What is MFi Certification?

Have you ever plugged a charge cable into your iPad and got an error message that says something like “This accessory is not MFi certified”? MFi certified? What the heck is that?

MFi simply stands for “Made For iPad” (or iPhone or iPod) and is a certification program that 3rd-party accessory makers can apply for so that customers know that Apple has approved the product to safely work with specific i-devices. Vendors whose products are certified have to pay Apple a commission on every unit sold. Obviously, this cost, or “Apple tax”, is passed on to you and me, making MFi certified products more expensive than those of companies who don’t bother with certification.

What does this mean for you and me, though? Should we only use stuff that has been certified? Will non-certified things break your iPad? Let’s look at the facts and you’ll see that the answer isn’t all that straightforward.

Old Dog, New Tricks

MFi certification is actually not all that new. The program was introduced way back in 2005 along with the iPod. Anyone still remember those? Anyway, it has only been since the introduction of the lightning connector that the name has officially changed to “MFi”, which is what everyone calls it now.

It’s the introduction of the “lightning” type of connector that really is important here. Since the introduction of this neat little connector with its high-speed data transfer, Apple has been able to detect if something you plug into it has been certified by them. Basically, if you use a non-certified cable your iPad can refuse to work with it, even if the cable itself is fine.

This isn’t new either, it’s been this way since iOS 7. What’s strange though is that some non-certified cables work just fine. It seems that some manufacturers have managed to circumvent the issue, although this is unreliable. After a software update you may find your cable suddenly doesn’t work anymore. Or maybe it really doesn’t work anymore just because it’s not a great quality item. Usually it’s not simple to immediately tell which is the case.

Bad to the Bone

The fact is that MFi certification is not just a cash grab by Apple, although I’m not saying it isn’t at least in part motivated by money – it is a business after all. When it comes to non-certified cables and accessories, it’s basically impossible for you to know the providence of that product. It could be a perfectly good charger or cable that will do your iPad no harm, or it could slowly kill your battery and by extension your iPad. Some really cheap knockoff chargers don’t have the right safety circuitry and can really mess up your device. There have been reports of the charge controlling chip inside some iPhones getting damaged, essentially making it impossible to charge the device. If you insist on using a non-certified charger then at least make sure it’s a reputable brand. For example, the charger from a Samsung smartphone would be perfectly safe.

In terms of the lightning cables themselves, there’s really no excuse. For example, Amazon sells its own certified lightning cables for about six bucks. At that price you might as well get something that won’t stop working when the next update rolls by.

Risky Business?

In the past, when MFi-certified stuff was really much more expensive than non-certified stuff, I might have said it was OK. Now however, the price difference is negligible. Also, earlier generations of i-devices were apparently much more robust; happily surviving on a charge from just about anything. Maybe Apple has designed frailty in, or the low quality products have become worse, but we can’t look past the fact that newer generations of i-devices are having issues; whether this is incidental or engineered is really irrelevant in the end.

So do yourself a favor and buy MFi-certified stuff. It won’t cost you much (or any) extra these days and at least you know it shouldn’t create any electrical damage or cause serious damage to your iPad. Just remember that a cheap MFi cable is still a cheap cable. MFi doesn’t really speak to build quality, just specifications for charging and data transfer. So cheaping out on a cable or other accessory will just send you back to the store more often to get replacements.