Tech Expert Exposes How Fake Lightning Headphones Manufacturers Have Managed to Dupe Apple Using Bluetooth

The tweet reveals the workarounds manufacturers made to bypass Apple's Lightning headphones requirement.
The tweet reveals the workarounds manufacturers made to bypass Apple’s Lightning headphones requirement.

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These ‘Lightning’ headphones are actually Bluetooth devices in disguise.

A viral Tweet by a tech expert, Josh Whiton, has blown the lid off a deceptive practice by some third-party manufacturers. As it turns out, thousands of consumers are being misled by cheap “lightning” headphones.

Here, he discovered that some third-party manufacturers have found a way to produce ‘lightning’ headphones without the complexity and costs of the genuine technology. Their trick? Streaming audio via Bluetooth while only using the lightning jack for power.

The Weird Wired Headphones Problem

Josh Whiton post on X (Twitter) sharing his experience at the airport. (From: X Twitter)
Josh Whiton post on X (Twitter) sharing his experience at the airport. (From: X Twitter)

It all started when Whiton lost his earbuds and needed a replacement pair before his flight from a remote town in Chile.

He decided to purchase a pair of lightning headphones for his iPhone from the airport store. But, they didn’t work. This pushed him to try other pairs and two other brands but the result was the same.

After multiple failed attempts, a shop assistant suggested turning on Bluetooth.

“By now the gift shop people and their manager and all the people in line behind me are super annoyed, until one of the girls says in Spanish, “You need to have bluetooth on.” Oh yes, everyone else nods in agreement. Wired headphones for iPhones definitely need bluetooth.” he said.

Despite finding it ridiculous, he followed the advice. And, lo and behold, his phone prompted him to pair the supposedly wired headphones.

“See,” they all say in Spanish, like I must be the dumbest person in the world.” says Whiton.

This didn’t sit well with him. As a computer science graduate with extensive knowledge of Bluetooth technology, Whiton was baffled. The fact that turning on Bluetooth for the wired headphones to function just made no sense to him.

“With a little back and forth I realize that they don’t even conceptually know what bluetooth is, while I have actually programmed for the bluetooth stack before. I was submitting low-level bugs to Ericsson back in the early 2000’s!” he says.

“Yet somehow, I with my computer science degree, am wrong, and they, having no idea what bluetooth even is, are right.”

According to him, the shop assistants didn’t know why these devices needed Bluetooth, which ones required it, or when it was necessary to turn it on.

So, he tried reasoning with them and explaining why he found all this very weird. But, in the end, Whiton felt outnumbered and rushed, as his plane was boarding.

As a last attempt, he bought a normal pair of mini-stereo headphones with a lightning adapter.yet, even this setup did not work without Bluetooth.

The weird issue also exists when using a 3.5mm to Lightning dongle.
The weird issue also exists when using a 3.5mm to Lightning dongle.
“I return it all, run to catch my plane, and spend half the flight wondering what planet I’m on.” he shares.

Misleading Market Practices

Whiton thought about the bizarre incident throughout his flight and didn’t let go of it even as he returned home.

Once he got home, he researched the issue and discovered that it’s not an isolated case. Apparently, many cheap “lightning” headphones have been known to not function without Bluetooth.

“A scourge of cheap “lightning” headphones and lightning accessories is flooding certain markets, unleashed by unscrupulous Chinese manufacturers who have discovered an unholy recipe.” Whiton explained.

Based on his research, true Apple lightning devices are more expensive to make. So, instead of following Apple’s standards, these manufacturers made a sort of chimera of wired and wireless headphones.

A simplified Lightning plug pinout.
A simplified Lightning plug pinout.

These devices receive audio via Bluetooth but draw power through the lightning cable, bypassing Apple’s specifications and avoiding the need for a battery. This misleading tactic allows manufacturers to cut costs while deceiving consumers.

He also found that cheap “lightning” adapters use the same method, transmitting audio signals through Bluetooth while drawing power from the phone.

What’s more is that he discovered that these products often feature a lightning/iPhone logo on the box but do not mention Bluetooth, leading to widespread confusion.

“From a moral or even engineering perspective, this strikes me as a kind of evil. These companies have made the cheapest iPhone earbuds known to humankind, while still charging $12 or $15 per set, pocketing the profits, while preying on the technical ignorance of people in remote towns.” says Whiton.

“Perhaps worst of all, there are now thousands or even millions of people in the world who simply believe that wired iPhone headphones use bluetooth (whatever that is), leaving them with an utterly incoherent understanding of the technologies involved.”

Apple announcing the loss of headphone jack in 2016. (From: ABCNews)
Apple announcing the loss of headphone jack in 2016. (From: ABCNews)

But Whiton did not put all the blame to the third-party manufacturers.

Instead, he argued that this all rooted from Apple’s decision to remove the headphone jack and make lightning technology costly.

“Despite the manufacturer outright lying on the packaging, Apple did create this mess with Lightning and removing the headphone port. They should’ve opened sourced Lightning and I’m glad it’s going away.” he says.

Is Apple the Problem?

The online community had mixed reactions to Whiton’s revelation.

The broader discussion touched on the deceptive nature of these products and the confusion they cause among consumers.

“Without taking sides, I’d say the fundamental problem in this case is the deception. They are pretending to sell one thing and delivering another. If they told you what you were buying, I’d call it clever and totally reasonable.” says rootusrootus.

But, a lot of them do agree with Whiton’s conclusions.

Many argued that Apple’s business decisions were self-serving. They pointed out that Apple’s move to remove the headphone jack and make Lightning technology costly led to the proliferation of these deceptive products.

One of the responses in Whiton's tweet. (From: X)
One of the responses in Whiton’s tweet. (From: X)

Others saw the manufacturers’ workaround as a clever and necessary solution to Apple’s restrictive practices. They appreciated the ingenuity behind using Bluetooth to transmit audio while using the wired connection for power.

“Doing it with Bluetooth and using the Lightning plug only for power is surely easier. It’s just lazy. But it’s kind of wild that the laziest, cheapest way to make unofficial “Lightning” headphones is with Bluetooth.” says another user.

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