Apple may have a solution for fraying Lightning cables

Posted:
in General Discussion
If you've ever had an iPhone Lightning cable in your car, you already know how fragile they are. Apple may now have a solution that could also protect any kind of cable.

This is what happens to Lightning cable all the time
This is what happens to Lightning cable all the time


Apple is never going to say that Lightning cables have a death wish, but it has come close in a newly revealed patent application that is really about fixing the problem. "Cable with Variable Stiffness," does not mention Lightning once, nor does it say anything approaching the word "frayed."

"It is well known that bending of the cable near the termination point may cause unwanted strain on the wire connections, which may lead to cable failure," it admits. "Accordingly, it is common to provide a strain relief sleeve made of a stiff material around the end region of the cable."

Apple's descriptions apply to many types of cable, and so do its criticisms of current solutions.

"The stiff material creates a localized increase in the bending resistance of the cable, thereby relieving strain on the wire connections," it continues. "In addition to making the cable locally stiffer, the strain relief sleeve also makes the cable thicker at the ends. In some instances, the added thickness may not be desired."

If you've been using Apple gear for long enough, you may remember how Apple slightly thickened Lightning cables. It presumably meant they were a little less prone to damage. As a side-effect, it meant that they sometimes no longer fit in channels machined into iPhone stands by third-party manufacturers.

Apple's new proposal is a development of both the "strain relief" idea, and the extra thickening of cables overall. "A cable can include a cable core surrounded by an outer sleeve having a uniform thickness," says the patent application.

"[It further has] a first longitudinal section having a first stiffness (e.g., corresponding to a flexible cable), a second longitudinal section having a second stiffness (e.g., corresponding to a rigid cable), and a third longitudinal section between the first and second longitudinal sections," says Apple.

Detail from the patent application showing one combination of layers of cable and protective covering
Detail from the patent application showing one combination of layers of cable and protective covering


The first cable has some unspecified certain degree of stiffness, while the second is more stiff. And the "stiffness of the third longitudinal section varies between the first stiffness and the second stiffness." Really what this does is extend the "strain relief for the cable."

The majority of the patent application describes different possible materials, and also attempts to define stiffness. "For example, minimum bend radius, defined as the smallest radius at which the cable can be bent without a kink, is one well-known measure of cable stiffness," says Apple, "and a minimum bend radius can be defined relative to the cable diameter."

"Increasing bend radius corresponds to increasing stiffness. Depending on the particular cable design, the minimum bend radius might be e.g., 8 to 12 times the cable diameter," it continues.

The patent application is credited to seven inventors, including Christopher S. Graham. His previous related work includes granted patents regarding "shielding for multi-coil wireless power transfer systems," and "wound housings for electronic devices."
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 52
    neilmneilm Posts: 885member
    I've owned an iPhone since the 3G model and never had one of my Apple branded Lightning cables fail. My opinion is that people just abuse them. On the other hand, Apple should probably realize that this is going to happen, and take that into account with a more robust design.

    I have repaired a couple at the office using heat-shrink sleeving to provide extra strain relief. Works fine, cheap and easy to do.
    lkruppmaltzStrangeDaysjdb8167watto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 52
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 9,146member
    I don't believe the bullshit about Apple’s cables. I’ve been using Apple cables and dongles for a decade and have never, EVER, had one fray or fail on me. I’ve never heard a complaint for my extended family about them either. To me this is yet another example of internet amplification of an issue. And if Apple cables do have a real problem then all cables from all manufacturers do too. The article even states that, "It is well known that bending of the cable near the termination point may cause unwanted strain on the wire connections, which may lead to cable failure”. Yes, it’s well known in the entire cable industry and has been for almost a century of electrical connections, wiring, etc.

    Great if Apple is looking at the problem but this is an industry problem, not just an Apple problem. So stop with the “Apple cables are crap” nonsense. They are no better or worse than others when the user yanks, bends, twists or otherwise abuses a cable.
    edited February 4 maltzStrangeDaysmichelb76watto_cobrarevenant
  • Reply 3 of 52
    I have never had a 30-pin or lightning cable fail, ever. There are absolutely people who are not careful or responsible with their things, and the possibility of accidents causing cable damage.
    maltzStrangeDayswatto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 52
    wood1208wood1208 Posts: 2,506member
    Why it took this long for Apple to realize that overtime cable is working but slowly do start tearing off, go bad at termination. Happened to many many customers. Also, one culprit to higher numbers is millions of knock-off low quality cheap cable sold as Apple product(on Amazon,eBay,etc) which added fuel to the fire and users think Apple cable went bad. Because of this, companies like Anker,Amazonbasics,etc made MFi approved stronger charging cable and made lots of money.
    edited February 4
  • Reply 5 of 52
    mike1mike1 Posts: 2,636member
    What do these people do to the cables, chew on them?!
    maltzStrangeDayswatto_cobrarevenant
  • Reply 6 of 52
    rcfarcfa Posts: 973member
    Sorry, this is nonsense.

