Lightning Port Connector – Making Sense of Apple’s New Port

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In the 48 hours since Apple announced its new line of iPhones and iPods, much of the public’s reaction has been focused on the devices themselves. Does it matter that the iPhone 5 is longer and runs faster than its predecessor if it doesn’t contain an NFC chip, improved Bluetooth, or other key new technologies that Android phones either will soon adapt if they have not already? Does it matter how many colors the iPod nano comes in if it only comes in a 16 GB model? Does Apple actually still sell iPod Classics? All of these questions have been hotly discussed but don’t engage what may be Apple’s key new development announced at Wednesday’s event.

Lightning Port

The new Apple lightning port charger and lightning port sync cable that will replace the proprietary dock plug that has been used since at least 2003, struck on Wednesday and caused a firestorm. The Apple fanboys either love it–possibly too much–or loathe it–also probably too much. Android loyalists are glad they still can talk about how the iPhone and iPod can’t connect via MicroUSB. Middle of the road folks are not quite sure what to think.

Lightning, despite all of Apple’s fanfare and the actual advancements it has made in terms of quality and durability, is still much of the same technology that most iDevice users are already accustomed to. Let’s analyze how different the world will be with Lightning plugs as a part of it.

WHY LIGHTNING?

The simplest explanation thus far as to why Apple changed its proprietary dock connection to the Lightning port cable is less about the cable or plug itself but the iDevice it connects to. According to Phil Schiller, Senior Vice President of Apple, the Lightning port connection was adopted for the iPhone 5 and new iPods so the devices could be made thinner. Put simply, a bigger plug requires more internal hardware to make it operate properly. If Apple wanted a thinner phone, it needed a more dynamic port inside of the phone. Thus, the Lightning port cable was born.

WHAT’S THE SAME?

It’s still USB 2.0

The Lightning port connector, despite the advancements it represents, is still somewhat hindered by the fact that it has not yet made the jump to USB 3.0. Like the cables that have shipped with the iPhone since the debut of the 3G, the new Lightning port sync cable still runs on the USB 2.0 standard. This seems counterintuitive for multiple reasons, the least not being that a USB 3.0 cord can still operate over a USB 2.0 connection. A USB 3.0 Lightning sync cable would make sense, especially considering that every iMac, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and Mac Mini ships with at least one USB 3.0 port. With Apple making the jump to Thunderbolt port connections and the increased adoption of USB 3.0, it seems like an upgrade to the Apple Lightning USB cable’s standard might already be long overdue, and it’s only been two days.

It’s still not MicroUSB

With every Android phone, every BlackBerry, and every Windows Phone device syncing and charging over MicroUSB in the status quo, many hoped that Apple would give in to public demand, just this once, and make the iPhone 5 charge and sync via USB micro. Much to their chagrin, the Apple Lightning port cable and a MicroUSB port are not at all alike. Of course, Apple has always wanted to create a closed ecosystem of products that work over protocols that Apple, and only Apple, gets to dictate.

The Lightning sync port is another step along that line. Lightning allows Apple to continue what they’ve been doing since introducing the long-form 30-pin connector in 2003, which is charging companies who manufacture docks, accessories, and other third-party connectors based on Apple’s proprietary connection a solid amount of money for the right to use that proprietary connection to manufacture their products. Apple doesn’t want that to change anytime soon, even though just a few months ago the mothership threw its support behind a worldwide push for a standard of MicroUSB for charging portable devices. It is possible that future generations will be dual-compatible with Lightning port accessories and USB micro, but that seems unlikely. According to Apple’s Senior VP Phil Schiller, “this is the new connector for many years to come.”

WHAT’S DIFFERENT?

It’s 80% smaller

Apple put major work into shrinking the old, 30-pin, inch-wide dock connector to something thinner, smaller, and more intuitive. Mission accomplished.

