PSA: Here’s how to keep Apple’s Lightning cables working with your iPad, iPhone + iPod

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Less than two years after they each went into service, only one of the three Lightning cables pictured above is actually working properly. It’s not the big Belkin cable on the left, which is visibly pretty wrecked, or the thick, no-name 6-foot cable on the right, which looks fine on the surface but can’t properly supply power to a connected device. The one that works without problems is, amazingly, Apple’s official Lightning cable — the one that has been pilloried by numerous dissatisfied users, notably including our own Zac Hall, for coming apart after months or years of use.

These complaints aren’t without merit: even Apple-authorized Lightning cables do break, which is particularly infuriating given how expensive they tend to be. But there’s a lot of bad information about Lightning cables floating around right now, and having spent a lot of time using them and reading user complaints, I wanted to help people avoid some of their preventable failures. Taking a few precautions can save you a $10 to $20 replacement cost, as well as wasted time and stress…

One thing I’ve noticed about Lightning cable failures (and reports of Lightning cable failures) is the consistent places where they’re happening: many occur at the junction point between the Lightning plug and the soft plastic cable, some impact the Lightning plug’s pins, and relatively few are at or near the USB port. The reasons are a combination of strain, corrosion, and — in some cases, but fewer than one might think — shoddy manufacturing.

As a general rule, legitimately Apple-authorized Lightning cables don’t sell for less than $8; apart from Amazon’s cables, relatively few are less than $10. If you’re getting a cable for less than that, even if it’s claimed to be an authentic Lightning cable, you can automatically assume that corners were cut when making it, and that you’re taking on a higher risk of a failure that’s not (entirely) your fault. By comparison, strain and corrosion typically are your fault. Yank on a cable, pull it from both sides, or let it make contact with liquids — very few cables are going to be able to withstand that sort of (ab)use. So here’s what you can do to keep your cables working.

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(1) Grasp the hard plastic jacket, and only the hard plastic jacket, when connecting and disconnecting the Lightning plug. Apple touted the Lightning connector as more durable than the 30-pin Dock Connector it replaced. And the connector is indeed more durable — after testing tons of cables, I have yet to see an authorized Lightning plug or even the hard plastic jacket around it come apart. But the cabling itself is made from a softer plastic that can detach from the connector. If you grip the hard plastic jacket when plugging and unplugging the Lightning connector, you’ll considerably reduce the likelihood of cable failure.

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(2) Don’t strain or kink the cable. Lightning cables are almost all coated in soft plastic (rarely in resilient fabric), but regardless of their exteriors, they contain bundles of thin wires that can break — invisibly. If you stretch a cable to its maximum length and tug, put a bunch of sharp bends into the center of the cable, or knot it, you may see what appears to be elastic, rubbery flexibility outside, but the metal inside is preparing to snap. Apple’s cables and most others have “strain relief” points between their plugs and cabling, but they’re only “relief,” not cure-alls. Avoiding sharp bends in the Lightning cable and tugs on the ends will keep your cable working longer.

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(3) Keep the pins clean and away from liquids of any kind. If you want to criticize the Lightning standard for any design flaw, its use of exposed pins (versus the metal jackets found on micro-USB and USB-C) would be the easiest target. Exposed pins are easier to scrape off, damage, or splash with a stray soft drink droplet causing corrosion. Any of these things could easily happen if a Lightning cable is used in a car near a cup holder where keys, coins, or beverages are often found. Jacketed pins aren’t immune from these issues, but they’re less likely. The best thing you can do is keep the pins clean — both on your cable, and on the device you’re using with the cable. Dry off any moisture immediately, and make sure nothing has gotten into your iPhone, iPad, or iPod’s Lightning port that might mess up the connection.

If you’ve followed these guidelines and your cable has failed, don’t hesitate to contact the cable’s manufacturer for a replacement. Your warranty period will depend on the cable’s own warranty, the country where you live, and — if it’s an Apple product — whether you have AppleCare, which might well have extended the warranty’s duration by a year. If you’re completely out of luck with the cable, vote with your pocketbook and buy a replacement from another company instead.

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Comments

  1. One of the first things I do with a new Lightning cable is to wrap a piece of tape around the cable that extends from the “hard plastic base”. Helps with strain relief. Even “Scotch” tape helps.

    • Paul Andrew Dixon - 8 years ago

      seriously — you have an expensive smart phone but then use a cable with tape wrapped around it… not only does that show you don’t trust the manufacturing techniques of apple, but also that you can’t afford to go buy a better replacement

      • lullabyman - 7 years ago

        seriously – he implements a preventive measure that admittedly seems hacky, but seems to work, and you insult his earning power?

