|Apple will hold its next "Made for iPhone/iPod/iPad" (MFi) conference a month earlier than last year, gathering hundreds of licensed third-party accessory makers in the city of Shenzhen, China to discuss new devices, directions for accessories and other aspects of Apple's licensing program. The big topic this year is expected to be hammering out details of obtaining licenses for Apple's new Lightning connector, which is expected to become a standard across the entire iOS and iPod line as soon as possible.
The new iPhone 5, iPod Touch and Nano, and the allegedly-forthcoming iPad mini will all use the new connector, which is dramatically smaller yet potentially even more versatile than the 30-pin connector standard used by the company for nearly a decade. Speculative rumors have Apple introducing a refreshed full-size iPad with the new connector to help complete the transition as quickly as possible, though more serious analysts don't expect another refresh of the 10-inch iPad until mid-spring. MFi partners will hear about guidelines for incorporating the Lightning connector into their own products, and more importantly how much it will cost in licensing to do so.
Topics including on a program agenda for the MFi conference obtained by 9to5Mac include "Designing Lightning Accessories," "Transitioning from Analog to Digital" and "MFi Program Changes," all of which are likely to be centered around the capabilities of the new Lightning connector. The part is said to be significantly more expensive than the previous 30-pin dock connector standard, but this is typical for a new and more advanced technology, and is expected to fall in price as the number of accessories and licensees increases.
Apple has recently been seen to be tightening control over MFi licensing in an effort to stem the flow of illegal (and in some cases unsafe) China-made knockoff products. The new Lightning connector appears to have a "mystery" chip that possibly acts as a device authenticator. Apple is said to be imposing tough guidelines and will keep strict control over the authenticator chips as well as setting high standards for licensee manufacturers regarding the quality of the products using the advanced connector technology.
Another focus of the conference is said to be on the new Bluetooth 4.0 standard, which introduced a number of changes to the venerable wireless technology including several modes for various types of devices, all of which are said to save power over the previous standard. Some new Bluetooth devices, such as pedometers, can utilize a new low-power radio that offer extremely dramatic savings, for example allowing Bluetooth wireless keyboards and mice to potentially have a battery life that surpasses that of similar RF-based accessories.
Some devices will use the new low-power 4.0 radio only, while others will require dual radios to handle "classic" Bluetooth needs in order to interact with devices that require it. In addition to power savings, Bluetooth 4.0 also offers reduced latency. Extremely low-power Bluetooth devices do have a shorter range and slower transmission speed, but most "smart" devices will not use the single-band radio so the drawbacks are not an issue.
AirPlay and AirPrint will also be on the agenda for the meeting, which takes place in the large manufacturing city of Shenzhen on November 7–9. The conference is offering breakout sessions on the Accessory Test System (needed for self-certification), Bluetooth and Bluetooth Low Energy, Wi-Fi and AirPlay implementations in iOS devices. It will likely take manufacturers a few weeks to months to ensure their devices comply with Apple's new guidelines and utilization of the Lightning technology, which is expected to be in short supply in the early stages.