In the summer of 2014 I owned exclusively Apple products. I used Apple machines religiously, idolized Steve Jobs, and dreamed of building a design-first, UX-orientated company. I regarded any windows device, Android phone, or Blackberry with disdain: if it wasn’t Apple, it wasn’t Apple.
A year and half later, it is Apple that is single-handedly delaying my product roll out.
Made for iPod or MFi is the gold standard for third party devices. An MFi certification enables products to proudly display “Made for i[Blank]” on their packaging. Have you ever noticed the error screen when you plug in a third party iPhone charger? This peripheral did not pass MFi certification. Everything from iPhone cases to lighting adapters must go through the meticulous, somewhat burdensome process of having Apple approve their products.
There are two sides to this conundrum. On one side, Apple is able to understand and control any and all products that work with their products. This way they are able to maintain a UX that Apple users have come to expect. Plus it’s good for business: MFi functions also as a licensing program. Security is one of these factors. Imagine plugging in a peripheral that hacked your email or virtual wallet. Having Apple’s trade-dress, “Made for i[Blank],” on your product is in effect leveraging the Apple brand and reputation to further your own sales. For the customer (who is king), Apple promises a luxury user experience across all devices, apps, and third party plugins and devices.
On the other side of the table (the manufacturers side of the table), we begin to sweat. To be without MFi certification is credibility suicide. This is echoed throughout the supply chain. iOT has really become the new Hollywood movie. A movie’s opening weekend is its moment of truth. In iOT, it’s MFi certification.
MFi is the final step before you can enter mass production. After you’ve spent 10,000 hours on the product designing, prototyping, and developing; after you’ve spent tens of thousand of dollars building injection molds and running through the various phases of testing and manufacturing — even publishing your iOS app is held-up for a product ID determined by MFi, assuming of course that you’ve found a “Manufacturing Licensee” factory that’s willing to take your product through the Apple certification process. To fail MFi for a factory is a dark stain on their record and relations with Apple.
You may have a beautifully engineered product for your market, but what if that product doesn’t fit within Apple’s framework? What if you’re designing something completely new – a product that no one has seen before? It’s terrifying. You’ll only discover your product’s fate (in Apple’s eyes) in the eleventh hour.
Why do companies fail MFi?
There is no checklist laying out common mistakes for why MFi certification is denied. Where there are some guidelines but ultimately, it’s Apple’s call. If they don’t like your product, for whatever reason, they can deny it. There are stories of devices not passing MFi for charging concerns, or even conflicts of interest.
iOT is getting hit hard by the MFi licensing and accreditation program. All hardware is required to have a specific IC Bluetooth chip in order to work with iOS devices wirelessly. As a result most devices now have two Bluetooth chips on their PCBs: one for Apple alone, and a second for everyone else. The bottleneck is that you’re unable to purchase IC chips for mass production until you pass inspection, so your product BOM order is held up. Almost all Bluetooth iOT devices must abide Apple’s CoreBluetooth framework, but what if this isn’t enough for your product? What if the framework falls short?
For Hooke Audio this framework was never written with high-end audio recording in mind. We’ve developed our own custom Bluetooth framework that records and streams high end stereo audio to an iOS device. This has never been done before. Let alone pairing the binaural audio recording to video with no latency. Apple has rarely seen an MFi application that replaces the microphone function on an iPhone with a wireless device.
Understandably, our factory is spooked.
They’re carefully going through the pre-qualification process and thoroughly testing the application, making sure that the headset charges with laptops from the 1990s to today — anything to make sure that the Hooke Verse passes MFi certification.
To put this in perspective: certification with Bluetooth takes 48-72 hours. CE and FCC take less than one week. Getting our app in the Google Play App store took 48 hours.
It is going to take at least 45 days before we find out if we pass MFi certification.
If we don’t pass, well we’ll try to fix whatever the issue might be and re-apply. If this requires us to change the PCB layout, we could be set back 3 months, and changing the molds would cost us thousands of dollars. What if Apple simply doesn’t like us because our product is too new and there is too much they don’t understand about our approach, or because they see a conflict with one of their patents?
At Hooke Audio, we’ve put too much time, effort, and money into this project to fail here. To find out that it wouldn’t have been approved in the first place, in the final phase, would break our souls. We all know that big companies can bury smaller companies in legal paperwork and flex their litigious muscle. Apple can also bury innovation by suggesting infinite hardware changes to suit their criteria and needs.
I still love Apple. But now I have a better understanding of what it takes to protect and support the Apple fanboys of the world. Now too I fear Apple because they could single-handedly crush my dream. They have the code to my mobile application and soon they will have all of my product plans, close to two years worth of work.
If only Apple had a “start-up” system for hardware where small companies, hobbyists, and “start-ups” could launch with different trade-dress stickers stating that the product is under beta review. This way a user could support innovation and products like the Hooke Verse could reach market without fear. With software, a suggested change can be simple. With hardware, change is never simple. Hardware modifications can break people and ruin companies. Apple knows this better than anyone.
The irony remains: as a consumer, I love Apple; as a brand, I envy Apple; as a manufacturer, I respect Apple; as a bootstrapped entrepreneur, I fear Apple.
Please, Apple. Please support wireless audio innovation. Let the Hooke Verse pass MFi certification. Let us begin the movement that will change the way we record the world.
From One Ear To Another,