      • lexianatassia - 6 years ago

        Your comment was unnecessary and rude. Apple fanboy, much?

  2. Rasmussen (@Twitboydk) - 8 years ago

    just get new ones….

  3. Never had any problem with these cables. Just behave. That’s all.

    • lexianatassia - 6 years ago

      Shit happens. Cords break. Apple’s cords can break and corrode just like any other. Stop being a kiss ass

  4. border1ine - 8 years ago

    I try to buy the Apple cables all the time, I have some 30 pin cables that were close to ten years old and still working. But, for me, when I got the iPhone 5, the official Lightning cables were dying on a regular basis. Some died in as soon as a month, some, I got a few months out of. Most of the time the wires were fraying internally at the boot. The boot itself looked fine, but the wires were frayed.
    I tried some third party cables, and when one broke off in my USB port I switched back to the official ones. Now it seems that they fixed whatever issues that were going on, and all of my Lightning cables are working fine.

  5. Tony Ward - 8 years ago

    Get some white vinyl electrical tape and wrap a few layers neatly around that junction point to keep it from over-bending.

  6. Stephen Walker - 8 years ago

    Anker are the best. I’ve never had one break ever…

  7. bb1111116 - 8 years ago

    From the article;

    “(1) Grasp the hard plastic jacket, and only the hard plastic jacket, when connecting and disconnecting the Lightning plug.”

    This. I’ve had multiple Apple 30 pin and Lightning cables over the years.
    I’ve treated them pretty rough but I’ve only had one fail (a 30 pin).
    – And the main reason my Apple iOS cables have been very durable is that I always try to connect/disconnect them while holding the hard plastic end.

  8. AeronPeryton - 8 years ago

    PSA: If you pay $4 for a lightning cable, you are getting a $4 lightning cable.

    • lexianatassia - 6 years ago

      Oh gee, thanks captain obvious. We couldn’t have figured it out without your GENUIS enlightenment!

  9. irelandjnr - 8 years ago

    Don’t let teens near your house. That stops everything from braking, especially iPhone charging cables.

  10. Another thing, somewhat mentioned above, is to be careful when charging how you use the iPhone/iPad. if you are putting a bend on the cable when charging that will affect its lifespan.

  11. Kirby Knight - 8 years ago

    I’ve been happiest with Amazon Basic’s cables. Higher quality than Apple’s at a much lower cost.

    • thatavocado - 8 years ago

      That’s so true! So much better quality.

  12. acjeffers - 8 years ago

    Am I the only one who has never paid for replacement cables (including headsets? I’m currently using replacement 4 (for cable) and number 8 for headset- no apple care and I’m out of warranty. I usually just book an appointment at the Genius Bar and they replace it free of charge, no questions asked. But I concede that this would mean living near to an Apple Store and is not always convenient.

  13. Thomas Gattinger - 8 years ago

    Well all my cables work. Many years. And if a cable dies I likely got 2 new ones because of new devices. I have usually more cables than devices.

  14. Jim Hassinger - 8 years ago

    I’ve been using a lightning cable in my iPhone since the iPhone 5. I’ve always thought the design of the magnetic pin connectors was genius, compared to the mini USB. And it is. If was such a terrible design, why would the standards body be adopting the small USB-C as the new standard? Now, there is one apparent problem, the cost of the parts, but the two-direction, self-analyzing magnetic channels of Lightning are much preferable to the mini USB contraption. Try to find out how to insert that in the middle of the night.’

  15. sigbiz - 8 years ago

    I bought quite a few which claimed to be “genuine apple” and within a few weeks they gave up. Around 6 months Go I tried the Amazon Basics cable and it worked so I then bought half a dozen for my wife and I for all the locations. They are all still working. ( no I don’t work for / get paid by Amazon

  16. moo083 - 8 years ago

    Or buy your cables from Monoprice. They are cheaper to begin with, but they also have a lifetime warranty. Mine looks like the one on the left in the main article image, but I sent an image of it to them and they sent me a replacement (with a better design too).

    Cables don’t last forever. Lifetime warranties do…(unless the company goes under, but I think Monoprice is doing just fine).

  17. srgmac - 8 years ago

    Bought two cables from Radio Shack when it was still around, both broke. I’ve never had one single mini USB or MicroUSB cable break on me — EVER; and I’ve been using those since what, 2005? Kind of ironic…

  18. JRegner (@JRegner) - 8 years ago

    When any of my official Apple cables break I just take them to the Apple Store and they have always replaced them for free, same with earbuds. They usually give me longer ones in exchange. Walk in, walk out in a few minutes, no hassle.

