26th #USB #TypeC analysis & critique: the 5A, eMarked Apple MLL82AM/A USB-C 2.0 charge cable. [Model A1739]
tl;dr: This is the best "charge" cable I've ever seen. And Apple is trying to slip this post-recall refresh under the radar!

This post is going to be long and go on a number of tangents. But let me state up front: this cable can do 5a and is eMarked. It will work great with every USB-C product out there, for charging. It also solves the theoretical "Macbook Pro 2016 charging" problem. I recommend it for the Pixel over even the Google OEM cables. Finally, Apple is trying to slip by this cable update completely unannounced because it highlights earlier missteps they made.

If that's all you came for, turn back now. Remember to get the rectangular box, not the square box!

(PSA:) f you have an existing Apple 2m charge cord, check for a serial #. If it lacks one, please exchange it under the "voluntary" recall.
https://www.apple.com/support/usbc-chargecable/


[PDF of Compliance Checklist for Apple MLL82AM/A (A1739)]
https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B2OJRSgNnm4GTWxfOVR0TDNyM1U

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The Silent Update.

Apple wants as little fanfare around this cable as possible, even though it is amazing. It is eMarked, 5a rated, very long, reliable, difficult to counterfeit,  easily-sourced from the Apple Store, cheap at $20, with excellent performance. It is so suspiciously good it makes me wonder if Apple is intentionally trying to flood the market with GOOD cables to counteract all the BAD ones.

They likely wants to keep it quiet because the mere fact it exists highlights dead-end decisions and mistakes Apple previously made with USB-C.

In fact, they have silently pulled all of the previous model [MJWHT2AM/A] off shelves and gave the new one [MLL82AM/A] the same exact name, removed any mention of the square-box from their site, bad reviews and all, and "suggest" the rectangular-box in its place. (See the http://Archive.org screenshots provided.) It is not even described in the tech specs. That's quite confusing!

The only external change is the size/shape of the box and a serial number prefix. Internally however, the capabilities of the new cable are massively improved. For ease of understanding, on I'll refer to the old 3a [MJWT2AM/A] as "square-box" and the updated 5a [MLL82AM/A] as "rectangular-box".

If you are shopping, DO NOT buy the outdated 3a square-box model! There's currently no warning about this except from myself.

Unfortunately, the square-boxes are still being sold at Best Buy and retailers. To make matters worse they are almost 1.5x more expensive than if you simply went to an Apple Store and bought the BETTER rectangular-box version. (See screenshots.)

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Why didn't you mention this sooner?

You may recall I never thought too highly of Apple's USB-C 2.0 Charge Cable. I kept calling it an "inferior 3A cord" -- because way back in June when I tested it in-store, it WAS!

My local Apple Store (and the Palo Alto one) only had square-boxes. These were, to the best of my knowledge and skill, 3A and non-eMarked: for use with the noncompliant, grandfathered, 29W/14.5v Macbook and charger. There were numerous problems with these as evidenced by the terrible reviews. (See http://Archive.org screenshots.)

Eventually Apple initiated a "voluntary exchange program" (i.e. only fixed if you ask), changed the manufacture, plus added a serial number on the side. However they were still only 3A.

       Issue #1: Apple (used to) make bad cables.
       https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/feb/15/apple-to-replace-faulty-macbook-usb-c-charging-cables         https://www.apple.com/support/usbc-chargecable/

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How to troll hardware engineers for fun and profit

This is where it gets interesting -- and how I got completely trolled, hence propagated bad data. I sincerely apologize for that. This makes a good case study for what pitfalls to avoid while troubleshooting.

When I went in-store to test the Apple cable (July 3rd), I did what any reserved customer would do and used their floor models to run tests on my 6P. They did not have a USB-C cable in their Genius Bar, and did not want to open a 29W charger.

But look carefully at the image provided: the cables Apple sells to the public are NOT the same ones they use in-store!

I'll call these new cables "security cables". They have a little wire extension coming out of the plug that goes onto a pad on the Macbook to prevent people from walking off with them. It's terribly ineffective, but then again it's just there as a polite reminder. (Apple Stores generally are very generous about letting you "try out" products -- to the point they'd rather let you 'try an iPhone 7 in your purse' and risk you walking off with it. Kudos to them for that conviction.)

http://www.macrumors.com/2016/10/14/apple-stores-removing-iphone-security-tethers/

As a result, when I was probing the floor model and getting data (July 3rd), I didn't see an eMarker -- and my conclusion was made. I went back recently (November 3rd) to check out the updated cable after reports from +Brad Cox  ( +Ventev Mobile ) about the 87W Macbook Pro adapter on +Benson Leung 's Plus thread. This problematic security cable was still being used! They still haven't updated the cables on the floor models.

