For the last year Hooke Audio has been working to receive an Apple MFi certification for Hooke Verse and today we have received it. The MFi application and review process is daunting, it's not exactly easy to line up innovation with a company that is constantly innovating. Apple doesn't make the process easy either (for example, the only contact for communication throughout the process you are given is a generic MFi email address and a portal containing multiple +100 page handbooks that must be followed to a science). I've desperately searched for a How-To guide online with tips from other companies who have gone through the process, but I couldn't find any. So I decided to make my own. Enjoy and happy innovating!
Step 1. Determine Whether MFi is Necessary.
Companies seek MFi certification for various reasons. Some become MFi certified to ensure their products stay up to date and compatible with the latest Apple products, some become certified merely for the marketing value and some become MFi certified because they have to.
If your hardware utilizes any of the following features, I guarantee you will be required by Apple to receive an MFi certification:
1. Your accessory requires a mobile app to function. Apple will not release the app into the App Store until the accessory is MFi certified.
2. Your accessory uses the iPhone's internal battery for charging.
3. Your accessory communicates with smart home technology
4. Your accessory functions by plugging into the lightning connector on an iOS device.
5. Your accessory over rides the built in microphone or camera on an iOS device.
6. Your accessory provides external batter power to an iOS device.
Step 1 Duration: N/A
Step 2. Get a D.U.N.S number
Before you've even written a line of code, make sure your business is in order. When you submit your app to the App Store, you'll be required to submit under some name. This might be the name of your LLC, or just your name if you're submitting alone. Odds are if you're seeking an MFi certification, you'll have an LLC or Delaware Corp already established.
In order to begin the process and have access to the Apple Developer Portal, your entity will need to acquire a D.U.N.S. number. According to Apple, this is why you need the number:
Step 1 Duration: 3-4 weeks
1 week to gather materials and submit, 2-3 weeks to receive D.U.N.S. number once submitted.
Price: Free (unless you expedite it to get it in 5 days instead of regular 30 days time.)
Step 3. Partner with an MFi Licensed Manufacturer.
Not all factories are alike. Make sure yours has what you need. Once you receive your D.U.N.S. number, you'll gain access to the Apple Developer Portal and be able to start coding. You're well on your way towards creating an iOS app. But what about creating the MFi accessory?
The saying hardware is hard has never rang truer when it comes to getting your hardware MFi certified. You'll need to partner with a manufacturer that is registered as an MFi licensed manufacturer. Factories apply for this certification every year so make sure your factory shows proof of this certification and that it is up to date when they sign on. You can do some research ahead of time and check the list of licensed manufacturers. The factory might be a licensed manufacturer when you sign on, but when you begin mass production a year and a half later that might not be the case. It's also important to understand what accessories they've gotten MFi certified in the past. Just because they've gotten a HomeKit accessory MFi certified does not mean they'll be good at getting an audio product MFi certified. Keep on them throughout the process and ask as many questions as you can.
Step 2 Duration: 1-2 months
Budget a few months to find an MFi licensed manufacturing partner.
Price: $0 - $5,000 depending on whether you find one on the internet or choose to fly to China and interview them yourself.
Step 3. Develop With An Apple Mind
After obtaining the manufacturing partner, D.U.N.S. number and developer account, you're ready to start developing the firmware for your accessory and app.
When you obtain your MFi account, you'll gain access to the "MFi Accessory Hardware and Firmware Specifications handbook". In our case since we were a bluetooth product, specs like the "Bluetooth Accessory Design Guidelines for Apple Products" were very essential. The MFi requirements that apply to Bluetooth accessories can be found in Sections 18 & 19 of the Accessory Interface Specification R23 document.
Keep in mind these are constantly changing documents filled with +200 pages of proprietary components and features that Apple requires you to incorporate if you want to obtain the MFi certification.
Also, don't for one second think Apple will budge on any of the requirements they have listed in that document. For example, if you're creating an Apple certified headset, Apple has a required distance that the 3-button array must be from the actual earbud. Follow all of their guidelines. All of them.
The following components and features are essential to passing MFi certification for a iAP (Bluetooth) accessory:
-Your accessory IN NO WAY threatens the battery life of the iPhone (ie. http://bit.ly/1PbOhJE)
-iAP1 can no longer be used as of 2016. All accessory's using iAP must be using iAP2.
