Why Apple’s new Lightning Connector will do just fine

With the release of the iPhone 5 comes a slew of small changes that build on the previous device. One of the larger, or should we say smaller, changes is that of the docking connector. Apple has chosen to move away from the classic 30-pin connector that users have come to know and love (at least in the sense that we love anything that we have 100 instances of in our drawers and that countless accessories rely on) and to go with their new “Lightning Connector”.

The Lightning connection consists of an 8-pin design that will allow the connector to be flipped over, eliminating the “fumbling in the dark cellphone charging dance” when going to sleep. Not only that, but in other instances this will be helpful (think hooking up a cable so you don’t lose your navigation while driving down the highway). The uni-directional design of the old 30-pin as well as most other phones with micro-usb has been a long time gripe of mine. Again, at the same time, it’s not easy or cheap from a manufacturing, marketing, and design standpoint to create a new connector for an entire line of pre-existing products that people have shelled out millions for in the realm of accessories and cables. There are a few other things we should note about the new Lightning connector:

  • It will be featured on the iPhone 5, the 5th gen iPod Touch, and 7th gen iPod Nano
  • It’s 80% smaller than ol’ 30-pin
  • It’s a new connector design that has not existed previously (not that this is a bad or inconceivable thing)
  • It’s not USB 3.0 backed on the handset side. This is still a USB 2.0 protocol, so don’t expect anything amazing in terms of speed. It’s good to note though, that Engadget DID find it to be faster than the iPhone 4s 30-pin connection at transfers:

“To test this we lined up an iPhone 4S next to an iPhone 5 and ran both through a number of syncs with large files. Pulling 5.5GB of data from iTunes to the iPhone 4S took five minutes and six seconds on average. Syncing those same files to the iPhone 5 took three minutes and 57 seconds on average. So, nearly 20 percent faster, but we’re not sure how much of this is due to the new connector and how much can be attributed to faster internals in the phone itself”.  – Tim Stevens, Engadget iPhone 5 review

  • It does NOT support iPod Out, even with the $30 adapter. However, it WILL support analog audio out as can be seen here. We should note that iPod Out is not what most people think it is, see the previous link for more info.
  • It does NOT support video out.
  • It has been said by most blogs that this is a move to push AirPlay further and force more people to use it. We ask, who’s forcing? We welcome AirPlay.

Making a new proprietary connector is not something so crazy to see from Apple. There are other phone companies out there with their own specific or proprietary connections that I’m sure we’ve all seen in the past. It’s important to note that when not using a standard USB connection, companies can later incorporate some of those pins to other things, such as device specific accessories (or USB 3.0 in the future). To those who complain about having to carry another cable around I can say this: You’ve already been doing so with an Apple device. If you have anything other than an Apple device AS WELL AS an iPhone, iPad, or iPod then you’ve already been carrying 2 (at least) specific cables. Another thing to note is this: Yes, the adapter is damn expensive. Should it be cheaper? Sure. Doesn’t mean it will be, and quite honestly  when was the last time you had to “emergency buy” something from the Apple store, or just went in for that matter, and found that their prices on EVERYTHING are ridiculously high? You won’t have to cry much longer, because, looking at the layout of the connector it’s simple to see that there should be knockoffs for much lower prices showing up on the market very soon.

All in all, honestly, as an engineer and designer I’m happy to see a new clean design for a connector as opposed to the horrendous 30-pin monster. We don’t need the grill of a whale to connect our iPhone’s to charge or transfer some music.Along with this it’s about-damn-time that we get a connector that can be FLIPPED! Yes, they could have gone micro-usb, but that wouldn’t really fit their whole image would it? Apple has decided to create it’s own fancy connector (which is really simple) and it looks nice and from what early reviews state, works great. I haven’t lost much sleep over Apple’s choice of connector, and I don’t think you should either.

And you thought I was kidding about the 30-pin bristles reference