Why Apple's new Lightning connector is a pain in the ass (Updated)

Apple launched the new iPhone 5 with much fanfare on Wednesday, but most of its upgrades are evolutionary rather than revolutionary. One change however, strikes me as a potential major pain in the rear: the new "all digital" Lightning connector. This article contains new information.

Update: As guessed at below, Apple has stated that Lightning-to-HDMI and Lightning-to-VGA cables are on the way, though the release date is "in the coming months" and the price is not known. Our post continues below.

Citing a need to reduce the space taken up by the dock connector, the Lightning connector is 80% smaller than the old 30-pin dock, but in the switch we also lose a lot of the old connector's functionality.

Gone are the analog audio and video outputs, so no older docking device that uses those signals (which is most) will work with a straight pin-to-pin physical adapter. Apple's answer is their big and clunky Lightning to 30-pin adapter, which has to be large because it contains a built in digital-to-analog converter (DAC) for the audio.

Note that even with the adapter analog video is not supported, which will be a problem if you use a dock cable to play video for the kids in the car. Apple says they will soon have Lightning-to-VGA and Lightning-to-HDMI adapters, but who knows how much those will cost?

The bigger problem however is the lack of analog audio outputs. The iPhone 5 already has a DAC for the speaker and headphone output, so by leaving off this function all they are saving is two pins on the connector. Update: Apple has clarified the lack of a mention of analog audio support with the following: "This adapter lets you connect devices with a Lightning connector to many of your 30-pin accessories. Support for analog audio output, USB audio, as well as syncing and charging. Video output not supported." So analog audio will be supported, but not the "iPod Out" functionality we describe below.

As it stands, everyone with a bedside iPhone speaker or a car dock will have to get a $29 adapter, or toss out their device and get a new one. Then you have people who shelled out bug bucks for a Wadia iTransport or a B&W Zeppelin. I expect they're not going to want to stick a big clunky adapter between their sleek stylish component and an already taller iPhone 5.

The final biggie that we lose, even if we have the adapter, is a feature called "iPod out." This doesn't refer to the analog audio as some have suggested, but is a function that allows an external component take control of you iPhone for remote operation. For example, some cars bring up your playlists and controls on the car's display, as soon as you plug the phone in. It's also used in some fancy home theater products so you can control playback from your TV set. BMW and Honda offer this feature, so imagine how you'll feel if you stumped up the cash for this option, only to find that it's incompatible with your new iPhone 5?

Hopefully the aftermarket can solve some of these problems with lower cost solutions for people who just want some tunes from their $50 iHome bedside speaker, and something slimmer that ditches the DAC for audiophiles who don't need it. Time will tell.


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