Apple’s lightning connector, the successor to the classic 30-pin dock connector has now been out for some time. It’s smaller and more versatile than the classic 30-pin connector, but how much better is it really? In this article we aim to find out. The 30-pin dock connector has been around since the unveiling of the third generation iPod back in 2003 (the connection for the two prior models being firewire). It was starting to become clear once the iPod was the general go-to mp3 device what Apple was thinking with the design of the 30-pin dock connector and due to it not changing for 9 years, the dock connector was truly integrated into everyday products.
For example, whereas you may struggle to find a Micro USB port on an MP3 docking station, you’ll more than likely find a 30-pin dock connector. The dock connector was even integrated into more unexpected items such as the arm rests of sofas so you can plug in your iPod or iPhone and enjoy your content on speakers either built in or plugged into a cable trailing out of the sofa. Dock connectors in the stands of televisions were also becoming quite popular a few years ago. The idea being that you could charge your iPod or iPhone from your television and also use the speakers within the television for listening to audio from your device. Dock connectors even started to be integrated in new cars so that you can plug in your iPod or iPhone and use the device hands free if necessary but also to play audio from the device, eliminating the need for CDs or radio.
The dock connector did seem to stand the test of time and it’s functionality was never really questioned. The unfortunate thing with this connector however is that it was quite large, this effectively held back making devices thinner and lighter because of that huge port. The other disadvantage was that the dock connector could only be plugged in one way. Of course you could say this about many other connections that was still use nowadays such as USB 2.0, I genuinely can’t tell you how many times I’ve accidentally tried to insert a USB connector in the wrong way. And of course even the likes of Micro USB is a one-way connector. The lack of being able to flip the connector wasn’t a huge issue but it does make it easier when you’re fumbling about in the dark trying to put your iPhone on charge.
So lightning is substantially smaller than the 30-pin dock connector and I just wish Apple had created this new connector sooner rather than later. By introducing this new connector after 9 years of the 30-pin connector, they solved a few problems but created a fair few more. For one, anyone who uses accessories that use the 30-pin connector can’t use their lightning device with it without a special adapter. Not only is this inconvenient but it is unsightly and costs more money! Also unfortunately the lightning connector cannot transfer some of the signals the 30-pin connector could. The lightning connector only supports data via USB, charging via USB and the output of analogue audio. I think my main issue with the connector was it’s name for the most part, calling it lightning just seemed so… meh. Why not just be sensible and call it the 8-pin dock connector?
The lightning connector uses 8 pins to transmit it’s signals along with an additional 9th which is the metal shroud around the connector which doubles up as a ground. The pins within the connector span the entire width of the connector meaning that the connectors on one side is the same connector as on the other side. So what allows the connector to be used both ways without frying the internals of your new iPhone is an interesting idea. Within the devices that feature the lightning port, the device has a special processor dedicated to analysing which way the connector was inserted and changing which connecter does which within the port as opposed to within the connector. Quite clever really, and the processor doubles up as an authentication chip, which will allow only supported devices to be connected to the device.
Overall then the lightning cable is the technical winner in the lightning vs 30-pin battle but it really just wasn’t that big of a deal. The whole onboard authentication / connector orientation processor is a clever idea but perhaps everyone would have been more “wowed” if this connector was released years ago. At least that way we’d now have a healthy amount of lightning accessories!