  19. Me In LA - 8 years ago

    I have had three cables get a bad pin. Walked into an Apple Store and they gave me new ones. I’m not a 22 year old female model, so they must have some decent policy on this…they do tend to be fragile, but i like the convince of the size and having to not find the correct “side” to put them in.

    • Me In LA - 8 years ago

      Oh, and I have been buying cables on sale from MacSales.com – “OWC”. Lots of good cables that are not expensive and better in some ways…

  20. jginosyan - 8 years ago

    I’ve been using the CableCast. found it on amazon and haven’t replaced my cable since my iPhone 5S!!

  21. firuqutharuphwafozurtbud - 8 years ago

    I take epoxy (like plumber’s epoxy) putty and roll it around the cord and connector housing. It creates a large, rigid area one can grasp, but protects the cord from being pulled away from connector housing.

  22. The #1 reason the cables fail is not mentioned above. Twisting!Here’s what I’ve noticed over the years: (Just my $.02)

    The cable, is made up of 3 or 4 little cables inside. Being reversible, they tend to get twisted around a lot, especially if you are using it while it is plugged into charge. When you put the phone down (lots of people put the phone down on its face!) then pick it back up with your dominant hand, you turn the cable 360 degrees. This will twist the internal cables and after a while, the outer sheath starts to “bubble” near the lightning connector. Eventually, that twisting will cause the internal cables to break, and the outer sheath bubble will crack and fall apart. If you actively prevent twisting the cable, you can keep these little lighting cables alive for a very long time.

  23. Chad Massie - 8 years ago

    On all of my other past phones including old school flips, Moto razors, Androids I’ve never had 1 cable fall apart or even begin to break at the junction of the plug and wire. Having an article like this only adds further proof that these cables are junk.

  24. Oflife - 8 years ago

    I bought an Apple microUSB to Lightning adaptor for (I recall) £15. Shocked at the price then! Anyway, it literally begin to burn within days and I returned it to the Apple Store, where a member of staff very quietly swapped it for a new one without drawing attention.

    As a designer and electronics engineer: a) Lightning concept was great, but 10 years too late in view of wireless data transfer/charging and USB roadmap..b) Apple should have merged their ideas with USB consortium and focused on USB-C, as they have with the new MacBook 2015. Alas they didn’t so now we’re in a standards mess! c) From examining Lightning and other Apple cables/adapters, (MagSafe included), they do have issues with the quality of the cables and join areas, where the cable enters a plug or connector. Further, due to the spacing of the gold contacts on the lightning connector, if any small metal particle rests across the contacts, there will be a short circuit, and I believe that is what happened to my adapter. USB-C uses a different pin out system so this is less likely to happen.

    Long live USB-C and wireless.

    • Jeremy Horwitz - 8 years ago

      At one point, proprietary connectors created a giant revenue stream for Apple, and a means to exert control over third-party developers for everything from product design and manufacturing to packaging and marketing. Dock Connector licensing started out being merely an annoying “tax” that developers and customers paid, but over time became increasingly onerous, such that Apple’s advance approval (and thus involvement/meetings/special parts) started to be required for new accessories. When Apple couldn’t/wouldn’t supply most developers with the new Lightning connectors they needed ahead of an important holiday season, that was the last straw for a lot of companies, which either went with device-agnostic alternatives (Bluetooth/USB) or bailed out altogether.

      Meanwhile, the once-giant revenue stream now looks like a trickle of water compared with Apple’s annual earnings. Apple did in fact merge their ideas with the USB consortium to co-produce USB-C. So now the only reasons to keep Lightning around at all are to (a) attempt to maintain the waning financial/control value of the Lightning hardware licensing program, and (b) to keep the worst-of-worst USB add-on makers from connecting their poorly-engineered accessories to iOS devices. Even if the same accessories can connect to the 2015 MacBook. And every other USB/USB-C machine out there…

  25. Paul Andrew Dixon - 8 years ago

    I think this article is very patronising… what it boils down to is that apple cables are 100% poorly manufactured…i wouldnt complain so much if their replacement apple cables were $5

    A bought an elecom cable for $15 — it’s flat and has touch rubber protectors near the plastic casing on each end — i got it after going through 3 apple cables!!! … i worked so well i a bought another one to use in my car… many of my friends went on to buying the same cable because of it’s durability…

    i have one friend who lives in Japan and he uses a 100yen (about $1) cable… it only does charging and isn’t that long, but for $1 he doesnt care how often he has to replace it (although so far he’s been using it 3 months and hasn’t had an issue)

    • Jeremy Horwitz - 8 years ago

      The point of the article was that Apple’s cables (and others) can last long or fall apart quickly based on the way they’re handled. Some people have no issues with them. Other people hate them. This article tries to explain why.

