Struck by Lightning

There’s been a lot of complaints over Apple moving from the 30-pin connector to their new Lightning port. It’s true that there are many, many accessories out there that will require an additional adapter to work with your new Lightning-equipped iPhone or iPod and if you’ve been investing in the ecosystem for a long time, it’s going to seem like a lot of money is wasted.

Apple didn’t change the connector just to make an extra $25 off anyone who might need an adapter, that’s an absurd reason and one used purely for link-bait. If Apple really wanted to make an extra $25 they’d simply add another $25 to the price tag.

The 30-pin connector was introduced with the 3rd generation iPod back in 2003, nearly ten years ago. Cast your minds back to 2003 – that was the year of the iMac G4. Apple hadn’t been in the Wi-Fi game long and Bluetooth was only just starting to appear in computers and phones. The 30-pin dock connector was designed to support a variety of functions that could not be performed otherwise. It had to provide power, video, audio and data to and from the iPod. Over the years, the ecosystem of iPod accessories exploded because of the dock connector. Speaker docks, alarm clocks, car kits – they were all made possible by the 30-pin dock connector. But now Apple is retiring it. Why?

Simple. Because of wireless.

I remember buying an Apple Component Cable for my iPhone 3G back in 2009 that would let me hook up my iPhone to my HDTV and watch videos from it. It was possible since the iPod (5th Generation) but it was limited to a composite cable and lousy resolution. With the Component Cable, SD and even HD quality video could be had. I was able to watch BBC iPlayer on my TV – and it was awesome. Now? Now I use my Apple TV. I used to have a speaker dock for my iPod until it dropped on the floor. Now? Well I still use my iPhone as an alarm (who doesn’t) but the dock for providing music has been replaced by an Airport Express. Bluetooth speakers are becoming very popular (especially in the Android ecosystem) and now the iPod nano has Bluetooth, the only devices Apple sell that don’t include Bluetooth are the iPod shuffle and iPod classic. The days of connecting a cable to my computer to sync with iTunes are no longer needed because of wi-fi syncing.

The point is, all the reasons the dock connector was created was to provide a neat solution to a problem of connectivity. Now there are better methods – audio and video can be wirelessly transmitted to your Hi-Fi or TV, data can be synced wirelessly to iTunes. Because of these methods, Apple can remove their old, large and no longer necessary connector from their devices and make room for a smaller one since many of the connections can be made wirelessly. Whilst not always popular, obsolete technology has to be removed or else it stifles innovation.

Many have used the argument comparing the 30-pin dock connector to the floppy drive in the iMac back in 1998, I was even going to use the same argument myself, but it’s not a fair argument. Floppy drive usage was waining, 30-pin dock connector devices is still big business.

Here in the UK, we’ve recently been going through the digital switchover for television. Over the last few years, big changes have been put in place to switch from the old analog terrestrial television signal to a fully digital one. The benefits are massive – instead of 5 channels we now have dozens. We can access a fully interactive TV service. The BBC was praised extensively for their Olympic coverage which would not have been possible if we had not moved to a digital signal.

But that move did come at a price. You had to buy either a digital receiver or a new TV. In some cases even a new TV aerial. But on average, the boxes were about £40 / $70. If you didn’t, you would lose service. Sound familiar?

At the end of the day – and I am not going to sugar coat this – if you’re upgrading to an iPhone 5 for it’s features but are willing to bitch about paying a small fee for a device to use old ones then you’re missing the point. That’s like complaining about buying the latest 50” HD TV but complaining because your VCR doesn’t work.