    The issue with these cables is, that Apple in its drive to be environmentally sound uses a plastic insulation that’s not resistant to sweat/oils from the fingers.

    Where you touch the cable, is first discolors, and then the insulation gets soft, gooey, and crumbles. 
    Where you don’t touch the cable, it remains perfectly intact.

    I treat all my gear very carefully. And I have all sorts of cables, incl. varying quality third party USB and lightening cables, and the problem is unique to Apple, because they are trying to use environmentally friendly plastic, which of course backfires, because if you stick to Apple’s cables, you’ll have to buy several over a product’s life span, rather than one.

    Still got perfectly fine “hockey puck” power supplies and cables, old Apple USB cables, etc.; they’re all fine because they’re made from PVC or something similar, while the new *-free cables just crumble over the course of some months on their own after being touched by bare fingers with sweat and finger grease on them.

    You can tell the process is starting when parts of the insulation gets sticky and you could carve it with a finger nail, while elsewhere on the cable, where there’s no regular skin contact, the insulation is neither sticky, nor does it give in to a finger nail.

    By classifying these cases as wear and tear and not replacing them under warranty, Apple has in essence prevented that their materials engineers got the proper feedback on one of the main the causes of these issues: It’s chemistry, not physics!
    edited February 4 JapheyelijahgFrancescoBDogpersonwow321olswatto_cobradysamoria
  • Reply 7 of 52
    I had fraying over the years despite being careful. So this strengthening will be much appreciated. 
    DogpersonMplsPwatto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 8 of 52
    maltzmaltz Posts: 246member
    Chiming in as another iPhone owner (since original iPhone) who has never had a cable fray like this.  I know it happens, I've seen other people with Apple-branded cables damaged, but I don't know what they do to them that I apparently don't.  But a few things I do to avoid the issue are to never unplug a cable by the cable, always by the plug, and never put a cable in a position that puts a tight bend in it - especially near the connector on either end.  I try to keep it above about a 2-3" radius bend, and I try to avoid ANY bend that is directly at the junction with the connector.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 52
    It takes a lot of abuse to make the fraying happens. It’s a lot faster for the outside layer of the cable will become brittle and falls off if more exposed to the sun when left inside a car. 

    Why can’t apple make a braided cable which in my experience last so much longer compared the Apple made cables. 

    Where was the rumored braided cable? For a company that pride itself for make great product, delivering better user experience; I don’t get that from their cables. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 52
    tundraboytundraboy Posts: 1,754member
    Not just fraying at the spot near the plug, the cable insulation just disintegrates faster than typical insulated cables.  As mentioned elsewhere, I think this is a result of choices meant to protect the environment.  I don't know how that balances out against more cables being thrown into land fills because of the short product life.  Maybe Apple should accept broken cables for proper recycling to ensure a net environmental positive.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 52
    I find that the contacts fail before the cable itself breaks
  • Reply 12 of 52
    For those that never has a cable fray like that. Have you ever left your Apple Cable in the car? That heat makes the plastic brittle, which is why I switched to MFI certified braid cables. 

    Also, I think cables fray like that because people do not pull the cable out on the hard plastic connector, but the bottom of it (and plastic of course wears over time). 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 52
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 32,982member
    Usually what happens to my cables is that the rubber/vinyl bunches up at the connector. I’ve only had one tear. But the photo used in the beginning of the article looks fake. Not the cable itself, but the tear looks as though it was deliberately cut. There is no way that cable cover can tear in that way. The material simply can’t tear that way.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 52
    lkrupp said:
    I don't believe the bullshit about Apple’s cables. I’ve been using Apple cables and dongles for a decade and have never, EVER, had one fray or fail on me. I’ve never heard a complaint for my extended family about them either. To me this is yet another example of internet amplification of an issue. And if Apple cables do have a real problem then all cables from all manufacturers do too. The article even states that, "It is well known that bending of the cable near the termination point may cause unwanted strain on the wire connections, which may lead to cable failure”. Yes, it’s well known in the entire cable industry and has been for almost a century of electrical connections, wiring, etc.

    Great if Apple is looking at the problem but this is an industry problem, not just an Apple problem. So stop with the “Apple cables are crap” nonsense. They are no better or worse than others when the user yanks, bends, twists or otherwise abuses a cable.

    I've just had my first Apple Supplied cable failure. Ok, it was subject to a good deal of stress where it was located so it wasn't a surprise to me. I was the one that came with my iPhone 6 so I did get a lot of use from it.
    I have replaced it with a braided cable from Tesco (a UK Supermarket). Far more robust.
    I use a short (18cm) cable in the car. Again, this is a braided type.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 52
    lkrupp said:
    I don't believe the bullshit about Apple’s cables. I’ve been using Apple cables and dongles for a decade and have never, EVER, had one fray or fail on me. I’ve never heard a complaint for my extended family about them either. To me this is yet another example of internet amplification of an issue. And if Apple cables do have a real problem then all cables from all manufacturers do too. The article even states that, "It is well known that bending of the cable near the termination point may cause unwanted strain on the wire connections, which may lead to cable failure”. Yes, it’s well known in the entire cable industry and has been for almost a century of electrical connections, wiring, etc.

