A frequent contributor to the hacker community, [stacksmashing] has prepared an excellent instructional video on reverse engineering Apple’s Lighting connector proprietary protocol. The video begins by showing how to gain physical access to the signals and hooking them up to a logic analyzer. He then notes that the handshaking uses only a single signal and proposes that Apple isn’t going to re-invent the wheel (perhaps a risky assumption). Using a ChatGPT search, obligatory these days, we learn that Dallas Semiconductor / Microchip 1-wire is probably the protocol employed.
Which embedded single-wire busses exist that encode bits with different lengths of low and high signals?
At the basic level, 1-wire and protocols like Texas Instruments SDQ operate in a similar manner. It turns out that [stacksmashing] already wrote a SDQ analyzer module for the Saleae logic analyzer. Aided by this tool, he digs deeper and learns more about the kinds of messages and their contents. For example, upon being plugged in, the host system queries the accessory’s serial number, manufacturer, model number, and product description. Finally, he introduces the CRC reverse engineering tool reveng to determine which CRC polynomial and algorithm the protocol uses to frame each packet.
Even if you have no interest in Lightning cables, this video is a great tutorial on the types of things you need to do in order to make sense of an unknown communications protocol. Gather what information you can, make some educated guesses, observe the signals, revise your guesses, and repeat. In part two, [stacksmashing] will show how to build a homemade iPhone JTAG cable.
We wrote in more detail about cracking the Lightning interface back in 2015. The Lightning interface may have been a good solution in its day, foreshadowing some of the features we now have in USB-C. But its proprietary and closed nature meant it wasn’t used outside of the Apple ecosystem. With the proliferation and capabilities of USB-C, not to mention various legislative edicts, Lightning’s days seem numbered. Is the industry finally settling on one interface? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
The iPod Nano was one of Apple’s masterworks, but it’s really tied down by its dependence on wired headphones. At least, that’s what [Tucker Osman] must have thought, as he spent an unreasonable amount of time designing a Bluetooth mod for the 3rd gen Nano. And it’s a thing of beauty — temperamental, brutally difficult to build, and fragile in use, but still beautiful. And while some purists try to keep their signal analog, [Tucker]’s coup d’etat is to intercept the iPod’s audio signal before the DAC chip, keeping the entire signal path digital to the Bluetooth speaker. Oh, and he also managed to make the volume and track skip buttons work, back across the wireless void.
While you’d be hard pressed to find a Hackaday writer that feels any nostalgia for the DRM nonsense the iPod helped to introduce, we’ve got to admit that we miss that click wheel. Spinning your way through long lists was a breeze, and the tactile response made it easy to stop exactly where you wanted. These days, we’re stuck fumbling our way through touch screen interfaces that make simple tasks like seeking to a particular spot in a song or video all but impossible to do with any kind of accuracy.
If you too yearn to once again feel that subtle thumping under your thumb, then check out this project from [landonr]. Technically the handheld gadget is intended to be used as a wireless remote for a home automation system powered by ESPHome, but that’s only one possible application for this particular combination of off-the-shelf components.
Building your own version of the handheld device is a simple as mounting a LILYGO ESP32 T-Display TTGO, an ANO Rotary Navigation Encoder from Adafruit, and a battery pack to a scrap of perfboard. We’d probably look into 3D printing a case to make it a bit less…pokey, but that’s up to you. The result actually bears quite a resemblance to Apple’s iconic media player, but without that pesky walled garden to hold you back.
As mentioned previously, [landonr] wrote the firmware with the intention of controlling a home automation system. So there’s a lot of stuff in there about turning on lights and such. But there are also functions for media playback that look very promising. Whatever software you end up running on it, one thing is for sure: running through the menus is going to feel like a dream.
On October 23rd of 2001, the first Apple iPod was launched. It wasn’t the first Personal Media Player (PMP), but as with many things Apple the iPod would go on to provide the benchmark for what a PMP should do, as well as what they should look like. While few today remember the PMP trailblazers like Diamond’s Rio devices, it’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t know what an ‘iPod’ is.
Even as Microsoft, Sony and others tried to steal the PMP crown, the iPod remained the irrefutable market leader, all the while gaining more and more features such as video playback and a touch display. Yet despite this success, in 2017 Apple discontinued its audio-only iPods (Nano and Shuffle), and as of May 10th, 2022, the Apple iPod Touch was discontinued. This marks the end of Apple’s foray into the PMP market, and makes one wonder whether the PMP market of the late 90s is gone, or maybe just has transformed into something else.
After all, with everyone and their pet hamster having a smartphone nowadays, what need is there for a portable device that can ‘only’ play back audio and perhaps video?
The iPod in question was a 5.5th generation model, prized for being the last to feature the Wolfson DAC with its good audio quality. [Ellie] used the ever-helpful iFixit guide to learn how to disassemble the device safely. Careful hands and a spudger are key to avoid marring the pressed-together metal case.
Once opened, an iFlash Quad board was installed inside that lets the iPod use up to four micro SD cards for storage instead of the original hard disk drive. With two 512 GB cards installed, [Ellie] won’t be short of storage. A new battery was then subbed in, along with a fancy clear front casing for the aesthetic charm of it all.
After the hardware modifications were complete, the iPod needed to be restored with iTunes to start working again. She then installed the open source Rockbox firmware, which opens up the capabilities of the hardware immensely. Perhaps best of all, it can play DOOM! Alternatively, you can use the clickwheel to control the volume on your MacBook if you so desire.
[Ellie’s] project goes to show that modifying an iPod these days can be a fun weekend build thanks to the great software and hardware now available. It’s wonderful to see that the platform still has such great support years after it has been discontinued. If you really want to look back though, take a gander at the early prototype of Apple’s breakout MP3 player.
In the days before you could just stream your favorite music directly from your phone and into your Bluetooth speaker, pods, or car, there was the Sony Walkman and various portable tape players. Then there were portable CD players. As MP3’s became a popular format, CD players that could play MP3’s on home made CD’s were popular. Some portable digital media players came to market in the mid 1990’s. But in October of 2001, the scene changed forever when Apple unveiled the first generation iPod.
Of course, the iPod didn’t start out being so svelte, shiny, and downright cool. This engineering prototype has been hiding in [Cabel]’s closet for almost 20 years and they’ve just now decided to share with us its hilariously oversized case, JTAG port, and square pushbuttons that look like they came from a local electronics supply house. As [Cabel] brings out in the excellent writeup, the hardware itself is very close to production level, and the date on the prototype is very near the actual product launch.
Of course prototyping is an essential part of building any product, production or otherwise. Having a gander at such pre-production devices like this, or these off-ear speaker prototype for Valve’s VR headset reminds us just how important even the ugliest prototypes can be.
Have you got any pre-production nuggets to share with the world? Be sure to let us know by dropping a note in the Tip Line, and thanks to [jp] who sent this one in!
[production] cites several previous, similar projects that showed how to interface with the click-wheel, a perfectly fitting color display from Waveshare, and open-source software called Rockbox to run on the pi. We all stand on the shoulders of giants.
Some nice innovations to look for are the Pi Zero’s micro-SD card and a micro-USB charging port aligned to the large slot left from the iPod’s original 40 pin connector. Having access for charging and reflashing the card without opening the case seems quite handy. There’s a nice sized battery too, though we wonder if a smaller battery and a Qi charger could fit in the same space. Check the project’s Hackaday.io for the parts list, and GitHub for the software side of things, and all the reference links you’ll need to build your own. It looks like [production] has plans to turn old iPods into Gameboy clones, you may want to check back for progress on that.