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What Apple's new Lightning connector means for you

Dan Frakes | Sept. 14, 2012

Of course, the other big advantage of the Lightning connector is its size: It's 80 percent smaller than the 30-pin connector, which means the space required on your device to accomodate the new plug is smaller by at least the same amount--and that's not counting the reduction in the amount of interior circuitry required to support the connector's features. This new, smaller connector is part of the reason the new iPhone is 20 percent thinner than the iPhone 4S. (The other part is that the iPhone screen's touch sensors are now integrated into the display, so the display itself is thinner.)

Adapt or buy

Easier to use, sturdier, smaller--what's not to like? The downside of this change is that the new Lightning connector renders Apple's latest devices incompatible with the millions of 30-pin-connector accessories on the market and in people's homes. Apple includes with the new iPhones and iPods a USB-to-Lightning-connector cable, but no adapter to use the new devices with older accessories.

If you've got expensive older accessories that you don't feel like replacing, Apple does offer the $29 Lightning to 30-pin Adapter and the $39 Lightning to 30-pin Adapter (0.2 m) (the latter a 20cm cable), each of which lets you connect older 30-pin-dock-connector accessories to the new iPhone and iPod models. (Extra Lightning to USB Cables will run you $19 a piece.)

The adapters support analog and USB audio, as well as syncing and charging. However, according to Apple, the adapters don't support video output, and "Some 30-pin accessories are not supported."

There's also the concern, mentioned by a number of Macworld staffers around the office, that trying to use an iPhone 5 with an older, 30-pin accessory risks putting a lot of pressure on both the phone's Lightning port and the accessory's dock connector thanks to the additional leverage added by the length of the adapter. We'll see how warranted this concern is once we start testing the new phone and the adapters.

Of course, if you're averse to adapters, or if you've been thinking about upgrading your older accessories anyway, Apple notes that companies are already working on Lightning-connector accessories--during Wednesday's event, Apple senior vice president Phil Schiller specifically mentioned Bose, JBL, Bowers & Wilkins, and Bang & Olufsen. (For the latest in new iOS accessories, follow our weekly roundups.)

More wireless, but still wired

What's perhaps most interesting about the change to the new Lightning connector is that it reflects changes in the ways we're using our iPhones and iPods. As Schiller noted during Wednesday's Apple event, "So much has changed and so many of the things they used to do over the wire can now be done wirelessly. Bluetooth for speakers, headphones; Wi-Fi for audio, syncing; and iCloud for downloading content wirelessly and backup." In other words, Apple doesn't think we need physical connections as much.

 

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