As you’re probably now aware, the latest wave of Apple products saw the company release a new port standard which it’s calling Lightning. New standards of connectivity for electronic devices periodically arrive and the benefits of some (such as the slow, clunky old 25-pin serial ports for printers getting updated to the USB standard) are obvious but other updates are not so clean-cut in the ramifications department.
As Apple’s iPhone and iPad product lines represent some of the most popular consumer electronics ever created by mankind, we thought it worth it covering the specifics of what this particular connector update means for our readers.
The Differences Between the Old and New Ports
From a hardware perspective, there are two fundamental differences between the more familiar Apple iPod connector and the new Lightning connector. Firstly is the size. The Lightning connector is considerably smaller than the older rendition, approximately the same width as the miniature SIM card you may be accustomed to popping in and out of your iPhone 4 or later. The second most notable difference is the number of pins. While the old connector was of 32-pin manufacture, the new connector has just eight pins of which to speak.
In addition to the more obvious external changes, there’s more going on inside the Lightning connector than the older model. A tiny processor informs the device which orientation the connector is plugged in, meaning that it’s unidirectional and easier to use in that respect than the older connector which was phenomenally fiddly on some devices. That said, it was a damned-sight easier to use than USB which always seems to be wrong whichever way round you put it.
What Are the Downsides of the Update?
As is often the case with such things, the update has caused something of a kerfuffle. It’s no secret in the tech industry that Apple charges a considerable licensing fee to manufacturers of accessories such as iPod docks. This being the case, if you’ve recently updated to an Apple iPhone 5, your shiny new phone brings something of a redundancy potential to your existing line-up of accessories.
Fortunately or unfortunately (depending on how frugal your tendencies) there are adapters available to shift the old connector into the newer, streamlined version. Not only will this take away from the elegant design of the particular iPod dock for which you opted, but it the connectors will also set you back $29-$39 from the Apple Store depending on whether or not you want to buy the version with 200mm of cable or not. It would be interesting to see the long-term profit projections for Apple when upgrading device connectors like this…
Finally, it appears that there’s some loss of functionality in the new port. The older 30-pin connection could comfortably handle composite and component video outputs while the new Lightning connector does not. It’s likely that in the future, we’ll see the addition of video support added in the form of a USB/Lightning to HDMI breakout cable but nothing is confirmed at this stage. There’s been some speculation over the fact that Apple will only support Apple TV and Airplay from here on in. However, the iPhone 5’s TV and video support list only says “AirPlay video streaming to Apple TV (3rd generation) at up to 1080p and Apple TV (2nd generation) at up to 720p” and “AirPlay Mirroring to Apple TV support at 720p”. Realistically, the video out function of the old 32-pin connector won’t effect most people too much.