What Apple’s new Lightning dock connector means for you

iPhone 5 Lightning dock connector

Want to buy one of the shiny new iPhones or iPods introduced by Apple on Wednesday? There’s a pretty big but subtle change that will directly impact anyone who already owns any Apple mobile device: the new dock connector. If you have any Apple mobile accessories and want the iPhone 5, you’re going to need an adapter (which is not free) or buy one of the new Made for iPhone/iPod accessories coming out this fall if you want it to function with one of these new iOS devices.

The new connector in all the new iPods and the iPhone 5 is called Lightning (like Thunderbolt, get it?). It’s an 8-pin connector, which means it’s much smaller than the 30-pin connector Apple’s been using since it ditched FireWire almost 10 years ago. The benefits of the new connector, according to Apple:

  • It’s much smaller (80 percent, to be exact) — that means Apple can fit a lot more components into the smaller-than-ever new iPhone 5.
  • It’s reversible: you won’t have to pay attention to which side is facing up to plug it in.
  • It’s faster: Apple says data will flow faster over the new cable.

Obviously, this is annoying for current Apple customers. And it’s going to cost you at least $30 for a converter, or $20 for a new Lightning/USB cable. But, to be fair, Apple’s not doing this purely for the sake of making everyone buy new stuff. Apple is pretty merciless about cutting out technology it considers past its prime. See also: optical disk drives, Flash, Mini-DVI.

In the screengrab below, you can see  the different options for the new 8-pin converters and cables (which, yes, are really just little pieces of plastic and metal):

So, yeah, Apple’s going to benefit a bit too on these new sales. The accessories market is an area where Apple pulls in a ton of revenue, for iPods, iPhones and iPads. The company brought in nearly $2 billion to $3 billion selling accessories in fiscal year 2011 alone, according to some estimations. And much of those accessories that Apple makes, like cables and adapters, are almost pure profit, since they don’t cost that much to build in the first place.

The new dock isn’t terrible news for third-party accessory makers either. It means that for some of them, they will have the opportunity to sell you a whole new iPod dock, new cases, new chargers, or any accessory you currently use that connects via the port on the bottom of your iPod or iPhone. Apple said major brands like JBL, Bose, Bang & Olufsen, and Bowers & Wilkins are among the first that will make iPod stereo docks and other accessories with the new Lightning connectors. Those will be available, naturally, some time before the holidays.

This means the new iPad, introduced in March, is the only current generation Apple mobile device that still uses the 30-pin connector. But that’s obviously going to change soon. Any move Apple makes in regards to the iPhone, means it’s going to roll it out to all its mobile products. That means the next iPad (and rumored iPad mini?) will have the new connector too.

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