Opinion: Apples “Lightning” Connector *Updated*

Opinion: Apples Lightning Connector *Updated*

Apple announced a new iPhone yesterday and with it came a new connector called “Lightning”. It’s smaller, reversible and generally sleeker than the previous incumbent. Here’s the thing though, people are unhappy about this. They are full of woe about how it is going to cost them money to buy new accessories. There will be an adapter available but that will be £25, which I agree is expensive for what it is but also, Apple charges a premium for its products, people need to stop feigning surprise at this.


If you read my phone history, you’ll know I change phones, * a lot*. Whenever I did this I invariably had to buy a new desk dock, a new speaker dock, a new car mount, new cases etc. This has been an inherent problem in the phone industry for years, its never been solved, by anyone. Even within specific manufacturers there are multiple differences in the product line. Lets take Samsung  as an example because they are the biggest shipper of smartphones in the world. Similar issues exist with other manufacturers as well.

When the Galaxy S was released the MicroUSB was on the top. This made putting it in any sort of dock difficult as the phone would be upside down.

When the Galaxy S2 came along the MicroUSB moved to the bottom. Same connection but this small change rendered everything except “loose” chargers and USB cables obsolete.

Then came the Galaxy Nexus, MicroUSB port still on the bottom but now with an added set of pins along the side. So whilst the MicroUSB port was in the same place as the Galaxy S2 the phone now docked sideways (these pins exist on the Nexus 7 as well.

Then came the Galaxy S3, MicroUSB on the bottom, docked vertically. Fantastic. Oh, unless you want video out. The MHL cable that was released at the same time as the Galaxy S2 isn’t compatible with the S3 and the one that works with the S3 isn’t backwards compatible with the S2  either. You need to buy a proprietary cable to use that feature. Its £20.

Then you have Samsung’s Tablets, which use a proprietary cable and not MicroUSB.

If you’ve got an iPhone just now, I can understand there would be an irritant about having to get rid of or sell accessories that may not work, even with the adapter, but for me at least, I have long since accepted that this is an issue when upgrading. If my stuff works, its a bonus, if it doesn’t I take that into consideration.

I feel its important to remember that Apple has used the same connector on its devices for ~10 years. That’s quite a good innings for something of this nature. This is the first time they’ve ever changed the connector on the iPhone. Just to put that in perspective, in the same period MiniUSB was the adopted standard and that then became MicroUSB.

I’m not saying everyone should embrace it but at a time when many of us are criticising Apple for their lack of changes in their new Flagship phone, we are simultaneously criticising them for having the balls to change something that needed to be changed.

*****

The above line was originally the end of this editorial but since writing it yesterday I have had some interesting feedback on the issue, chief among which was a prolific accessory manufacturer (who shall remain anonymous) discussing the change with me. They say that they are excited by this change as it opens up a lot more possibilities and is not as technically limiting as the old 30 pin connector. They are looking at ways of supporting both types connector (possibly with a swappable connection or similar) The size of the new connector also enables them to start work on devices that would not normally have been possible. Lastly, this gives all manufacturers a “fresh start” in the marketplace and could give some non-established names the brake they need. Innovation will only be helped by this change. The company and I decided it would be best to keep them anonymous so as not to spoil any products and also to prevent any accusations of the company looking for publicity.

Further to my points above, this article explains, on a more technical level, why Apple would choose to have a propietary standard over MicroUSB. Short version: Apples connector is capable of a lot more and MicroUSB is of no use on an iPad.

Lastly, in relation to the pricing of the adapters. This is isn’t just a change in the size of the connector  and as such, the adapter actually has circuits that convert the 30 pin signal to the new 9 pin output. I appreciate that the adapter may still be overpriced but this perhaps goes some way to explaining why its not dirt cheap either, (and also why you may not see 3rd party versions straightaway)

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