iPhone 5 Lightning Connector: Should Apple Foot More of the Bill?

The iPhone 5 and new iPod nano feature new connectors called Lightning, which means anyone upgrading who owns accessories will need one or several $29 adapters. Should Apple foot more of the bill?

Apple introduced the iPhone 5 Sept. 12, and among the rumors that held up-and an impressive percentage did-was the news that Apple had done away with the 30-pin dock connector that has been a mainstay through the last five incarnations of iPhones, and even since the third-generation iPod made its 2003 debut, according to MacWorld.

In its place, it introduced the Lightning connector, describing it in a statement as "smaller, smarter and more durable than the previous connector" and featuring "an adaptive interface that uses only the signals that each accessory requires."

During the event, Apple marketing man Phil Schiller also pointed out that it's 80 percent smaller than the 30-pin connector, is reversible-so no one wastes time jamming it in one way, and then the other-and has an "all-digital, 8-signal design."

What this means for first-time iPhone users: Nothing! Lucky you! What it means for long-time Apple users with Apple accessories, like alarm clocks or speakers: You have one or perhaps several $29 adapters in your future.

An updated iPod nano, also introduced at the Sept. 12 event, will likewise ship with the new Lightning power connector.

Was it bad form on Apple's part to sell accessories and then render them moot to long-term users wanting the latest devices, unless they cough up more cash?

Ken Hyers, a senior analyst with Technology Business Research (TBR), is sympathetic, to a point.

"I find it hard to cry too much for all the Apple customers who need a $30 accessory for their expensive, shiny toys. After all, Apple customers are some of the richest people in the world, and Apple knows it," Hyers told eWEEK. "If they can afford an iPhone, they can likely afford a $30 connector to make the device connect to their accessories."

Hyers added that some perspective is also in order.

"The ports on [iPhones] haven't changed in five years, which is an eternity in tech years," he said. "Just about every other manufacturer of smartphones changes the plugs and ports for their devices every product generation or two. Apple has treated its customers pretty well in this respect."

Analyst Avi Greengart, with Current Analysis, told eWEEK that "Apple has good reasons for moving to a new connector."

However, he added, "Apple needs to do more to make the switch easier for its customers. The old connectors are found in living rooms, hotel rooms, cars and even airplanes. Apple ought to be selling adapters at cost for the first year to ease the transition."

If the Apple faithful feels a bit put-off by the change, their sentiments aren't likely to affect sales. Canaccord Genuity analyst T. Michael Walkley, in a Sept. 12 report, called Apple's new ecosystem "impressive," adding, "We believe the new iPhone 5 has very competitive high-end smartphone specifications versus leading Android smartphones."

Walkley pointed out the 4-inch display, the A6 processor, the iPhone 5's 8-megapixel camera with panoramic photo support, improved battery life and LTE network support.

"With Apple's plan for an aggressive global iPhone 5 launch, we remain confident with our above-consensus December quarter iPhone sales estimate of 50 million units or 35 percent year-over-year growth."

TBR's Hyers added, "This is really a first-world crisis, isn't it?"

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