Hardware

How can I tell if my Lightning cable is counterfeit?

Picture the scene: your official Apple Lightning to USB cable has given up the ghost and you’re already getting iPhone/iPad/iPod withdrawal. Faced with the horrifying prospect of a music- or Netflix-less commute to work, you panic and order a cheap replacement from a third-party seller on Amazon. After all, you can pick up a cable for as little as a penny, plus postage – what a bargain!

Sound familiar? Well, it really shouldn’t. Counterfeit Lightning accessories are a serious problem: they can overheat, catch fire or even give you an electric shock. In fact, the plague of fake cables has become so serious that Apple sued more than 50 dodgy manufacturers late last year in just one lawsuit. As a test, the company bought purportedly Apple-branded products via Amazon and Groupon, and found that almost 90% of the accessories were counterfeit.

Adding to the confusion in the market, Apple also licenses a selection of third-party companies to make MFi-certified Lightning cables, meaning that not everything you find online is likely to blow up. We’ve put together a simple guide to help you separate the authentic from the sham.

Check the price

If you’re loath to fork out a whopping £19 for a Lightning cable from the Apple website (thus guaranteeing its authenticity), you should look for a MFi-certified third party. Then apply common sense: if you’ve found a Lightning cable online for £4 and are jumping around the room for joy, stop. To use a strained music metaphor, Apple charges a royalty fee (roughly $4) to “cover” its products, so it’s highly unlikely you’re going to find a legitimate cable going for around the same price.

Look at the packaging

Once your cable arrives, explore its packaging to make sure the product is legitimate. All certified third-party accessories should have the following logo on the box. That’s not to say counterfeiters can’t copy a logo, but if they’ve not even bothered to do that, think how little effort they’ve put into the cable itself.

Read the cable

On official Apple accessories, there’s a printed message approximately seven inches down from the USB end of the cable. This will read either “Designed by Apple in California”, “Assembled in China”, “Assembled in Vietnam” or “Indústria Brasileira” and will be followed by a 12-digit serial number. Certified third-party accessories, on the other hand, will have branding near the Lightning connector.

Examine the ends

At first glance, a fake cable may look perfectly okay, but there are telltale signs that all is not what it seems. For example, the Lightning connector of an official cable will look rounded, smooth and ooze that Jony Ive charm.

Meanwhile, a counterfeit Lightning connector may be composed of more than one piece and have a rough, uneven finish.

Moreover, the piece of plastic that holds a legitimate connector (known as the boot) will be a regular 7.7 mm x 12 mm and have a metallic or grey insert, like so:

A fake boot, on the other hand, will be an irregular size, shape or thickness and have a white or black insert, as shown below.

At the other end of the cable, the USB contacts in an authorised product will be gold-plated…

…whereas, the contacts in an imitation cable will be silver-plated:

Another indication that your USB connector is an imposter (along with a rough or grainy surface) is a notched shell with a divot, as shown below:

Moreover, the insulator inside should be smooth and uniform…

…without notches or indentations.

All in-article images are taken from the official guide on Apple’s website. Main image: Paul Hudson on Flickr/CC

About the author

Max Figgett

Max has written for numerous websites and magazines over the years. Whether it’s about ancient hardware or software secrets, no Big Tech Question is too obscure for him to tackle.

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