      • lexianatassia - 6 years ago

        Who the hell wants to pay $20-30 for a charging cable? Not everyone is SUPER CAREFUL. That’s human fucking nature! They should make them a bit more fucking stronger. Steve Jobs would have made them of better quality if he was still alive. I shouldn’t have to be extra paranoid and careful, just to make sure I don’t piss off the charger to where it wants to mess up on me!

  26. The problem I have had with almost all the cables I have had is that the almost always refuse to constantly provide power. There are many times were they “cycle” between providing power and than not rapidly. You know that sound when power is connected? Well it makes that sound 3 or 4 times a second for minutes. If I pull it out, flip it over the sound stops and correctly powers it up. happens with apple cables, and cheap cables. At some point its inevitable, my iPhone, iPad, doesn’t matter.

    • Jeremy Horwitz - 8 years ago

      In my experience, if it’s happening across multiple cables, that’s a sign that either your power source isn’t working properly, or your device’s pins are dirty/damaged. Since you’re saying that it happens across multiple devices, it could easily be a faulty power supply. Try the same device and cable with a different USB adapter and see if that helps…

  27. Marklewood at Serenity Lodge - 8 years ago

    Apple’s always been good about replacing cables, even when “out of “warranty”. It’s good customer service relations for them to do so, considering how much money and time I spend at the stores (2) near me. I’ve got one cable, just over one year old, that has come apart (separated from the hard plastic casing) which I need to take in for exchange. But, it is frustrating. I think that a Company such as Apple should be able to design a power cord which is more durable under the heavy use it gets. Another good reason to design the iPhone with a customer/client replaceable battery, yes?

  28. kylehardin - 7 years ago

    I find that the spring and heat shrink approach does a really good job protecting the cable where it meets the connector. They are for sale on ebay here: http://www.ebay.com/itm/-/161878232458? if anyone wants to go this route.

  29. Steve Ajalat - 7 years ago

    Have you ever heard of lighting cables that will only work with a particular iPhone but not others? My son has had a couple of phones now that would only charge or sync with the cable that he always uses and won’t work with other cables. It’s a bit baffling.

  30. Mufn8r (@MUFN8R) - 7 years ago

    This is to sell more chargers! Seriously, they can design and build an iPhone, but the charger cable fails under normal use? If Apple wanted a cord that withstood years of use, they would make one.

  31. John Coffey - 7 years ago

    I will not buy another iPhone that uses the lightning cable to charge. The contacts eventually either corrode or burn out, even if they are not exposed to moisture. Over the last 4 years and two iPhones, I have had to replace the lightning cable about every 2 to 4 months. Seriously. Sometimes this was under warranty, sometimes not. I have tried some third party lightning cables that fared no better, but were cheaper.

    So Apple overcharges us for a cable that is inherently defective to begin with. I cannot express just how unhappy I am with this situation. Having an exposed edge connector is a bad design, but it seems like the connectors can go bad just from charging. I stuck a third party lightning cable into my phone and the contacts burned out within a day. Yet the Apple brand lightning cables burn out eventually as well.

    Looking at the Apple forums it appears that a great many other people have had the same problem.

    The iPhone 7 coming out this fall will use lightning port to connect the headphones. What a disaster this will be.

  32. This is my number one beef with Apple iPhones. The Ligtening connectors are worse than the old connectors. But this has always been a defect. You’d think they could get it right. But from frayed wires to corroded, worn connector points, it’s a big farce. I refuse to buy Apple’s expensive chords; they last no longer than cheep ones.

  33. lexianatassia - 6 years ago

    This post was a waste of my time.
    “Oh, you’re human and Apple are greedy and the fanboys just can’t see that – so it’s your fault that shit happens in life.”
    I’m not paying $30 for a cord. Y’all can get over that shit.

  34. Doug Thomson - 6 years ago

    i have gone through 4 Ligntening cables and the culprit is always burned pins – always pin 4 and 5. They can be cleaned with alcohol, but eventually one side will fail and then eventually the second and it’s off to the store for a new cable. Quite obviously pins 4 or 5 are arcing on connection and that means the interior connectors are also being damaged. I returned that iPad on warrantee after sending in a photograph of the burned connectors. This, I’m afraid, is an engineering flaw, plain and simple. If these pins have a momentary current draw large enough to cause arcing then Apple engineers need to fix the problem … it’s hardly a particularly difficult challenge.