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A.T. Faust III
| July 24, 2012
Editorial: 19-Pin Connector Detractors Docked In Fantasy Land
It's been reliably rumored for some time that Apple intends ditching its familiar 30-pin connector for a smaller, sleeker 19-pin solution in the upcoming iPhone 5. Still, that "sure thing" became even surer yesterday as outlets across the blogosphere again rammed the details down our collective, gung-ho Internet gullet. While most of the subject's professional commentary is reasonable and accurate in the assertion that such a move is a simple side effect of Apple's ceaseless stepping forward, the amateur commentary is dramatically different. And dramatically more conspiratorial. As with the amusing iOS 6-on-iPad controversy, an alarming number of folks seem convinced that Apple's move to phase out its original 30-pin dock connector is a strictly financial decision predicated on the age-old nickel and dime. They call it a scam and characterize it as a shameful, cynical attempt to squeeze out a few more dollars from the Apple-loving, accessory-owning public. They say, again as with iPad and iOS 6, that the move will render their previous accessories and chargers and iPhones obsolete. They are, similarly, staggeringly wrong. Aside from the fact that every iDevice comes bundled with its own charger and cable (and that all your older kit will continue to work with their existing accessories -- So much for obsoleteness!), Apple's design tolerances are extremely tight. Year after year, iFixit proves this via their intricate teardowns, and there is -- now more than ever -- no space for extra baggage. The venerable 30-pin connector, at nearly nine years old, is an absolute real-estate hog. It is wider than the headphone jack is deep, and it's starting to cramp out further innovations. Chief among these is that very headphone jack's bottom-side relocation along with the new iPhone's increased screen-to-chassis ratio. In February, when we first heard about the dock's imminent alteration, iMore had this to say:
The reason isn’t anything political, like a new desire to conform to an outdated micro-USB standard, but typically Apple: to save space inside the iPhone 5 for what are now more important components.I believed that then, and I believe that now. I also believe that Apple's dock connector is so universally iconic that it's a selling point all its own, and that Apple would prefer to save the redesign for a more opportune moment a few releases down the road. (You know, for a 4-to-4S sort of generational jump -- something to be aesthetically different when little else is.) Changing it now means Apple's got a good reason. And that reason is plainly covered in the quote above. Additionally, the new port could prove to be far more technologically apt. In other words, it might very well top out at clips quite a lot faster than Apple's existing 30-pin-to-USB solution provides. With support for operational speeds more in line with USB 3.0 and Apple's own Thunderbolt protocol, as well as the possible implementation of this little chestnut, the new charging/synching system could be much improved. (Yes, even compared against your home's wireless setup.) I don't know about you, but I'd love to transfer my iPhone's entire Camera Roll to my Mac in just a couple of minutes. There are several good reasons why changing the dock connector makes sense. Planned obsolescence is at the very bottom of the list. But if you're still not convinced, consider this: Apple itself makes very few accessories for their iDevice lineup. Most of the world's iPhone docks and clocks and cables and chargers come from third-party firms who license Apple's proprietary connector. Indeed, the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch enjoy the most bountiful aftermarket support of any line of consumer tech ever, but Apple makes comparatively little money off this aspect of its mobile business. Frankly, it doesn't matter to Cook and crew whether Vendor X sells a 30-pin cable or a 19-pin cable. It only matters that the cables are sold. That said, some will argue that by changing its connector's interface, Apple is assuring that more accessories will be sold -- and that more licensing fees will be collected -- than if the port were to stay the same. There is some merit to this stance, but not enough on Apple's end to justify a complete, expensive redesign of an existing, cheaply-manufactured component. Remember, the iPhone's physical size is also changing, and this, more than any trimming of the pins, will promote and produce new accessory sales. Old cases won't fit, old mounts won't adhere, old moldings will have to be recast, and countless products will be bought anew. The accessory market -- all $3 billion in annual sales of it -- counts on that! Then there's the matter of adaptation. Most compatibility issues will likely be resolved by the simple addition of an inexpensive adapter. There are a (very) few accessories that have effectively locked down their iPhone interfaces with restrictive, form-fitting recesses, but the vast majority feature ample dock space and vertical accomodation for any radical iPhone change. In the past, various third-party speaker docks used Apple-designed interchangeable molded inserts to receive differently-shaped iPods. For accessory-makers concerned about future-proofing their wares, similar strategies hold true even today. And, if Apple's engineers don't make the iPhone 5 any wider (I hope they do, though that's an essay for another time), it'll be all the easier to link up old and new. Look, sometimes it's hell being an early adopter. I won't argue that. But it's also a privilege and a pleasure, because we're the ones who turn Hail Marys into answered prayers and fledgling ideas into (r)evolutionary art. And that's exactly it: If the harried masses had their way, Apple would simply stop evolving. But they don't, and Apple won't.