Implications of Apple’s new Lightning connector


September 13, 2012

The new Lightning connector introduced on the iPhone 5 and updated iPod touch and iPod nano

The new Lightning connector introduced on the iPhone 5 and updated iPod touch and iPod nano

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It may still lack a micro SD card slot and didn’t get the much-rumored NFC capabilities, but the most controversial change ushered in with the new iPhone 5 – as well as the updated iPod touch and iPod nano – was undoubtedly the introduction of the new “Lightning” connector. So just what does the switch from the 30-pin connector to the new 8-pin connector mean for consumers?

Apple has a history of being ruthless when it comes to dropping technology it believes is past its use-by date. The company dumped floppy disk drives from its iMac G3 in 1998 and ditched the optical drive from its MacBook Air in 2008 and MacBook Pro with Retina display earlier this year. It also phased out the Mini-DVI from 2008 in favor of the Mini DisplayPort. Now the 30-pin connector is joining the list.

Technology has advanced quite a bit since the 30-pin connector replaced FireWire on the third-generation iPods back in 2003. So it’s not surprising to find the new Lightning connector has a number of advantages over its predecessor. It is reversible, meaning it doesn’t matter which way something is plugged into it, and it is faster and more durable. Apple also describes it as all-digital and adaptive, meaning that it adapts to use only the signals required by whatever is plugged into it.

But it’s the 80 percent reduction in size compared to the 30-pin connector that has allowed Apple to significantly reduce the thickness of the three new Lightning connector-toting iOS devices unveiled yesterday. And in the gadget world where thin is in, the days of the 30-pin connector have long been numbered.

But what does it mean for consumers weighing up a potential purchase? If you’re new to the Apple fold then the new connector won’t really have any impact at all. The same applies for those upgrading from a previous model but who haven’t shelled out on any Made for iPod accessories. However, given the tremendous popularity of such accessories, these people will be in the minority.

No, the chorus of disapproval has come from those who have already invested in docks and other accessories built around the 30-pin connector. In an attempt to quell this chorus, Apple has announced a number of accessories to provide backwards compatibility with existing accessories, but these come at a price. A Lightning to 30-pin Adapter retails for US$29, while a 20 cm (7.8 in) Lightning to 30-pin Adapter cable sells for $39. There’s also a Lightning to USB Cable that retails for $19.

Even individuals are likely to complain about the extra expense, but spare a thought for businesses, such as hotels or gyms, that have invested in large numbers of 30-pin compatible iOS accessories. The cost of adding compatibility with the new Lightning connector through (easily pilfered) adapters is a much bigger problem.

Aside from waiting for the inevitable budget "knock off" adapters, there is another alternative. Wireless. There are already devices such as the CoolStream Bluetooth Receiver for iDock that plug into a dock to give it Bluetooth capabilities. While such devices allow you to go on using your existing accessories, the obvious downside is that the dock will no longer charge the mobile device.

That leaves upgraders just one more option. Passing your old dock or accessory onto a friend or family member and shelling out for one of the new Lightning connector compatible units set to hit store shelves in the near future. After all, Apple could really use the money.

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick

All digital = no analog audio or video i/o... it means some old gadgets won't be recognized, even with an adapter

Pierre-André Aebischer

This is Apple in a nutshell. They done this since the first Mac. "If you want to play with our new toys you WILL pay for everything anew".

Didrik Ganetz

Hey shepherd, what is the best way to milk a sheep?


I'm an avid Apple fan, have been for years. Sadly, Apple has more or less just attempted to play catchup with Samsung and their 'latest' (May) Galaxy SIII and will need to again if they wish to match the Samsung Note 2. I honestly believe that the only thing stopping people from dumping the iPhone for the Samsung offerings is their tied software and functionality. Apples Apps are no longer a great monopoly, iTunes to boot and with Samsung giving you open source Android and microsim expansion, I and anyone else in my opinion would be totally crazy to upgrade from an iPhone 4S to a 5. The sheep will follow regardless and what a hell of a waste of money and resources that will be.

Oh, what happened to the EU ruling on micro-USB connectors across all manufacturers?

