When Apple debuted the iPhone 5 way back in September, it confirmed several rumours at once:
- The new iPhone was thinner, lighter and had a bigger screen than previous models
- It would be the first iPhone with 4G/LTE connectivity
- Google Maps would be replaced with Apple’s home-brew Maps App
- And, the 30-pin dock connector that had been the de-facto connection for nearly all of Apple’s portable devices for a decade, was no more. In it’s place, a new, smaller connector known as Lightning.
The Lightning connector was pitched as having two big up-sides for consumers:
1) It’s smaller, and though Apple never said so, it’s more durable
2) Because the connector is identical on both sides, you can’t insert it incorrectly.
Ironically, it was probably this last point that earned the Lightning it’s name, despite the obvious connotation of faster connection speeds. Just ask Marc Saltzman what he thinks of that little piece of labelling from Cupertino!
Needless to say, there was a fair amount of hand-wringing after the announcement: “What am I going to do with all of my existing dock accessories now?”
Apple’s reply was a calming reassurance that there would be Lightning-to-Dock adapters available soon after the iPhone’s launch, and that this would be an adequate solution.
So far, so good. Except that “soon” turned out to mean “well over a month” and as far as it being an adequate solution (my words, not Apple’s), the jury is still out.
To be clear, Apple doesn’t just make one Lightning adapter accessory; they make several. The Lightning-to-30-pin adapter comes in two flavours: A cable-based version ($45) that gives you some flexibility in placement of your Lightning-based iDevice, and a small, stubby “ultracompact” unit ($35) that is presumably intended for dock-wielding gadgets like charging stations, alarm clocks and speaker docks.
It’s the latter version that I finally got my hands on last Friday, in eager anticipation of being able to once again charge my iPhone without cables running all over my bedside table.
Alas, when I tried it out, I discovered that one of the Lightning connector’s strengths is now its greatest annoyance, for me at least.
The Lightning connector is actually amazingly well-engineered. The size, shape and design make it unique amongst the world’s growing digital connection universe. One the best parts is the way the male end is designed to snap-in to the female receptacle. It does so with authority, making it the Mercedes car door of the connector world. Once seated, it stays put, requiring a healthy – but not difficult – amount of force to dislodge it. Lightning manages to walk that remarkably thin line in consumer electronics between ease of use and sturdiness of design.
Aye, but there’s the rub: the new Lightning connector is so good, it overpowers the older 30-pin connection. In practice this means that seating the adapter in your dock, then sitting your iPhone 5 onto the adapter results in a stronger bond between the iPhone and the the adapter than between the adapter and the dock.
So now, every time I reach for my iPhone 5, I must yank the adapter free from the base of the iPhone, in order to re-seat it on the dock. Every. Single. Time.Could this scenario I have just described be unique to my particular dock-adapter-iPhone combination? I doubt it. As I said, it’s a by-product of how wonderfully sturdy the new Lightning connector is. Unfortunately, consumers won’t see this as an all-round positive until we’ve replaced our existing 30-pin dock accessories with Lightning-based ones.
And at the rate 3rd-party Lightning-based accessories are appearing on the market (hint: you can’t find any yet), we might be waiting a long time.
Related: Check out Wired Magazine’s feature on accessory makers that have had their product plans (nearly) sidelined by Apple’s Lightning.