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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  • Apple did change the charging pins in their ‘old’ connector a couple of years ago which rendered quite a few devices in my house useless.

    I like that there is no ‘wrong way’ to connect this new cable. it is about time someone implemented that.

  • RaVage

    I agree with the entire article. But I have a thing to add against Apple.
    They had the balls to change the ooold connector, very good. But why in hell did they invent another proprietary connector instead of embracing the microUSB standard ? (The connection is still USB behind this nex connection…)
    Shame on you Apple…

    • Guest

      As I detailed in the Article, MicroUSB doesn’t really solve any issues. In fact, the only “standard” relates to charging, there is no obligation to use it for anything else.

      • Yes it does solve issues, don’t be so blinkered. I have oodles of micro usb chargers/leads in my house. If I want to charge my phone I can use a mains charger or plug it into my PC with one of the many micro usb leads I have. If I want to charge it at work? Again, micro usb.
        You get an iPhone 5 and you have one lead, you forget to take it to work with you and the phone needs charging? You need to buy a new lead. Micro usb may not be a standard for anything but charging but that is what the makers agreed to, a standard for charging and Apple have not adhered to it. OK, you can get an adapter, but why could they have not made it so you can just plug a micro usb lead into it?
        Everything on the iDevices is proprietary purely for the purpose of control and making money. They create a new connector and anyone who makes anything to connect to the phone has to licence it.

        • Guest

          As detailed in the article, the reasons Apple has chosen to go for a new proprietary connector are numerous. The simple fact is that whilst MicroUSB may be more widespread, that is only the case for chargers. There is a massive ecosystem around Apple’s old connector and I fully expect that to be the case with the new one. MicroUSB doesn’t have any where near as much success despite being on an order of magnitude more devices.

          Also, MicroUSB is only the current standard, there are no guarantees how long it will be around for. Apple sells a lot of tablets as well and so would still need a proprietary connector for them.

          Apple obviously doesn’t want to put the fate of their products into the hands of others.

        • On a note from this, microUSB may be the standard but Apple have a history of ensuring the correct experience across their entire ecosystem. With the old 30-pin and the new Lightning connector, the cables generally worked for what they were intended for.

          In contrast, microUSB is deployed in many different ways across rival devices. Most manufacturers recommend to use the microUSB cable that came with your device. I know that the design of a microUSB cable varies between Samsung, Sony and Nokia as each port whilst supporting the standard is designed in a slightly different way.

          Performance using a non-Lumia microUSB on a Lumia is bad and nowhere near as effective as using the official Lumia cable and using a BlackBerry microUSB cable on a Samsung (i.e. Galaxy S3, Note etc) also highlights a significant difference in performance. The same happens across the whole microUSB range.

          The ‘standard’ might be the same meaning they should generally work, but all manufacturers adopt and design microUSB in unique way. Different port and standard, yet similar to Apple…

    • Uncle Bob

      Because it’s their connector and they’ll get loads of dosh from companies who’ll have to pay Apple to manufacture them.

      • Guest

        They won’t be making any more money now than they were before.

        • Of course they will. I’ll bet they make millions from the extra adapters people will buy.
          They could have made a hybrid charging / data port, one that accepted a micro USB adapter purely for charging. After all that is what the port is used for most often.
          Having all these fancy features available is one thing, using them is another. 99% of the time I plug my phone in purely for charging. If I want to transfer data I take the memory card out and pop it into my laptop.
          Oh, damn, forgot, you can’t do that with an iDevice ;)

  • Somebody

    “I feel its important to remember that Apple has used the same connector on its phones for ~10 years.”……..er…….the iphone was introduced in 2007 so not 10 years….

    • Matt

      Wrong. It came with the iPods before hand. So the article is correct.

      • Somebody

        ………….”on its phones”.

        When has an ipod been a phone?

        • Guest

          My mistake, should have said devices. Corrected now

  • I’d have liked a wireless induction charge option like Nokia.

  • Anonymous

    Dock connector was one of the very few good things in iPhone. It was very easy to get it working with your either car stereo, home cinema system, small radio dock in your office. And it was not cost a fortune.
    My music was always with me and was very easy to play. So what now? Pay £30 for cable, £100 for new adapter to my car stereo, buy new amplituner for £400 with new dock for £150? (my Onkyo will never get new dock as it’s 4yr old) and £200 for new stereo in my bedroom? NO WAY.
    If I have to use line-in cable with minijack plug, there will be no difference between iPhone and any other phone on the market, so I can buy Galaxy III or Lumia 920 – will get better phone for less.

  • What happened to this then? http://news.cnet.com/8301-1035_3-10274953-94.html
    Pretty sure it is 2012, Apple agree to micro usb in 2012, they launch a new phone in 2012 with a new connector, micro usb like everyone else? Nope. Gits

    • Guest

      Apple sells an adapter to comply with that standard. The problem lies with the MicroUSB standard only being for chargers

  • Anonymous

    I like that Apple put so much thought into these sorts of things. No doubt they’ve designed their cable to be able to do all sorts of things now and in the future. Change can be annoying but the benefits are probably worth it.

    At least you can now buy new accessories and have confidence that they will work for years to come. Nothing is forever but how many other accessories can you buy with as much confidence.

    • UncleBob

      The only thought Apple have put into this connector, is control… Control of licences to manufacture these connectors.

      • Guest

        The licensing conditions for the Lightning connector are exactly the same as they were for the 30 pin dock connector.

  • Anonymous

    Also. Where possible you should be buying wireless accessories that preferably use bluetooth. The only time I plug a cable into my Gnex is to charge it or to transfer over something large like a movie. For everything else it’s OTA all the way.

  • Joleen

    Very little has been made about the new SIM cards these clowns have made phone operators adopt despite other manufacturers objecting. Am I the only one who thinks this company are getting to powerful? Who gives a toss about the new connector? Even if it were a 4 pin phone jack the sheep would still buy it and that’s what counts for apple. BUT leave our SIM cards alone.

    • Guest

      Whilst the nano sim is controversial it was not Apple that made the operators adopt the design. They presented their proposals to ETSI who ratified the new form factor. As far as I am aware, operators are not under any obligation to provide nano-sims to its customers and Micro Sim (3FF) and so called “Normal” Sims (2FF) still continue to be supplied.