    Great if Apple is looking at the problem but this is an industry problem, not just an Apple problem. So stop with the “Apple cables are crap” nonsense. They are no better or worse than others when the user yanks, bends, twists or otherwise abuses a cable.
    Wait, lemme see if I got this.  You don't believe the BS about Apple's cables but believe all cables have the fraying issue.  Makes complete sense.  Well known issue in the entire cable industry you say.  If that's the case, how can it be BS regarding Apple's cables but not everyone else's?  Cable's fray.  We agree.  Apple's included.  Agree or don't, it's true.  Sounds like you're trying to build a narrative to deflect from that fact. No one ever claimed it was just an Apple problem.  That's just you making up stuff to argue against.  100% guaranteed if an article came out saying some Samsung smartwatch batteries can swell, you would not be volunteering an anecdote about Apple Watch batteries doing the same thing.   Apple may be finally addressing a long known issue with lightning cables.  It's a good thing.  No need to try to defect.  Lighting cables are generally crappy... just like crappy micro-usb cables.

    elijahgDogpersonMplsPbikerdude
  • Reply 16 of 52
    melgross said:
    Usually what happens to my cables is that the rubber/vinyl bunches up at the connector. I’ve only had one tear. But the photo used in the beginning of the article looks fake. Not the cable itself, but the tear looks as though it was deliberately cut. There is no way that cable cover can tear in that way. The material simply can’t tear that way.
    The material can tear that way, and the photo isn't fake.  You're looking at a lighting cable that has most likely experienced 1. multiple hot/cold cycles (probably in a car)  2. multiple removals by pulling the cable instead of the thick hard plastic near the lightning connector (look at the finger oils on the broken section vs the relative cleanliness of the hard/thick plastic portion) and 3. continuous bending causing that split to run... and continue to run because the cable remained in use after being damaged.  I think most people will continue to use a cable regardless of how cracked it gets.  They only think of replacing it when it no longer charges.  'Til then, you end up with what's pictured.
    get seriouselijahg
  • Reply 17 of 52
    sflocalsflocal Posts: 5,618member
    I've never had any Apple cable fray or break.  The reality is that there are some users out there that are really harsh with their equipment.  It's not bad or good.  It's just those people tend to be the one's that get all the attention.  If you treat your gear rough, expect limited use from them.  Apple tries to cover 99% of those users and I think they do a decent job of it.  

    I bought super-long, braided 3rd-party lightning cables for serious use and love them.  They were $5 at a local computer store.  Quit complaining and do the same.  Jeez.
    StrangeDayslkruppjdb8167watto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 52
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 32,982member
    melgross said:
    Usually what happens to my cables is that the rubber/vinyl bunches up at the connector. I’ve only had one tear. But the photo used in the beginning of the article looks fake. Not the cable itself, but the tear looks as though it was deliberately cut. There is no way that cable cover can tear in that way. The material simply can’t tear that way.
    The material can tear that way, and the photo isn't fake.  You're looking at a lighting cable that has most likely experienced 1. multiple hot/cold cycles (probably in a car)  2. multiple removals by pulling the cable instead of the thick hard plastic near the lightning connector (look at the finger oils on the broken section vs the relative cleanliness of the hard/thick plastic portion) and 3. continuous bending causing that split to run... and continue to run because the cable remained in use after being damaged.  I think most people will continue to use a cable regardless of how cracked it gets.  They only think of replacing it when it no longer charges.  'Til then, you end up with what's pictured.
    I’ve had cables cycle hot and cold too. That “failure” is too artificial. Sorry, but I’m pretty familiar with materials, and that’s not the way this would fail.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 19 of 52
    zeus423zeus423 Posts: 104member
    I've never had any problems with the cables fraying that weren't caused by my own abuse. Pull the cable out from the plastic connector, not by yanking the cable wire.
    lkruppwatto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 52
    rcfa said:
    Sorry, this is nonsense.

    The issue with these cables is, that Apple in its drive to be environmentally sound uses a plastic insulation that’s not resistant to sweat/oils from the fingers.

    Where you touch the cable, is first discolors, and then the insulation gets soft, gooey, and crumbles. 
    Where you don’t touch the cable, it remains perfectly intact.


    If that's true, then maybe people need to wash their hands better/more often?  Just sayin'...

    I've never had an Apple cable fail, all the way back to the original cable for the 1st gen iPhone.  My wife has had 2-3, but that's clearly her fault.  She used to use an iPad, with the cable plugged in, and rest the cable/iPad on her stomach, sharply bending it.  Also in her car - the armrest has a notch for cables.  She often closes the armrest & pinches the cable.
    edited February 4 StrangeDayswatto_cobra
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