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?
Love your iPhone 4 or 4S? Sure you do. Hate that it can barely get through a full day without needing to be plugged in? Join the club.
One thing almost all iPhone users agree on: the battery life could do with some serious enhancement. But since this has been a complaint of the iPhone since its debut in 2007, it’s pretty clear that Apple doesn’t consider it a top priority.
But what are you to do if you depend on your phone to keep you connected for long periods of time? The first thing you should do is read our 12 Tips For Extending Your iPhone’s Battery Life. But if you’re still hungering for juice, you may want to consider Third Rail’s Slim Case + Battery solution. While not new to the market, the product is now shipping to Canadians from Amazon.ca for the first time.
Unlike other snap-on batteries or cases with built-in batteries, Third Rail’s product doesn’t force you to compromise on form in order to get the function.
The Slim Case is a sleek matte-black unit that provides a perfect fit for both iPhone 4 and 4S models. It adds only a millimetre to the phone’s sides, top and back with the only noticeable bulk being on the bottom edge where it lengthens the phone by just under a centimetre.
The slightly rubberized texture provides excellent grip and as any phone case should, it provides enhanced protection from bumps and drops. But the truly clever part of the case design is on the back, where 4 discreet slots accept a slide-and-snap on Smart Battery pack.
Rather than carry the extra bulk of the battery around with you all of the time (see the Mophie Juice Pack), or rely on bottom-mounted battery-boosters (Scosche iBAT2) that could easily damage your dock-connector port if it were bumped the wrong way, the Third Rail Slim Case lets you add the battery when you need it, remove it when you don’t, and while it’s doing its job, it sits where it should: on the back of the phone.
If the Slim Case system only did what I just described, it would be a worthwhile choice. But it has a few tricks up its sleeve that make it a no-brainer for travelling road-warriors.
The snap-on batteries have built-in power meters: a series of 5 green LEDs that indicate the level of charge at the touch of a button. The batteries can be recharged on their own via a supplied micro-USB cable, or they can suck their power through the Slim Case’s bottom-mounted micro-USB port (which BTW, doubles as your iPhone’s Sync/Charge port) while you charge both the external battery and your iPhone’s internal unit.
You can use the batteries to charge almost any other USB-powered device (MP3 player, Bluetooth headset or keyboard etc) through a secondary, proprietary port which connects to the included USB-A female adapter.
The Slim Case has a bottom-mounted switch that lets you control the flow of electricity from the battery pack to the iPhone so there’s no need to remove the battery if you aren’t ready to boost your iPhone’s battery just yet. The same switch controls the recharging of the battery pack from the micro-USB port.
Finally, the Third Rail battery packs are stackable – up to 6 of them can be snapped together – to create a truly flexible charging system.
In practice, I found that a single snap-on battery could take my iPhone 4S from 30% charge to 60% over the course of 2.5 hours while the phone was still powered-on and in regular use, while it could bring the phone from 3% to 50% when the phone was powered down over about 2 hours. When you take into account the price, which is very competitive with other case-based recharging systems, and the additional flexibility Third Rail offers, the Slim Case system seems like a good buy indeed.
It’s not completely without drawbacks however. As with any case that covers your phone’s dock connector, you won’t be able to dock your phone without first removing it from the Slim Case. Since I like to charge my iPhone on a bedside alarm-clock charger, this was a little frustrating.
If you like to pocket your phone when not in use, you’ll find that the battery pack creates a lumpy shape and might not be very comfortable for long periods.
You’ll need to decide how you want to tote around your back-up batteries – attached to the case, in a separate pocket, or somewhere else?
The Smart batteries are rated at 1250 mAh, which means if you want to fully recharge your phone from zero, you’ll need two fully-charged Smart batteries.
Overall though, I think you’ll find Third Rail’s Slim Case an excellent choice for extending the life of your iPhone when out of reach of an electrical outlet.
Fulton Innovation isn’t exactly a household name, but if their wireless power technology takes off, it could end up powering everything from your car to your kettle. That’s because they’ve demonstrated how induction charging (the method used by Duracell, PowerMat, and others to recharge cellphones and iPods) can be used to do way more than just recharge your phone. In the video below, they show how a kitchen counter equipped with their “eCoupled” inducers can boil kettles, fry eggs, run food processors and even heat up soup inside the container faster and more efficiently that with a microwave.
In another section of their CES booth, Fulton Innovation was also showing how they can run power wirelessly over short distances. They had a Tesla Roadster equipped with their eCoupled technology, which when it was positioned over a charging pad located on the ground, could begin recharging even though the car and the pad were separated by 4 inches of space. No word yet on when we’ll see this technology enter our homes (and garages). For now, it’s just a tantalizing vision of the future.
You may want to use headphones when listening to this video – in the second half we had to switch to the camera’s built-in microphone because our wireless mics were picking up a ton of interference from the wireless charging stations!