The Lightning connector for Apple’s iPhone 5 has annoyed people with accessories that no longer work without a pricey adapter. The Lightning cable does seem to have something new – a mysterious security chip.
It is pretty rudimentary security as the people at ChipWorks found out when they took one apart. If they are right it seems that the security is even outstripped by modern printer cartridges. They did note that the cable is also the “first secure cable we have seen.” And that “with future generations of Apple and non-Apple products, we may begin to see even stronger security and control if the market forces merit it.”
The cable has four embedded chips, plus some passive devices. They key parts are a Texas Instruments integrated circuit with die markings labeling it “BQ2025” and NXP’s NX20P3 IC. ChipWorks hasn’t been able to find the TI chip in the company’s product database, but appears to share characteristics with four that are listed and all “have some basic security features such as CRC generation.”
They figure it’s a serial communications chip that has battery gauge capabilities with “about 5k gates of logic” and “EPROM with likely 64 or 128 bits of storage…some large driver transistors, quite a bit of analog circuitry, and a fair amount of capacitance.”
The practical upshot of this is that it would explain how Apple is able to accomplish the same amount of sending and receiving of signals with just 9 pins instead of the old connectors with 30 pins. ChipWorks also theorizes that the TI chip may have smart battery application and only allow access to certain functions necessary of a peripheral without access to the whole phone. For example, a speaker dock could only be given access to digital audio and music player controls with all other features blocked off or disabled.
Then again it could be a ploy by Apple to keep a revenue stream for cables or making sure people only buy reliable and high quality licensed peripherals. They would all need this chip.