Putting an Out of Work iPod Display to Good Use

[Mike Harrison] produces so much quality content that sometimes excellent material slips through the editorial cracks. This time we noticed that one such lost gem was [Mike]’s reverse engineering of the 6th generation iPod Nano display from 2013, as caught when the also prolific [Greg Davill] used one on a recent board. Despite the march of progress in mobile device displays, small screens which are easy to connect to hobbyist style devices are still typically fairly low quality. It’s easy to find fancier displays as salvage but interfacing with them electrically can be brutal, never mind the reverse engineering required to figure out what signal goes where. Suffice to say you probably won’t find a manufacturer data sheet, and it won’t conveniently speak SPI or I2C.

After a few generations of strange form factor exploration Apple has all but abandoned the stand-alone portable media player market; witness the sole surviving member of that once mighty species, the woefully outdated iPod Touch. Luckily thanks to vibrant sales, replacement parts for the little square sixth generation Nano are still inexpensive and easily available. If only there was a convenient interface this would be a great source of comparatively very high quality displays. Enter [Mike].

Outer edge of FPGA and circuit

This particular display speaks a protocol called DSI over a low voltage differential MIPI interface, which is a common combination which is still used to drive big, rich, modern displays. The specifications are somewhat available…if you’re an employee of a company who is a member of the working group that standardizes them — there are membership discounts for companies with yearly revenue below $250 million, and dues are thousands of dollars a quarter.

Fortunately for us, after some experiments [Mike] figured out enough of the command set and signaling to generate easily reproduced schematics and references for the data packets, checksums, etc. The project page has a smattering of information, but the circuit includes some unusual provisions to adjust signal levels and other goodies so try watching the videos for a great explanation of what’s going on and why. At the time [Mike] was using an FPGA to drive the display and that’s certainly only gotten cheaper and easier, but we suspect that his suggestion about using a fast micro and clever tricks would work well too.

It turns out we made incidental mention of this display when covering [Mike]’s tiny thermal imager but it hasn’t turned up much since them. As always, thanks for the accidental tip [Greg]! We’re waiting to see the final result of your experiments with this.

Giving A 6th Generation iPod A New Lease On Life

It can be disheartening when a favoured device begins to break-down. Afflicted by an all-but-dead battery and a fritzing-out hard drive, Redditor [cswimc] sensed the imminent doom creeping up on their 6th generation iPod, and responded by reviving and upgrading the decrepit device instead!

It’s no easy task to crack open one of these things, so they found themselves taking their time and carefully wedging the pry tool between the front and back covers, working their way around the exterior. Once separated, gingerly disconnecting the few ribbon cables allowed the iPod to be opened fully. From there, they turned to  swapping out the original hard drive for an iFlash dual SD card board — one of the cards turned out to be a dud, but 128GB is still a step up from 80GB — and a new 3000mAh battery. Combined with replacing the power-hungry HDD, the battery life has been overwhelmingly increased over the original’s 650mAh capacity!

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The 2000GB iPod You Wished For In The 00’s Is An iSore

Remember those times we all said that we wouldn’t mind it if the iPod was three times as thick but could store a lot more songs and the battery lasted forever? Well, the I-Sore will let us truly consider our stance on the subject.

The iSore would have definitely made some of us the coolest kids on the yard in Jr. High (or at the engineering office) in the 00’s. At first glance we assumed it would be one of those fancy single board computers packaged with a big hard drive masquerading as an iPod. We were surprised to discover that [jimbone] was performing a classic iPod hack.

The ipod’s back is pried off and discarded. A ZIF to SATA adapter connects it to a significantly larger hard drive. The basic battery is replaced with an 8Ah pack. The USB ports are broken out. For the case there are a few options. There’s a 3D printed case, a wooden case, and even one that looks like a Lovecraftian horror.

[jimbone] claims 100 hours of playtime on a single charge. He hasn’t claimed bulking up a bit from carrying it around, but we can make our guesses.

Solid Plywood Enclosure iPod Speaker Dock

Portable Media Players are great for listening to music on the go. At home though, using headphones may not be the most convenient or comfortable option. [decpower] didn’t have a stereo to connect his iPod to. Since he didn’t want to shell out a bunch of money to buy one, he decided to build his own iPod dock and powered speaker combo.