Airsoft-World Scotland

Plus in Europe this goes in the face of all other phone manufacturers agreeing in one standard for connectors. Oh, of course, they will sell you an adapter priced as gold. The UE should ban the iPhone5 and send Apple back to the drawing boards just for this. Call me hater but when Apple falls off its pedestal you will not find many crying.

Jorge Alonso

"ruthless when it comes to dropping technology it believes is past its use-by date"

yeah right, that's why "lightning" is still a USB2.0 connection. This connection is alreasy 10years old! yes usb2.0 exactly like the iPhone 1 !

Simon Karch

I think you missed an important point here. The reason the adapter is so expensive is because it's an 'active' adapter. In other words, there's a chip on there that performs the digital to analog conversion. Thunderbolt also requires active cables btw.

Also, it has been reported by Ars Technica that Apple is not licensing out the ability for 3rd party versions of this cable. So we're not likely to see legal, 3rd party, cheaper alternatives.


It is about time that Apple accepts that, amongst other things, they cannot create standards definition the term "standard" indicates that many organisations are conforming to it. Nor can they afford to play silly buggers anymore with Android devices at 4 times iOS and the gap growing daily, they really need to do everything possible to attempt to slow down the loss of faith in Apple and its weird ideas.


Apple systems advancements "Because selling adapters is so dam profitable."


I am using the 110v to USB plug from my old BlackBerry that is 3 gens old and the microUSB plug from my last device to charge and connect my brand new HTC (which is really not a new model even) Android.

I just don't get Apple people, I really don't.

Rann Xeroxx

THanks Rastoha, for helping me decide to end my allegiance to IOS devices. I'm through being screwed by Apple. APPLE- The optical drive is not dead, the same way FM radio is not dead. - Design your devices with the ports people require please.. Can you guess how much people are annoyed with you when we can't find that adaptor you made us pay for, that should have been build into the device in the first place? Making us buy extra adaptors is a $hitweasel thing to do -Build a Notes program for OSX. It is insane that I can't use a keyboard to talk to my IOS device. - Using the GPS to disable the camera in "sensitive areas"??? You've gone WAY too far here. No thanks to you for enabling the march of the police state, and helping to end an already tenuous democracy. GoodBYE Apple.


I'm no fan of Apple and their weird, expensive, proprietary connectors, but I have no sympathy for the businesses mentioned - they should have provided universal 3.5mm jack audio cables rather than Apple dock connections in the first place so as not to exclude non-Apple users.

@Simon Karch: Regarding the use of USB2 for the new dock connector: what could an iPhone possibly be doing that would require it to send/receive at more than 480Mb/s? Certainly not reading/writing from/to its flash storage.

Ben Capewell

You guys, don't know what you are talking about! I mean c'mon, I wouldn't call that being ruthless (dropping of drives, cables and all) especially, if you are the one who helped to make them mainstream in the first place. I wonder how many more years would it take to get rid of them, if Steve hadn't decided that it was done. Now, that 30 pin connector was a decade old, the only thing that bothered me with my iphone, I'm happy it's gone. I do not need it for synching all ready, and I know, down the road, I won't need a cable to stream my music or video any more. So I'm happy with that.

Also lightning is NOT USB 2.0! The signals being digital, and faster, I expect new exploitations, but other than charging, I will not have immediate need for that either. I hope someone will come with truly genius way of resolving that issue, too. But then, I suspect you would call him ruthless, too.

Well, for the catch up: I don't who catches who, but I know who pays royalties...


Don't like it? Don't buy it. Want to stay with your older phone. Go right ahead, no problem. Not sure what the big deal is here. Yeah, I've got a ton of the old style connectors, and a bunch of devices that will still use them. Gonna have one soon that doesn't so I'll adapt.

Bruce Sherman

its definitely a better connector than mini usb, since it can go in either way, something that I've always found pesky about usb in general. But, there's no way to change without some incompatabilities.

David Lewis

I have to keep legacy equipment since my blood pressure monitor only works with the 30 pin iPhone. I use the Whithings scale and blood pressure monitor due to past heart attacks and they track and seem to be the most accurate I have found. If I upgrade my phone, I will still have to keep the old one just to interface via wifi.

