Understanding Apple’s Lightning Connector for iPhones and iPads

Were you annoyed with Apple when they introduced a new connector for the iPhone 5, 4th generation iPad and iPad mini in Oct 2012? Did you wonder why they did this? Here’s some information to help you understand why Apple did this and the implications for you.

Lightning is the name of Apple’s new connector for the iPhone and iPad. It replaces Apple’s 30 pin dock connector, used since 2003. While there may be a myriad of reasons why Apple made this switch, it seems that the primary reason is reduced size. The Lightning connector is about 1/8th the size of the Dock connector. This allows Apple to make iPhones and iPad much thinner. An added convenience is that the Lightning connector works in either direction, so you don’t have to look to see which side is right-side up any longer. Critics point out that Apple didn’t embrace the micro-USB connector and that they were motivated by the profit to be made from selling new cables. I won’t directly address these points. Instead, my focus is to help you understand the implications for you.

MacWorld’s and PC Magazine’s articles about the Lightning connector gives you a thorough overview of implications. I’ll just highlight a few items.

If all you do is charge and sync your iPhone or iPad using the Apple supplied USB cable and/or wall charger, then there aren’t any significant implications. On the other hand, if you use other accessories, like car chargers or audio devices, then read on.

If you don’t want to replace your car charger then you might want to buy Apple’s Lightning to 30-pin Adapter, which currently costs $29. Other vendors sell an adapter which they claim is equivalent.

Apple also sells a version of this same adapter with a 7″ cable separating the Lightning and 30-pin connectors for $39. This adapter can be useful for devices where space limitations might prevent you from connecting an iPad or iPad directly into the device. Again, less expensive, but maybe not equal versions, are available from other vendors.

This same adapter should also let you use many other 30-pin dock connector accessories with a Lightning-equipped iPhone or iPad. Read the MacWorld and PCMag articles if you have an audio device that has its own controls for your iPhone or iPad.

If your household has accumulated a handful of iPhone and iPad sync cables, it can be jarring to suddenly have only the one Lightning to USB cable that came with your new iPhone or iPad. Apple, of course, sells the Lightning to USB cable separately, but people sometimes balk at the $19 price tag. (Apparently, the price is high since the cable contains a digital to analog audio converter and other circuitry.) Again, third party vendors sell Lightning to USB cables. Monoprice, a reputable vendor for discount cables, sells certified Lightning to USB cables for $11-13, depending upon what length you choose. I don’t fully understand what the certified designation indicates, but it sounds impressive.

Apple indicates that they’ll be using the Lightning connector for years to come. Hopefully, this article will help you transition to using your Lightning-equipped iPhones and iPads.

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