Are you using the right Lightning cables?

Lightning

No – not that sort of lightning

As a dyed-in-the-wool PC user, one of the things that has always set me against Apple computers and devices is the eye-watering price. Paying £79 for a Mac Magic Mouse 2, for instance, strikes me as needless conspicuous consumption. Actually, I did buy a Magic Mouse once, but it lasted far less time than a bog standard one for about £15.

Armed with that sort of prejudice (or tightness?), I confess that one of the things I used to buy happily from Poundland (along with sugar-free biscuits and toothpaste) was lightning cables for my iPhones and iPad. Who cares if they pack up after a year if they only cost a pound when the “real thing” costs £15-20? Who cares if connecting them sometimes causes the phone to remonstrate with the message “This cable or accessory is not certified and may not work reliably with this iPhone”?

Made for ipad logoI was in ignorance of something called “MFI”. “Wasn’t that a cheap furniture retailer that died a death decades ago?”, I hear you ask. No, this is a different MFI. Originally, it stood for “made for iPod”, but now means “made for iPhone or iPad”. It is Apple’s system of certification that lightning cables manufactured by third parties are approved by Apple as to their quality. This would seem to be a halfway house between buying the cheapest of the cheap and paying Apple prices for “the real thing”.

All this cropped up because, until very recently, I had been having growing problems charging my old iPhone 5. It wouldn’t start charging, or it would start but stop partway through. The problem seemed to be getting worse as time went on. This is only an old phone with only a couple of specific uses. so I didn’t think it was worth getting fixed. I accepted that it was probably tottering towards device heaven. Then the same thing started happening to my current iPhone 6S. Eventually it dawned on me to start wondering about the cables and I tried to work out which ones were reliable and which weren’t. That didn’t prove very conclusive. This one worked yesterday, so why isn’t it working today?

lightning cables

These MFI certified cables are definitely working so far

So, as a troubleshooting measure, I steeled myself for the pain of buying one single genuine Apple cable and I set off for Amazon. That was when I first noticed MFI certification. No doubt I had seen it before but it just hadn’t penetrated. Anyway, I made an executive decision to spend all of £10 on five cables with MFI certification.

Every one of those five cables has worked every time I have connected it to any of my three “i-devices”. That was a month or so ago, so I am now completely convinced that the problem all along was the rubbish cheap cables I had been buying.

No doubt you would now expect me just to summarise by saying “always buy MFI certified lightning cables”. Indeed, but what happens if the cables are fake and the certification is also fake? This is certainly a possibility.

Apple do have a website page explaining how to identify counterfeit or uncertified Lightning connector accessories, but you probably wouldn’t want to be squinting at this on your phone while fiddling with your micrometer and a suspect cable in Cables-u-like or wherever. But whatever fakes there may be out there, I can definitely say that the pack of cables I bought from Amazon are working just fine which means I can still play Scrabble in the bathroom without the risk of dropping my “proper” phone on the hard tiles (or is that just too much information?)

Lots of clients ask me whether there is anything they can do to tidy the mess of cables that gather and tangle around their computer. The short answer – as far as I know – is “no”. We seem to be stuck with cables for the foreseeable future. Small inroads into the problem have been made:

  • Bluetooth and radio connections instead of cables – wireless mice (mouses?) and keyboards now work well, although I still have problems with some bluetooth-connected devices (except on my Mac, where they work perfectly for both keyboard and mouse). You can also now buy bluetooth-connected speakers, but I understand that the quality of the output may not match cabled speakers.
  • Wireless printers. These are now easier to set up and keep working than when they first came out a few years ago, but they can still be tricky. They only save one cable, but that can be useful as it’s the data cable to the computer. If the computer is a laptop, it can be easier to carry around if it is connected to a wireless printer rather than a wired one.

Accepting that most of our cables are here to stay for now, what can we do to tame them?

Have plenty of socket extension boards so that plugs aren’t constantly being connected and dis-connected to make way for each other. It is almost magical how cables wrap themselves around each other under the desk, but the process is definitely exacerbated by constant plugging and unplugging. Buy enough extension boards for all the devices so that the plugs (and cables) stay put.

Restrain the extension boards from moving around. I have screwed several extension boards to the modesty panel beneath my desk and this undoubtedly helps.

When buying a new computer desk, consider one that has holes in the desk to allow cables to pass through. Some desks even have channels built into them that can take not only the cables but even extension boards as well.

Plastic cable ties - available from MaplinPlastic cable ties are available from places such as Maplin. These keep cables in place (in bunches), but they can not be removed and put back on. Once in place they have to be cut off to be untied.

 


 


 


 

Velcro cable ties - available from MaplinVelcro cable ties are also available from Maplin, They are easy to take off and put back on and they’re supplied in several colours for the uber-nerds among us who think it’s worth colour coding such things (ok, I admit it, I use red ones for the cables that are supposed to be in my bag, available on any client visit).

 


 


 

Spiral cable tidy - available from MaplinPlastic spiral tubes that hold lots of cables in one bunch are a no-no as far as I am concerned. They may keep cables tidier than they would otherwise be, but they are a real pain to get off and on whenever you want to remove or re-locate a cable. They are fine for situations where you don’t think you’ll need to disturb the arrangement, but otherwise they are more trouble than they are worth. I suspect, though, that there may be a quicker way than I have ever found for deploying and removing these things. Answers on a postcard, please, or, better still, a comment on this blog.

On a slightly different note, but while we’re crawling about in the dust under the desk, it’s well worth putting a simple label on each plug describing what it is connected to. I know this sounds really nerdy, but it can save a lot of time when adding or removing devices, and when trying to tidy things up.

While we’re still underneath the desk, if your computer is a desktop one that is mis-named because you keep it on the floor, then be aware that it is even more prone to dust-collecting than a laptop or “actually-on-the-desktop”. Even if you don’t fancy taking off the cover to ensure that the dust is not collecting badly inside, do make sure that the air vents on the cover are cleaned from time to time. Vacuum cleaners are not thought to be a brilliant solution for this as they can create static electricity, but an air duster (can of compressed air) or one inch paintbrush can do the job in seconds.

And, finally, please mind your head when coming out from under the desk. Or is it just me that mis-judges where the edge of the desktop is?

© 2011-2019 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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