-Your accessory supports Wide Band Speech (see section 22.214.171.124 “Wide Band Speech”)
-If your accessory is using A2DP for music listening, it MUST support AAC (see section 126.96.36.199 “MPEG 2/4 AAC Codecs”)
-If your accessory is using iAP2, it must confirm the presence of a HID headset remote component, as required in the Spec R24 , Chapter 7.2 of the handbook. The HID headset component is what the Apple headphones use. Essentially, apple wants your music listening accessory to work just like theirs, hence making sure your product functions like theirs is essential.
-Section 4 of the the "Bluetooth Accessory Design Guidelines for Apple Products" states “Bluetooth Accessory Identification” describes the AT command an accessory must send to the Apple device before it can send the battery level and Siri status commands.
4. Test Yourself Before Apple Tests
Let's say you've double checked and confirmed your product's firmware and iOS app contain all the features and components listed above. You still need to make sure your Bluetooth accessory is performing up to Apple's standards.
In Hooke's case, it was heavily recommended to perform as many of the tests described in Section 18.5 “Test Procedures” of the Bluetooth Accessory Design Guidelines for Apple Products as possible. Each MFi accessory has its own "Accessory Design Guidelines" which you will gain access to once you create your MFi developer account. As a general rule, if you find problems or issues using these test procedures, then it’s all but guaranteed the 3rd party test lab will find the same problems/issues, and will deny the certification. That'll require the manufacturer to address the issue(s) and resubmit the product, which will take time. It’ll save some time if you can find and address any problems/issues before the manufacturer submits the accessory to the 3rd party test lab.
ATS AND BPA100
All Bluetooth products seeking MFi certification must first test and pass on the ATS software offered by Apple. This software works solely with Avnet Inc's BPA Bluetooth Protocol Analyzers which are offered exclusively through AVnet Inc.
Don't even bother submitting your Bluetooth production samples to Apple until you've successfully passed ATS traces for all devices you've listed as "compatible" on your MFi product plan (more on the Product plan below) application. NOTE: You MUST pass ATS tests in "live mode", meaning you have to login to your MFi portal account and run the tests through the portal so that Apple knows you're not pulling any fast ones on them behind closed doors.
Some comments on the BPA bluetooth sniffers, they're pretty awful. They're very unreliable when it comes to getting an accurate trace result every time. Often when testing, some bluetooth packets might get lost when sending to the BPA simply due to the test environment or where the tiny BPA is placed on your testing table. When Apple sniffs your Bluetooth product in testing, they use high end equipment in controlled spaces without any other bluetooth interference. The distance between your phone and headset during your internal testing could be the cause of a lost packed and sequentially cause you to fail the ATS test. We had to test over and over again, multiple times just to get a passed result because the BPA100 and BPA600 we used were so unreliable.
Step 4 Duration: 3-6 months
Not joking. This is what really delayed Hooke Audio in producing the Verse.
3-4 weeks: Estimated shipping time from Frontline after ordering BPA100
4-8 weeks: Testing internally and passing ATS trace on all iOS devices
3-4 weeks: Onboarding factory and having them successfully pass ATS themselves
1-2 weeks: Preparing production ready samples and ATS results for Apple.
5. Product Plan and Product Plan ID
At this point you should have your MFi developer account, MFi licensed manufacturer, D.U.N.S. number, beta iOS app and production ready samples that are passing ATS tests in live mode and incorporate all the features/components listed in step 3.
In order to submit your samples for Apple review, you'll need both a Product Plan ID and Product Plan. I recommend applying for the Product Plan ID during step 4. You should know all of your features by the time you're testing on ATS and it takes 1-2 weeks to receive a product plan ID from Apple. So it's best to save time and do these two at the same time.
Product Plan ID
You'll need a PPID to put together a proper product plan. Your factory is responsible for putting together this document and submitting for PPID.
On the document, you must select from the following:
a. AirPlay b. iAP c. Wi-Fi Accessory Configuration d. HomeKit e. MFi Game Controller
a. Apple Watch Magnetic Charging Module b. Headset Remote Transmitter Chip c. Lightning Audio Module d. 30-pin connector e. Authentication coprocessor f. Game Controller Module g. Lightning Connector
-WILL THIS ACCESSORY BE SIMILAR TO ANOTHER ACCESSORY THAT HAS PREVIOUSLY COMPLETED MFI ACCESSORY SELF-CERTIFICATION?