Sonya Jones

It's kind of pleasant actually, the sound of conforming at wallet-point, that the mindless Apple Fan-Jockeys make. "Meh, it's no big deal", "I don't mind shelling out an extra $60 on two adapters", and my favorite, "I'm not wasting money, I'm elite!".

It all sounds like the gentle bleating that puts me to sleep every night, counting sheep, and listening to music on my Amazon Cloud Drive or .mp3 stored on my 16GB microSD card ($14), all from my HTC EVO, $199 (No Contract). Ahhh...better, cheaper, and open standards all make for a great nights sleep.


Great! Just what I need, another specialized connector. Mini-USB, Micro-USB, Standard USB, whatever it is I connect my Kindle with, and now Lightning. Something different for every phone and camera. Guess I'll have to buy a labler to mark every cable I own so I know what goes to which device. That or avoid the "need" for stuff till someone creates a standard. Connector cables are becoming the screw-heads of yesteryear. Flat, phillips, St Regis, octagonal, square, and specialized; all for no other reason than to force you to buy a specialized too to turn them. I understand the need to make a profit, but isn't +26% enough without all the excess crap?


This kind of behavior is typical of Apple, charge the consumer for every little thing and lets not standardize. I refuse to ever buy an Apple product for exactly this reason. I mean come on, you spend $500 on an iPAD and then you have to pay more for a camera kit because they were too stupid to put USB ports on it ? And I love how they refuse to use standard plug like Micro USB. I can go buy three PC's for the price of one MacBook. There are no advantages to owning an Apple other than "being in the club".

Unfortunately there are way too many people drinking the Apple Kool-Aid and they will probably get away with this crap. Europe,Canada and America needs define a universal connector for phones, tablets and computers.

I can't for the life of me figure out why people are so stupid to keep paying for more and more Apple accessories that should be included for the prices they're charging. I could see Apple consumers point it there was some significant increase in horsepower or functionality, but this was just plain stupid not to standardize with Android. I think the disappointing early reports of iPhone5 combined with this will surely take a bite out of Apple.


So no NFC, still no MicroSD, finally getting 4G, still doesn't have a user removable battery.

PUBLIC LAW 104–142—MAY 13, 1996 110 STAT. 1333 (1) IN GENERAL.—No person shall sell for use in the United States a regulated battery that is ready for retail sale or a rechargeable consumer product that is ready for retail sale, if such battery or product was manufactured on or after the date 12 months after the date of enactment of this Act, unless the labeling requirements of subsection (b) are met and, in the case of a regulated battery, the regulated battery— (A) is easily removable from the rechargeable consumer product; or (B) is sold separately. (2) APPLICATION.—Paragraph (1) does not apply to any of the following: (A) The sale of a remanufactured product unit unless paragraph (1) applied to the sale of the unit when originally manufactured. (B) The sale of a product unit intended for export purposes only.

Gregg Eshelman

I really don't like the 30-pin connector - it always seemed way too fine and complex (though I've never managed to actually break one) - I'm very happy to see the lightning connector. USB connectors are just horrible, USB3 just made it worse. Micro-USB is awful - even with the connector the right way up under bright light it still seems impossible to get the bloody thing plugged in. That said, Apple supplies a micro-USB adaptor in the box, and is thus compliant with EU regs.

The USB2 limitation is of the 30-pin dock adaptor, not Lightning. As yet we simply don't know what the electrical and signal specs are on Lightning, so anyone complaining about bandwidth is spouting FUD (or is just clueless). We can already infer that it's got to be electrically superior to USB3 since spec-compliant USB3 can't provide enough power for an iPad, where Lightning is bound to appear. (Yes I know USB3's power specs were uprated last month, but as yet you can't even get a chipset that supports it, and it will require new cabling anyway, unless you like the smell of burning plastic).

USB3 lacks sufficient bandwidth for video - even ten-year-old HDMI 1.0 (which is supported on the 30-pin dock connector) runs at ~5Gbit/s. Apple have already said that HDMI and VGA adaptors will be forthcoming, and nothing seems to be preventing them from doing the same for USB3, though if they're heading that way I'd expect bridging with Thunderbolt first (which already supports USB3).

During the time that Apple used a single connector type for everything, Samsung has used over 20 for power alone, yet I don't hear you whinging about them. Before I had an iPhone, the 6 or so phones I had (often from the same manufacturers) all used different connectors. That's just crap.

