Made for Apple. The mysterious MFi Developer License

What is MFi Developer License?


To put it simply,
 it is a program created for other manufacturers and developers to produce equipment compatible with Apple products (iPhone, iPad, iPod, etc.) following the manufacturer's policy (Apple takes care of the design and almost every detail of its effects). Apple makes the MFi program available to people who would like to create such equipment and applications dedicated to the iPhone and others. The MFi license consists of several things - for such hardware to be certified and reserved for the iPhone, Apple has a very long list of requirements for how a device should look and work. If the whole process, i.e., preparation, production of the device, occurs according to Apple's guidelines, Apple confirms the compliance in its public database in exchange for meeting the requirements. There is the whole list of requirements to become a certified producer, but Apple provides additional functionalities in exchange. The iPhone is a very closed system, so you cannot make too many code changes. Apple cares about privacy. Participating in the MFi program gives you access to secured documentation, access to functionality, and various other features/additives that are not available to other companies outside the program. MFi program members know a little more, can do with applications a little more, could use those functionalities within this program, but everything remains secret. Members have access to selected documentation, they know how to use it, but cannot disclose how they build the device. That is the most crucial advantage of this program - that we know a little more than others.

There are 2 types of Licenses: a Development License and a Manufacturing License. Companies that plan to develop/help develop, but not manufacture, MFi accessories are eligible for the MFi Development License. Companies that plan to manufacture MFi accessories AND own a manufacturing facility are eligible for the MFi Manufacturing License. The following table describes the features of each License. mfi.apple.com

Not every device works with iOS - why is that?

Apple places great emphasis on quality. Everything that works with iPhones and iPads or other Apple devices must be compatible. Apple uses specific procedures, e.g., certain protocols for open communication, there are strict requirements for how it should work. It has to be optimized as best as possible for user experience. Apple makes sure that those dedicated devices work properly, quickly, efficiently, and do not disturb the whole ecosystem's logic.

On the left, there is an MFi-certified Lightning cable. On the right, there is not. support.apple.com


It is all about quality.

Apple has full control over the projects. In the case of open profiles, e.g., dedicated audio connection, there is a precise specification of how it must work, at what time it must connect, with what frequency, there are very detailed descriptions of the minimum requirements to be certified. That is why they take great care of quality. And if a device gets such a certificate, it enters a particular internal ecosystem. If Apple brands it with its logo, it must meet its requirements. No one can produce devices assigned to the Apple ecosystem if you are not the MFI program participant. As a certified member, specialists can prototype such devices, assemble them in a physical sense, create software and firmware, but cannot produce them. MFi members make a prototype, have access to all documentation, but need a factory that is also certified by Apple, and only in this factory can produce such devices.

The icons can be used only in association with products that have been approved as Licensed Products in accordance with the terms of a valid and in-effect MFi/Works with Apple License Agreement. developer.apple.com

Let’s take a look at an example. If the producer wants a device to be iOS compatible, what would be the cooperation steps? The manufacturer is not certified; its factory is not a licensed manufacturer, not authorized by Apple. But the products should be compatible. How to make it happen? There are two necessary things. A company that is a participant of the MFi program can develop documentation on how this device can work and build the prototype. And if the producer accepts the project at this stage, then either his factory can apply for certification, or use a supplier from a list of certified factories. 

Despite these ecosystems, Apple offers some of its original functionalities, like IoT home sensors' ecosystem - Homekit. The system applications aggregate these sensors and use standard protocols. There is a possibility to connect the device with thermometers, curtains, or smoke detectors, but it has to be made by the system/program Apple to be compatible with this Apple ecosystem. Another topic closed and operated by Apple - AirPlay - is the super-convenient audio and video transmission between devices, which is also not available without this program communication. So, to share a phone screen on some TV, this device would have to be compatible with the program and the TV must be certified. And that is not all, there is more of original technologies, like GymKit, CarPlay, iAP, MFi Game Controller, and more; or connectors and components headset remotes and mic, lighting connectors and receptables, magnetic charging module, and more. Full list of functionalities you can find HERE

MFi.apple.com

 

As an MFi partner, can we create such a demo solution and make it available to someone we made it? The results can be presented as a finished product. MFi program lets for preparing a demo and submit it to the client. Everything must be integral - the hardware, the code, and our work must be one element. A prototype cannot show any individual aspects. 

How to develop such connections - anyone can look into the open part of API. But if someone doesn't find in the open API what he wants to create, he is looking for certified MFI developers in support to check if he could do his project? If someone has specific requirements that can't be achieved through an open API, he can ask us if it's possible because he doesn't have access to this API. 

Does an MFi partner have access to any specific devices? First of all, Apple delivers original chips that are essential for developing a compatible tool. MFi program members are using sample protocol implementation sources. They have samples of how communication should go. MFi partners work with dedicated equipment necessary to communicate with Apple devices to discover new protocols and communication methods that are not publicly available. And we can get such chips and communicate with them. MFi program gives access to a dedicated set of tools for developing and testing accessories to create unique MFi devices and applications.


EMBIQ is a participant of the MFi Program. If you have any questions - do not hesitate to ask, as a certified MFi Developer we are ready to help. Write to us advice@embiq.com