       Issue #2: floor models that are not the same as what customers are sold.
       Please see the USB-PD traffic dumps from the Twinkie. Also note the complete lack of response to eMarker probe commands in the screenshots.
       
This lack of replacement is likely because they are "specialty built". It would not make sense for Apple to re-create them simply the post-recall cable design. Similar situations can be witnessed in how Apple Stores still use iPhone 5s in their portable credit card scanners.

However, this also means floor model Macbooks are limited to 60W (3a), and the cables on display have the same problems as the square-box recalled mode. This is the data which showed up in my tests.

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Why would they be silent about an amazing product refresh?

I suspect this is since Apple realized their proprietary decisions (14.5v, C-to-Lightning, proprietary pin methods) were highly standards-noncompliant and were causing a mess in the ecosystem.

My citations for this are as follows: (a) the initial cable recall, (b) a firmware update they pushed for their USB-C AV adapters, and (c) problems users are having finding ANY third-party chargers that can fast-charge an iPad Pro, or function well with Apple products.

        Issue #3: Apple painted themselves into a corner. They set up an ecosystem based on proprietary wackiness, so now they had to sleep in it.
        http://www.imore.com/own-and-use-macbook-usb-c-multiport-adapter-youll-be-receiving-firmware-update         https://bugs.chromium.org/p/chromium/issues/detail?id=510425        http://www.cypress.com/knowledge-base-article/known-issues-using-apple-usb-c-digital-av-multiport-adapter-and-apple-29w-usb        https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT205858

As a result, there is a glut of poorly-made, spec-violating, defective, "compatible with Apple"  chargers, AV-port adapters, and charge-through hubs on the market -- because manufacturers view "Apple is more important standards".

Apple isn't a saint. But if they are one thing, they are extremely precise. Even if non-standard their engineering usually follows the spec to the letter... painfully so sometimes. In other words, "Apple doesn't play dice." (Yet I must admit other times they are completely Mad as a Hatter.)

 My citations for the above are:
(a) how the C-to-Lightning cable will not charge an iPad when connected to a non-perfect supply,
(b) how the Apple 29W charger has the paperwork to be "grandfathered" with the USB-IF as USB-C compliant,
(c) how Apple "invented" a seamless power swap technique before PD3.0,
(d) how the 29W charger uses a constant-current source for CC negotiation,

Since Apple figuratively painted themselves into a corner, and their existing cables lacked chips, they couldn't make use of >60W compliant partners. [*cough* Intel Thunderbolt 3 *cough*]. Plus, they already had a bunch of these 3a Apple branded square-box cords floating around. Apple couldn't very well make their brand-new product (Macbook Pro 2016) incompatible with cables they themselves released, then had to recall and replace once already.

Enter the silent refresh approach.

In preparation for the Macbook Pro 2016, before they are even hitting the floor, Apple is taking what I would call very aggressive steps to flush the old cables out of the system. Unfortunately, this has had the side effect that eBay and secondary markets are flooded with "bad" square-box cables right now. Best Buy is only selling square-boxes. The rectangular-box is listed as "Preorder".

This exemplifies something I really dislike: old, not-well-made products are being "flushed" to consumers without warning, rather than have the situation clearly explained, or being disposed of responsibly.

Given this mad dash for compliance, I'm supremely surprised Apple still decided to break with the USB-C Power Rules for their 60/87W chargers. (5v/2.4a 9v/3a 20v/3a. 15v is missing. 5v is only 2.4a not 3a.) I'm thinking these are the last vestiges of their prior indiscretions.

Perhaps the wiring in their C-to-Lightning adapter is only physically capable of 2.4a safely? Perhaps their Apple-DRM chips will only acknowledge devices with the PDOs mimicking their first, "no-longer-compliant" 29W charger? This would explain how some noncompliant clones are working, but legitimately engineered third party solutions are not.

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In conclusion -- and back on-topic -- this 5a cord leaves two concerns:

        (1) How is Apple going to address the 3a square-box cords already in the market?
        Free exchange "only if you ask"? Or "only if you own a Macbook Pro"? Or "model updates happen all the time, just buy a new cable" (deal with it)?
        
        (2) Is Apple going to re-engineer the "security cables" to use the new 5A design?
        If you think about it, if they do not, they will have to secure the Macbook Pro 2016 another way. Such as chaining it to a desk. But that would be un-sightly, and un-Appley. I suspect they'll just leave it untethered, or worst case, they'll do the same thing that trolled me -- and use the old 3a "security cable" on the 87w Macbook Pro 15".
        
I'm likely completely off base with all my speculation above. Apple isn't exactly transparent. But Benson and I support the open-spec because it permits consistent, well-defined behavior. As a result I don't like delving into the mysterium of Apple proprietary too much. But in this case, with the "rectangular-box" cable, they've hit it clean out of the park.

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