The last thing I'm interested in is a phone bristling with ugly, limited, difficult connectors the way that '90s laptops did, requiring a rats-nest of cables to get stuff connected, and collecting fluff the rest of the time, so I don't really get why anyone thinks unifying connectors is so bad.

It does seem odd for Apple not to license the connector, or even make it available free (in both senses), as they did with mini DisplayPort. Maybe they will later on. It's not as if any other manufacturer is offering anything comparable, so they're not in any hurry.


Now it's clear why Apple was so anxious to suppress Samsung before the introduction of the new iPod etc. For most users, moving from the older Apple devices to the new offer little advantage over simply walking out of Apple's "walled garden" and upgrading to a Samsung product.

Gary Fisher

I like the new Lightning connector. The 30 pin was overdue for retirement. The only thing I use the cable for anymore is charging. Once in a great while I connect to the laptop for something and that will work fine with the supplied cable. Everything else is wireless. I even got a really nice set of Bluetooth speakers which work great.


The 30 pin connector was old technology that was past its usefulness. What should Apple have replaced it with? Every time technology leaves an old device behind, folks whine. Should apple have limited the utility of their devices by going to a USB connector? Some folks would have us still using 8086 devices so their software and hardware would still be compatible.


Oh! dear. The moment Apple comes out with progress, out trot stupid comments about the advantages of the old technology, Apple screwing customers by bringing in unnecessary changes, the wonders of being a Samsung customer.

The reason for the connector change is that the old 30 pin connector has had its day. It's not digital, it came in before wireless connectivity was ubiquitous and devices were chunkier. Now, devices are thinner and we can't stay with a big old clunky connector for the new form factors. And we need digital connection for speed.

We heard the same arguments when SCSI was dropped. Progress needs to happen. There are going to be situations where the change brings problems and these need to be managed. I certainly would like to see Apple supplying adaptors at cost, at least for a time. I think that would be a good move.

But whilst we're on the subject of connectors I notice none of the critics mentions Apple implementation of USB3, which is a superior solution to the competition in that they've made a single connector deal with USB3 and legacy USB devices. They'd hardly do that if their objective was to screw people on connectors and adaptors.

Apple's not in the business of screwing customers. The very opposite in fact. But it's simply not possible to please everybody with whatever you decide to do. I can tell you from the time I worked at Apple that nobody ever asked me to design something that wasn't directed at improving the customer experience, and none of my colleagues ever said anything different about their work. Nobody ever asked me to do something just to cut costs, or force the customer down a path that made more money for Apple. It's not the Apple way. or it least it wasn't and I've no evidence anything has changed in that regard.

In terms of the argument that optical drives are still required, the evidence is that for the majority, they aren't. But for those that do require one, simply attach an external. Personally, I don't want my laptops clunking around with an optical drive I don't need just because a few would prefer an integrated dive. I can't remember the last time I needed to insert a DVD.

And Samsung! What a thieving outfit they are. Totally unscrupulous in chasing profit. They don't give a flying fig about the customer. If they did, why have they left tens of millions (read that again) of customers with 'smartphones' running a 4 year-old OS? Not only have they not updated these devices, but, what is worse, they can NEVER update them. Their crappy designs aren't capable of it.

I never buy a Samsung product, if I can avoid it. Ask the bloggers about Samsung. The ones Samsung flew from India to a tradeshow in Berlin. Despite assurances there were no strings attached (many bloggers don't want to be in a particular company's pocket), when the saps arrived, Samsung gave them company uniforms, told them to work their booth and say nice things, or their hotels and flights home would be cancelled. Nice company.

Jenna Brownley

Gregg Eshelman,

Nice of you to pick and choose what to quote from that law. Unfortunately, what you didn't quote was that the law only applies to batteries containing toxic materials, namely lead acid and nickel cadmium chemistries. Lithium ion and lithium polymer batteries are not covered by that law.

The rabid anti-Apple haters around here can foam at the mouth all they want. Analysts have already made forecasts that the iPhone 5 will set new sales records this coming quarter and will contribute more to the US GDP than all of the so-called alternatives combined. The pre-orders at the online Apple store completely sold out within an hour on Friday morning. Apple doesn't have to care about their rants and diatribes, and neither do the supposed "suckers" who'll buy the iPhone.


