On first blush, when I read the rumour that the next iPhone would be dropping the ubiquitous 30-pin dock connector, the skeptic in me cried “No way!”
Apple has been a rarity in the consumer electronics industry in the sense that they alone have created a multi-billion dollar market for accessories designed exclusively for use with Apple products. Obviously, the sheer number of products that Apple has sold is a big reason why companies big and small have gotten into the i-accessory game, but there’s a subtler, more powerful reason: consistency.
Ever since the advent of the third-generation iPod, Apple has employed the same 30-pin Dock Connector on every single i-device with the exception of the iPod Shuffle. There are hundreds of millions of i-gadgets in use all around the world, and while their technical capabilities vary depending on the model, that same 30-pin connector is on all of them.
How many other product categories in consumer tech or elsewhere can offer that level of compatibility?
So you can see why any suggestion that Apple might be ready to step away from such an overwhelmingly entrenched standard – one that they have the exclusive rights to – would be greeted with a fair degree of dubious eye-brow raising.
But the notion isn’t completely laughable. In fact, it might make sense.
First, let’s consider the fact that Apple has prided itself on being able to predict the demise of a technology often well before consumers are willing to relinquish it. The first iMac famously debuted with no floppy drive. It was the first mainstream machine to do so. The optical drive was read-only and the only way to get data out of the iMac was to transmit it using the Internet or via an attached USB-device (keep in mind, super-cheap USB thumb drives were essentially non-existent back then). It wasn’t long before other PC makers were stripping out the floppy from their designs, never to be seen again.
Apple’s next big ditch: you guessed it – the optical drive itself which they made an optional accessory on the stunningly thin and light MacBook Air. Again, much like with the iMac, Apple proved prescient and the MacBook Air has become the laptop after which the “Ultrabook” line of Windows machines has been modelled.
Second, let’s take a look at what that 30-pin connector actually does for i-Devices:
- Sync data
- Pass through audio and/or video content (which is simply a specific form of data syncing)
All of these functions are handy, yet none require the 30-pin connector per-se. USB connectors, be they mini-USB or the now-standard micro-USB are just as capable of handling these duties and do so on the myriad smartphones that Apple does not make. Micro-USB can even handle high-definition 1080p output via a newer technology known as MHL (Mobile High-Defintion Link). And thanks to iCloud, you never need to physically connect an i-Device to a Mac or PC in order to sync data. Even iOS updates are now done “over-the-air.” There is virtually no reason, other than to maintain consistency of design, why Apple *needs* to keep the dock connector.
If Apple chose to abandon the 30-pin dock for the the industry-standard Micro-USB (which is unlikely – they will probably create a smaller dock connector), they would certainly please a segment of their customers who would prefer to carry a single, cheap and easily replaced power cord – but what about that massive eco-system of accessories like speaker docks and alarms clocks whose numbers are now to great to count? Would they have to issue all-new designs just for the iPhone 5 (or “The New iPhone” as I suspect Apple will call it)? Yes and no.
In the past two years, Apple has been making a bit of a fuss over a wireless audio and video standard they call “AirPlay.” AirPlay lets you effortlessly stream audio or video from your Mac or PC’s iTunes software to any AirPlay-equipped gadget on your home Wi-Fi or wired network. Apple TV is a great example of this. Not only can you stream hi-def movies from iTunes to your TV via AirPlay, you can stream any music or video from your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch in the same way, so long as the app you’re using has been AirPlay-enabled.
AirPlay has seen a lot of support amongst the top brands in the electronics space. Pioneer, Denon, Sonos, JBL, B&W, iHome and Klipsch – just to name a few – have all introduced AirPlay-compatible products and that number is guaranteed to grow. Why? Because AirPlay is the new, wireless dock-connector at least as far as bullet number three from the list above is concerned. It’s a new standard and is already supported by nearly every Wi-Fi equipped product Apple sells.
I know – that’s all well and good for new products – they obviously don’t need a dock connector for audio and video, but what about those older products? The ones that are still carrying around a seemingly obsolete dock? Well here’s where we take an even longer drive down the speculative highway…
I think Apple could easily create an AirPlay Dock Adapter, which would snap into any speaker dock and give it AirPlay connectivity. Assuming that the adapter could draw power from from the dock in the same way that an iPod or iPhone could draw power for recharging, nothing else would be needed. Given how inexpensive Wi-Fi radios have become, I’m guessing that Apple could sell these for $50, turn a very handsome profit, and give millions of older speakers etc., a new lease on life.
I’m not the first one to think this is a good idea – at least one enterprising fellow is trying to get some movement on this notion – assuming Apple doesn’t beat him to the punch!
So readers, what do you make of these prognostications? Would you freak out if Apple dropped the dock from the new iPhone?
This isn’t supposed to happen. Apple is the stuff of legend when it comes to industrial design, obsessed fans, and perhaps most famously: maintaining a Fort Knox-like security around their un-released products.
So naturally when Gizmodo today announced that they had stumbled upon a completely legit iPhone in its latest incarnation, they needed to combat the inevitable reaction that they were either intentionally trying to dupe the web, or had been badly duped themselves.
So they did what they and other tech blogs do when they give readers a first look at a new gadget: they described in painstaking detail using text, photos and video.
I strongly encourage you to go read the whole article and watch the videos. But for those with less time on their hands, here are the highlights:
• Front-facing video chat camera
• Improved regular back-camera (the lens is quite noticeably larger than the iPhone 3GS)
• Camera flash
• Micro-SIM instead of standard SIM (like the iPad)
• Improved display. It’s unclear if it’s the 960×640 display thrown around before—it certainly looks like it, with the “Connect to iTunes” screen displaying much higher resolution than on a 3GS.
• What looks to be a secondary mic for noise cancellation, at the top, next to the headphone jack
• Split buttons for volume
• Power, mute, and volume buttons are all metallic
• The back is entirely flat, made of either glass (more likely) or ceramic or shiny plastic in order for the cell signal to poke through. Tapping on the back makes a more hollow and higher pitched sound compared to tapping on the glass on the front/screen, but that could just be the orientation of components inside making for a different sound
• An aluminum border going completely around the outside
• Slightly smaller screen than the 3GS (but seemingly higher resolution)
• Everything is more squared off
• 3 grams heavier
• 16% Larger battery
• Internals components are shrunken, miniaturized and reduced to make room for the larger battery
Of course the question in many people’s minds is, how could this have happened?
Others that spring immediately to mind are:
- Was it a spectacular case of an Apple employee leaving a prototype in a bar by accident?
- Was it intentionally leaked to gauge people’s reactions to the new design?
- What will the fallout be?
- Does anyone really care, after all it’s just a phone (there, I said it… and I think that might be the sound of every Apple fan-boy collectively gasping in shocked disbelief)
Feel free to post your comments below and watch along with the rest of world to see what happens next.
Update, Apr 20, 4:26pm EDT: Looks like we now know who lost the phone, how Apple has officially asked for it to be returned, and why Gizmodo doesn’t think anyone should lose their job over this whole strange incident.
Also, if you’re interested in some opinions on the ethics surrounding Gizmodo’s purchase and subsequent public dissection of the device, check out AndyIhnatko’s article on the subject.