• The impact of the new Lightning Connector - don't panic, it's not that bad

    The iPhone with the new lightning connector was released in September and a number of users may be concerned about the impact of the new connectors so today we're looking at the potential impact this may have moving forward.

    While doing so, we thought we'd address some of the common questions that may arise as a result of the change.

    1. Why did Apple change the connector?

    Size, size size (and speed). The previous connector was too large. It's been around for nearly over 10 years and it was a matter of time before it became a liability for Apple. As devices get smaller, size is of the essence and anything that takes up space that could be better utilised for other components need to be addressed.

    2. Why didn't apple use a micro/mini/USB connector?

    The answer is actually a technical one. While micro USB cables may be a standard, they aren't good enough for what Apple wants. I won't go into the technicalities, as to be honest, I'm not an engineer but I'll reference someone else (Rainer Brockerhoff) that had a pretty good explanation.

    "People keep asking why Apple didnít opt for the micro-USB connector. The answer is simple: that connector isnít smart enough. It has only 5 pins: +5V, Ground, 2 digital data pins, and a sense pin, so most of the dock connector functions wouldnít work Ė only charging and syncing would. Also, the pins are so small that no current plug/connector manufacturer allows the 2A needed for iPad charging. Note that this refers to individual pins; Iíve been told that several devices manage to get around this by some trick or other, but I couldnít find any standard for doing so." - Rainer Brockerhoff

    3. Why not USB3?

    This is a really good question and is probably the biggest issue I see with the current cables. Apple states they only support USB2 and whilst the iPhone 5 isn't USB3, I don't see why it shouldn't have been. Some people would argue that if you buy a iPhone 5S or 6 (depending on which model incorporates USB3), you'll get a USB3 cable with it so there is some argument against this but having a number of USB2 cables and trying to keep track of which ones are USB3 may frustrate some users. I've done some research into this and it seems the cable does have the potential to support USB3 in future but obviously the existing cables would be limited to USB2 or only useful for charging.

    4. Will all my accessories become redundant?

    Yes and no. In some respects they may, in others it's unlikely. I have a mix of Apple accessories in my house. We have 3 iPads, 2 iPhones and two iPods along with all the accessories that go with them. The only accessories that will become unusable are:

    1. Any extra cables I purchased which could probably be given away when I sell my iPhone 4
    2. My TomTom car dock

    The rest could be catered for by after market accessories although some I'd probably consider rudundant anyway and use this as an excuse to get rid of them. I have a small speaker dock in the kitchen that I have an old iPod Nano 2 docked into. It's used primarily for playing nursery rhymes for my daughter while she is eating. Given that we've had this since prior to the original iPhone 3 release in Australia, I hardly have room for complaints but it's still connected to a Nano and wouldn't charge with an iPhone4. I have no requirement to change it although I have two Bluetooth speakers on the way thanks to Kickstarter so this could be the replacement if I decide to decommission my nano.

    My sound system on the other hand will have issues with the dock but is Bluetooth compatible. We never use the dock so it's not a problem but if you are using the dock on these devices, you will have problems and it's likely you will be forced to buy an adapter. If your dock support video, you have a bigger problem as the converter doesn't support video out. For those people who have the older style docks (Bose Sounddock for example), a good option would be to consider a Bluetooth dock connector to enable wireless music playing like the Wavejamr currently sold by Macfixit.

    5. What types of accessories will become redundant?

    Of all the accessories I have, only one (or two of the same) that will be completely unusable as a result of the upgrade. The unusable item being my TomTom Sat Nav Dock. If you purchased one of these recently, you probably have good right to be annoyed, but in saying that, the docks cost roughly $150 and have been out for more than 3 years making them due for an upgrade anyway. We got our in the days of the iPhone 3G a number of generations back so again, I'm not bothered but other users may be.

    6. Future proofing your accessories

    With the current direction of the market, the vast majority of iPhone speakers being released in the last 12 months are unlikely to be redundant if you purchased wireless based products. It's this exact reason that most people ventured down this path and I'd recommend heading down this path where possible in future. Although Bluetooth changes from year to year, it's still backwards compatible and at worst, you'll be supporting an old technology than your phone is capable of achieving with a lower audio quality. In short, if Apple decided to go to lightning 2 which is half the size of lightning one, you should still be able to use your wireless speaker.

    7. Does this connector upgrade make Apple any better or worse than other Vendors?

    Firstly, if we compare Apple to Android, you've probably had an easier time. With Android, you had no option of using the same dock with multiple phones anyway, because each generation of phone looked vastly different to the previous and each each manufacturer had its own design. If we looked at the products made redundant, well, if you were a Samsung or Motorola owner, you'd probably have been in the same boat a while back. Effectively, that means Apple is no worse. Given how long they have used the connector and the fact that the writing has been on the way for a long time, I don't think it's unreasonable for Apple to change it at this point, particularly if they intend making this a long term connector for the next 10 years.

    8. Do I have to pay $35 for connectors on all my existing accessories.

    If you want to buy the Apple original, then yes although realistically you'd be better of just buying the cable version for $25. If thats not palatable, they may have a wide variety of options appearing shortly when the Chinese and Korean manufacturer's deconstruct the connector and provide non-approved versions however Apple has attempted to prevent this with the chip in the lightning cable so this may never happen. It's not to say it will never happen, it just might not. Personally I'd recommend using something like the Bluetooth dock option which provides more flexibility as far as I am concerned.

    What I would like to see a lightning compatible version of the Aviiq universal adapter released as this would give me a lightning (iPhone) and iPad compatible cable in one for carrying around.

    About the author

    Athol Hill is the Practice Lead for Stonebridge Systems, an SAP & OpenText implementation partner specialising in web and content management implementations and strategy.

    He is a certified SAP and Project Management Professional with a large number of implementations spanning the globe including Australasia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe. When he isn't kitesurfing or spending time with his family, Athol writes part time for Mactalk on a range of subjects including iOS/OSX in the workplace, bleeding edge, product reviews and anything Mac. If you have something new and exciting to review, feel free to get in touch. He can be contacted via twitter on @themissionman or email on athol.hill@mactalk.com.au. Opinions noted here are Athol's own and aren't any official policy of position of his employer.
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