@Ben Capewell: well first of all it's 480MBit/s which is max 60MB/s with lots of overhead resulting in ~3x MByte/s in reallife. syncing your 32GB or 64GB with your mac... with thirtysomething MB/s well...

but my main point is the old standard as such.

Simon Karch

The guy who posted comments on NFC clearly does not understand Apple's strategy here.

The only major application anyone has mentioned for NFC is as a payment system. Well, that is a nutty idea for a very good reason. People who don't think from a systems perspective, but only from the device viewpoint have utterly failed to appreciate the real problem.

NFC requires BOTH sides of the transaction to provide NFC capability. Clearly there is no point whatsoever in putting NFC on a device if it has nothing to communicate with.

The requirement for a payment system is therefore that not only do smartphones have to have NFC but billions of tills must be retrofitted, upgraded or replaced to deploy NFC too. Nice money for the till providers, but a crippling blow to retailers running on tight margins, and of course a blow to consumers because they will eventually have the increased costs turn up in their bills.

Apple has cleverly stepped around this entire problem with its Passbook concept, which relies on tried and trusted barcoding, which every electronic till in the world supports right now. It's an elegant, effectively free solution which payment system providers - credit card companies, banks etc. will leap to take advantage of.

Sorry if it removes a ton of profit for the NFC camp, but that's what can happen if you have a half-assed solution that costs a fortune.

Apple isn't in the business of adding gizmos just for the sake of it. It tries to take a longterm perspective after thinking through an entire issue from soup to nuts. You can disagree with its NFC strategy all you like, but I predict it's going to make a whole lot of sense to the people who matter, in this case the till owners.

Jenna Brownley

Simon Karch,

What you seem to be missing is that the speed limitation is almost certainly in the iPhone, not part of the Lightning specification. Several analysts have already pointed that out. Do you honestly think Apple would be so stupid as to introduce a brand new connector for all their devices that couldn't support higher data rates anticipated for at least the next few years? Don't answer that. I know you do think it. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that Apple built in enough headroom in the specification to match or exceed the 800mbps data rate of USB 3.0. Even the USB Implementers Forum admits USB 3.0 for handheld devices will provide only a fraction of the theoretical maximum data rate of the desktop standard.

It's always amazing how so many commenters think they're so much smarter than any of the engineers at Apple. If Micro USB is so superior to Lightning, then why doesn't Samsung or one of the other companies demonstrate its amazing capabilities by selling all sorts of hardware attachments for their phones? Nobody here has given any rationale for Micro USB other than "Other phones have it and I want to use only one charger."


Lightning plugs have been coming for a while...the 30 pin connector is old and inelegant, not up to Apple's standards anymore. They are innovators and these changes aren't easy, but this is just how Apple rolls. I'm really disgusted with the lousy 3.5mm headphone jacks, those things are the weak spot in nearly every accessory i've purchased over the years.

John Parkes

Jenna you have put together 2 very well written posts. Almost like a good loyal Apple employee..... i wont pick on much of the dribble because i dont buy it. But let me just point out the first 2 paragraphs of each post.

Post 1 "Oh! dear. The moment Apple comes out with progress, out trot stupid comments about the advantages of the old technology, Apple screwing customers by bringing in unnecessary changes, the wonders of being a Samsung customer. "

So here you say apple are leading the charge with making change for the better. i can agree the improvement was needed.

Post 2 "The guy who posted comments on NFC clearly does not understand Apple's strategy here.

The only major application anyone has mentioned for NFC is as a payment system. Well, that is a nutty idea for a very good reason. People who don't think from a systems perspective, but only from the device viewpoint have utterly failed to appreciate the real problem.

NFC requires BOTH sides of the transaction to provide NFC capability. Clearly there is no point whatsoever in putting NFC on a device if it has nothing to communicate with. "

Now NFC is progress that will make future payments a little slicker. But all of a sudden it is not cool for apple. Wait until Apple get into the till business i guess....

