfeit guide (a quick summary of the guide: products that look like crap aren’t MFi-Certified).
Of course, you could just plug that charger or accessory into your Apple device and see what happens. When uncertified devices are plugged into iPhones or iPads, a notification appears stating that uncertified devices “may not work reliably” with your device. This notification is sometimes an error, so don’t take it to heart if your Apple-branded charging cable that usually works fine shows the notification out of nowhere.
What Happens to MFi When Apple Switches to USB-C?
As you may know, Apple’s new line of iPads and MacBooks have USB-C ports instead of Lightning ports. There’s also a good chance that the next iPhone will have a USB-C port. What will happen to the MFi program?
Well, as of right now, there are no MFi-Certified USB cables (aside from USB-C to Lightning cables). Additionally, Apple’s website makes no mention of certified or licensed USB-C cables.
This may not mean much on its own, but USB-C is becoming the go-to for wired headphones and an alternative to HDMI (along with other wired accessories). It’s possible that MFi will phase out as USB-C becomes more ubiquitous, or the program may transition its focus to wireless and peripheral iPhone and iPad accessories. It’s difficult to tell. All we know right now is that MFi-Certification is a sign of quality.
While Apple’s actions may be controlling, take a look at the situation with “noncompliant” USB-C cables to understand how useful the MFi program is.