-WHICH CATEGORY BEST DESCRIBES YOUR ACCESSORY HARDWARE? (SELECT ONE)
a. Aftermarket automotive product b. AirPlay speaker c. Docking speaker d. FM transmitter e. Headset f. Health and wellness g. Home automation h. Home entertainment / theater i. Keyboard j. Regulated medical device k. Toys / games / music creation l. Other
-Model/SKU, Brand and UPC/EAN
-DO YOU (MFI LICENSED MANUFACTURER) INTEND TO MANUFACTURE THIS ACCESSORY FOR ANOTHER COMPANY?
-CUSTOMER'S MFI ACCOUNT NUMBER
A note on "Which category best describes your accessory". This one is important. Apple has created categories in which most accessories fit into. Once you select one of those categories in your PPID, you are then obligated to follow the design guidelines of that category to a T.
IF YOUR ACCESSORY HAS BEEN DESIGNED IN A WAY THAT DOES NOT MEET ALL GUIDELINES FOR SAID CATEGORY, SELECT "OTHER". When Hooke Verse was first reviewed, it was tested as a headset. But according to Apple, all MFi certified headsets must incorporate a 3-button array (like the iPhone headphones: volume up/down/power). Hooke Verse was designed to have all volume control (monitoring and microphone) accessible via the app like a field recorder. We had to file an "exception request" to deviate from Apple's spec and be tested as an "other" category.
Once this document is submitted and a Product Plan ID is given, you can ship samples to Apple and await their decision.
Step 5 Duration: 1-2 weeks
Once submitting the PPID document, it will take about a week for Apple to respond with a PPID.
Price: $100 product plan submission fee
6. Submitting Samples
Ask your factory to add your MFi developer account number to the product plan so that you can track the MFi audit process as they progress. Apple requires you to ship three production ready samples in in full packaging.
There's a reason for the three samples. Apple requires you to add a unique serial number to each accessory so that if you mass produce say 50,000 units, everyone has a unique identifier. Most product companies will be aware of this and add the unique serial number when mass production begins. But Apple wants to see three unique serial numbers on each of the three samples you submit.
Step 6 Duration: 1-2 months
According to an MFi rep I spoke with last week:
"The amount of time needed to receive feedback/complete MFi self-certification varies. It’s always best to submit complete sets of production-ready sample units as early as possible. To prevent unnecessary delays, please ship all of the items requested on the Packing List generated by the MFi Portal. You will receive an e-mail regarding the next step once your materials have been received and processed."
But we have heard from other MFi applicants that it normally takes 30-50 days.
Price: $250 ($200 for sample submission fee, $50 for shipping costs)
6. Tracking Apple As They Test
From the MFi portal you can track Apple has the test your accessory. See an example of what our process looked like below:
7. Passing Accessory Self Certification
When your accessory has passed self certification, it means you can begin mass production.
8. Packaging Self Certification
Once your accessory passes self certification, you will be required to submit final packaging art to Apple for review. Apple wants to make sure you are properly labeling their products with the correct trademark and copyright symbols. There are also requirements for how large (or small) the "Made For iPhone" sticker must be on your packaging as well as required text that must be in your user manual prior to launching your product.
Make sure you are following all guidelines addressed in "MFi Identity Guidelines redirect.pdf" which you can find via the "Marketing Materials" tab inside the MFi portal. You'll also find "Apple product icon artwork.zip" which you will need to use for your packaging. Once this is approved, your mobile app (if you have one) will be accepted and available in the App Store.
Your packaging art must also show a UPC label. If you have three colors for your product, make sure you've obtained the proper UPC codes for each and that they are visible on your packaging art.
Step 8 Duration: 3 weeks
One week to implement design guidelines, two weeks for Apple to review and approve once submitted.
If you add this all up, you're looking at 7-9 months from starting the business to Apple granting your MFi certification. Keep in mind this is in a perfect world where Apple finds nothing wrong with your product after your first submission. In other words, it's going to be longer. When Hooke Verse first submitted, Apple tested for 35 days and then had three notes that were relatively easy for us to fix in our firmware. However any changes made require a fresh new submission. This means new samples, new PPID, new product plan approved, new passing ATS trace results in live mode and a new 30 day submission and review process. Resubmitting v2 samples took us 5 months, even though it took us 2 days to implement Apple's requested changes.
It's a big endeavor, but it's a necessary step. We aren't the only ones to experience this long of a process. If you want to change the World, you have to work with the company that's been doing it for over 3 decades. They know how to innovate and they know how to push technology forward.
Wishing you all the best! If you have any questions throughout the process, please comment below and I will do my best to respond.
From One Ear To Another,
Founder, Hooke Audio