Fancy a company wanting to bring in a system like NFC that improves a product (or service).... But will cost someone money. Hang on a minute, sounds like bringing in a new connector that makes people spend useless money to upgrade.

The biggest improvement Apple can make to the phone is to make it a better phone..... It truly is rubbish at making calls. Besides that, the rest of the hardware is pretty good. I have had 2 iphones, i was reasonably happy with them, (Even though the wifi died in my first.) Say what you like about the samsung products, but my experience tells me that they are better than the little apples. I can see why apple felt so threatened. It is good that people have a choice. Lock themselves in with a money grabbing inflexible product. Or Go with progress and buy a product that is cheaper, more flexible and adaptive to new products. Enjoy your weekend.


B&O is offering free conversion for their docks but for anyone else this sucks.

That Apple made the new connector having no wrong-side-up which is how USB-connectors should be is neat but the price of new-to-old adapters is a major rip-off - the only positive is that with Apple robbing their customers eventually some of them will catch on and leave.


Aside from my Mophie Juicepack, I haven't bought and plug-in peripherals since the first gen iPhone. That said, it's pretty ridiculous Apple refuses to employ the mini USB standard. Yes, I plan to buy an iPhone 5 (after opting out of the 4s), but I'm seriously watching the Win8 Phones for interesting surprises. My biggest reason for sticking with ios at this cycle is 50% due to Nokia's profound dishonesty during the initial unveiling of the 920. For about three hours, I was teetering closely to making that decision. The other 50% is my investment in ios apps. By next product cycle, I might well leave the iPhone for the first time since 2007...

Vince Pack

Everyone complaining about connectors on any device forget we can't even go from country to country without making sure we have a correct power connection or converter plug. Why not start there and make all power connections standard throughout the world.


say what you will about apple, but the ip5 is not as good as the galaxy s3, and no where near as close to the galaxy note 2. apple is indeed innovative, innovative at releasing products that are a good year behind the competition.

Jason McGovern

micro-USB connectors have a heap of problems.

On most devices I've had with one, they've had mechanical failure issues, or dust or connector issues.

Something bigger, more sturdy, with better electrical connections would be a better standard. Being omni-directional solves the Murphy's law of trying to insert a USB cable (you should have 50% chance of getting it right, but seems you always need to try twice).


Don't you hate the fact that all the new TVs and blueray players use HDMI cables, why didn't the just keep that single RCA type cable ; )


Did a speed test on my iPhone 5 this morning from my office in San Diego.. Results were astounding. 55.07 Mbps Download, 19.47 Mbps Upload, 69 ms Ping. That was using cellular data. When it runs though my wifi at home it gets bottlenecked by my crappy COX internet.

Gregory Minor

"But it’s the 80 percent reduction in size compared to the 30-pin connector that has allowed Apple to significantly reduce the thickness of the three new Lightning connector-toting iOS devices unveiled yesterday"

I don't think so. The iPod 4th Gen having the 30-pin connector still 0.4 mm thinner than the iPhoen 5. It is 7.2 mm thin. Compare that to to the iPhone 5's 7.6 mm using the Lightning connector.


Gadgeteer, that law needs to be updated to include all types of batteries. It wouldn't surprise to find that Apple and other companies making devices with non removable batteries that aren't lead or cadmium based have spent millions of dollars on lobbyists to see that it hasn't been revised.

What this article and none of the replies have mentioned is Apple has employed an authentication chip in all lightning port cables and adapters to attempt to block other companies from producing cables or adapters without paying Apple a (most likely very large) licensing fee so cables from non-Apple sources have to cost a lot.

Not out to shaft their customers, ha ha.

Good news is the authentication has been cracked. The best thing for Apple to do is abandon the authentication by releasing an iOS update that gets rid of it, then drastically cut their connector licensing fee. The only way for Apple to "fight back" is if the authentication chips are reprogrammable. If they're not, it's over, it's done. Apple wasted a bunch of time and money being protectionist.

Even if they are reprogrammable, Apple will not win the battle to keep prices high on cables and adapters, the other companies will simply come up with methods to update their chips.

Apple never has used an operating system authentication scheme like Microsoft has with their "Genuine Advantage", so why copy Microsoft when it comes to lightning port cables and adapters?

Gregg Eshelman
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