The Lightning dock connector, compared to its 30-pin predecessor, only has eight pins. That’s 22 less than before. Apple got rid of all those signals by stripping out obsolete technology that made sense for early-era iPods and iPhones, but has been surpassed by alternative methods since. Apple’s new Lightning dock connector is entirely digital; you won’t find any analog channels in the lightning port accessory connector. Apple managed to shrink it and still make it work as well as before – a feat indicative of significant technological advancement but one that has been long overdue.

It can plug both ways

Unlike the older Apple proprietary connection that could only be plugged in one way, the Lightning port charge and sync plug can be inserted into the iPhone 5’s dock connector regardless of which direction it is facing. As long as it lines up flat with the Lightning dock port, it will plug in. Pretty neat, and definitely more usable.

It’s more durable

Apple claims to have made the new Lightning USB cable more durable and sturdy, which should be a welcome improvement. For as many fully broken iPod and iPhone charge and sync cords out there, there exist an equal number of ones wrapped up in electrical tape as a form of emergency technological triage. Plain and simple, iPhone and iPod sync cables have plain old stunk up the place in terms of overall long-term durability. They rip and tear easily and do not often last more than a year or two. If Apple speaks true and the Lightning charge and sync cable is, in fact, more durable, that is a solid improvement on a longtime shortcoming.

ADAPTATION

All of the hullaballoo and hubbub revolving around the iPhone 5’s new Lightning dock connector is not so much about how it works, but how the new connector is going to work with older devices that use the former Apple proprietary connection. Most iPhone, iPod, and iPad users have some sort of additional accessory for their device, like a speaker dock, charger, cradle, or car mount. Those users, who also may want to upgrade to the new iPhone 5, do not want to go out and buy all new accessories and devices to replace ones made for the older connection standard. Apple is making it somewhat easy for users to adapt their devices to older legacy dock connections, but not everything will work like a charm. Here are the adapting issues you need to know about.

It’ll cost you about $30-$40

Apple’s already offering adapters for the new Lightning port price connection on its website. The first is a simple 30-pin to Lighning adapter plug that you’ll need your old 30-pin cable to use, and that costs $29.

The second employs the same concept of plugging the older 30-pin cable or dock connector into the adapter to make it work, but this one is 0.2 meters long and offers a little more flexibility and length. It costs $39.

It can charge and sync

Both of the Apple Lightning dock connector adapters will be able to perform traditional charge and sync duties. As long as you have that older 30-pin dock connector, you can charge your Lightning-equipped devices or sync them via USB. The performance, though not necessarily improved by the new Lightning charge and sync connector, will not be hampered by the extra adapter.

It supplies analog audio

You can process analog audio from your Lightning port audio device to your old speaker dock or speaker adapter in your home or car. Any speakers that ran off of the proprietary 30-pin dock connector will be able to play audio from a Lightning-equipped iDevice.

It doesn’t supply video output

In a push by Apple to encourage users to use other methods of sharing video like its built-in AirPlay technology, the new Lightning dock connector adapters won’t be able to supply analog video through a connection to a display or a television. If you want to share video to another screen from your Lightning-equipped iPhone 5 or iPod touch, you won’t be able to do it with the new adapters.

It doesn’t support iPod dock controls

If you have an iHome or other home iPod or iPhone dock that has controls for iPod functions like play/pause, skip, fast forward and such, the Lightning dock connector to 30-pin adapter will not support those controls. Dock remotes and on-board button controls that help you control your music will not work with the 30-Pin to Lightning adapter. This also applies to car stereos with proprietary iPod input and on-face iPod controls.

Video adapters are coming soon

According to Schiller, Apple will be debuting two different video adapters for the Lightning dock connector in the coming months. Apple has both Lightning to HDMI adapters as well as Lightning to VGA adapters in the works that willl be available soon.

It’s already sold out

As of publication, the wait to receive your adapter will be about two to three weeks thanks to a quick sellout and rapidly increasing backlogs. If you want to adapt your Lightning dock connector to your other 30-pin devices, you’ll probably have to wait.

_______________________________

Do you agree with Apple’s move to switch to the Lightning dock connector? Is this a big mistake? Let us know what you think in the comments below. Thanks for reading!

 

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