Considering their luxury reputation and attention to detail, it’s surprising that Apple is shipping defective Lightning cables. Alas, it’s true: I’ve received one, a few of my twitter followers have as well, and the Apple store was not that surprised when I came in for a replacement.
Symptoms of a Defective Lightning Cable
Since my iPhone 5 came with only one cable, I decided to buy an extra for my backpack. Yes, I also carry the fabulously useful micro USB to Lightning adapter brought over from the UK, but you can never have enough cables! This is especially true when it comes to charging a thirsty device like the iPhone 5.
I wandered into a local Apple Store, snatched a $19 Lightning to USB cable off the shelf, EasyPay-ed with my iPhone, and headed out. I didn’t even take it out of the box before hopping a plane to Denver the next day! After all, what could go wrong with a cable?
I first became aware of an issue when, after plugging the cable into a cigarette lighter adapter in my rental car, the phone refused to charge. But I suspected the Kensington adapter instead of the Apple cable, since I had never before used it with the iPhone 5.
My trouble continued once I reached an AC outlet. The iPhone wouldn’t charge regardless of which adapter I tried: The 1 Amp cube that came with the phone, a 2.1 Amp iPad adapter, or a third-party Staples extension. It had to be the cable.
Finally I tried plugging the cable into my laptop. I was immediately greeted by the error message shown above: The USB device was drawing too much power.
What’s Wrong With these Lightning Cables?
I made a Genius appointment and took the cable to the Apple Store. It was quick – I plugged it into one of their computers to show the error message and they immediately replaced the cable. Even though they were out of retail cables, they had a special stock in the back for customer replacement. Interestingly, although new, these cables were in a padded envelope rather than the retail box.
The Lightning cable isn’t just a cable. It includes active electronics to reconfigure the pins on attachment. Presumably, this chip wasn’t functioning correctly and shorted out the USB power pins. Thankfully, all of my USB adapters were “smart” enough to shut off the power before they fried or caught fire!
I suppose this is to be expected. As cables become more complex and include active components, their failure rate will increase. Right now, cables are one of the most reliable components in regular use. But over time this will become a more-common issue. It’s times like these that I appreciate Apple’s widely-available Genius Bar support – I can just imagine the hassle of replacing a cheaper off-brand cable!