Laminated iPod Dock Speaker The case is made out of plywood: many, many layers of plywood. Each layer of plywood was cut out using a laser cutter. Unlike most speaker cabinets that have a distinct boxy enclosure, this unit is mostly solid with cutouts in each layer only where voids were designed to be. [decpower] tried to replicate the Bose Wave Radio internal sound passages. Up top a dock slot complete with a 30-pin connector makes connecting an iPod super simple.

Unfortunately, [decpower] doesn’t say what he’s using for an amplifier or where his speakers came from. He does indicate that there is an internal battery for powering the setup and it appears there is a volume knob out back. Regardless, the final project looks pretty good and [decpower] deserves some kudos for the unique construction method.

Reverse Engineering Apple’s Lightning Connector

Introduced with the iPhone 5 nearly two and a half years ago, Apple’s Lightning connector has stymied the incredible homebrew electronics scene that was previously accustomed to the larger, older, better documented, and more open 30-pin connector. Now, finally, the protocols inside the Apple Lightning connector have been broken. We’re still a ways off from a Lightning breakout board, but this is the first proof that a serial console can be obtained through a Lightning connector. That’s the first step to totally owning an iDevice, and this is how all those exploits will start.

[Ramtin Amin] began the teardown of the Lightning connector began as most reverse engineering tasks should – looking at the patents, finding a source for the connectors, and any other products that use similar hardware. [Ramtin] found a Lightning to Serial converter powered by an STM32 microcontroller. Disassembling the firmware and looking at the output on a logic analyzer, [Ramtin] figured out part of the protocol, most of the wiring, and after some research, schematics for how an until-now unidentified chip in Lightning-enabled iProducts was wired.

The chip in question is colloquially known as the Tristar, and more accurately as a CBTL1608A1. During the teardown craze of the iPhone 5 launch, this chip was frequently identified as a DisplayPort Multiplexer. It is a mux, but not for DisplayPort – it’s only to connect the accessory (Lightning) UART, debug UART, baseband, SoC, and JTAG. This is the key to the castle, and being able to get through this chip means we can now own our iDevices.

The chip is an incredibly small BGA affair that [Ramtin] desoldered, reflowed onto a breakout board, and connected to an STM32 Discovery board. Using the techniques he used with other Lightning-enabled hardware, [Ramtin] was able to connect his iPhone and ever so slightly peek his head into the inner workings of his device.

It’s not complete control of an iDevice yet, but this is how all those future exploits will start. [Ramtin] uploaded a short video as a proof of concept, you can check that out below.

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The Bluetooth iPod Controller For Android

iDuinoid

By now, just about everyone in the industrialized world has a broken iPod with a cracked screen, a battery that won’t charge, or one that’s simply sitting in a drawer somewhere. The iPod is still a great way to store music, though, and [Trevor] came up with a way to control its playback with an Android device, showing the song name, playlists, and everything else with an Arduino and a cheap Bluetooth adapter

With the right resistance on a specific pin on the 30-pin dock connector, iPods will send the track name, and playlists over a serial connection, as well as respond to play, pause, skip, and volume commands. There hasn’t been much work towards implementing the copious amount of documentation of this iPod accessory mode in small microcontroller projects, but with a little bit of work, [Trevor] managed to replicate the usual iPod dock commands with an Arduino.

Using an HC-05 Bluetooth module, it’s possible to get this iPod-connected Arduino to relay data to and from an Android device with a small app. The circuit is simple, the app is free, and if you have an iPod with an old battery or cracked screen, it can still work as a music storage device. Not bad, [Trevor].

More Counterfeit Apple Chargers Than You Can Shake An iPod At

Phones, MP3 players, designer bags, artwork, money…. anything with value will bring out the counterfeiters looking to make a quick buck. Sometimes the product being counterfeited isn’t even necessarily expensive. For example, an Apple iPad Charger. [Ken Shirriff] got a hold of a counterfeit iPad Charger, took it apart, and did some testing.

So why would someone buy a counterfeit product? To save some money! The counterfeits are usually cheaper to reel the potential buyer in thinking they are getting a deal. In this case, the Apple product costs $19 and the knock-off is $3, that’s a huge difference.

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