In many ways, Apple is an odd goose. The company has a habit of overlong clinging to some ideas while rivals might have jumped ship long before, but then being desperate to shed others ahead of the curve. Ditching floppy drives in favor of CDs, that was driven by Apple; more recently, switching to digital distribution and dumping optical drives in the process on machines like the MacBook Air and new MacBook Pro with Retina Display. And then there’s the Dock Connector.
[Image credit: Fred]
The 30-pin port has lasted longer than many ideas, cropping up early in the iPod life-cycle and then hanging on through all generations of iPhone, iPod touch and iPad. As a result, it’s also ridiculously outdated: huge in comparison to the tiny microUSB ports on just about all other smartphones, media players and tablets.
Would Apple have kept the current Dock Connector for so long if it didn’t have a thriving third-party accessory ecosystem? That seems unlikely, and the company knew it was onto a gravy train of sorts with the plethora of aftermarket kit that soon flourished for the iPod, iPhone and iPad. Contrast the sheer number of cases, speaker-docks, cables, screen protectors, ridiculous and pointless keychain-charms and other ephemera for the iOS line-up with what third-party firms bothered creating for Zune, Creative’s PMPs or any of the other earnest but soon ejected alternatives to Apple’s media player.
A new port isn’t turnover for the sake of it, mind. Apple seldom dumps something until there’s a replacement lined up, and the Dock Connector will be no different. This time around, wireless has caught up to where wires once led, and so we have AirPlay and AirPlay for Video, along with Bluetooth for those less willing to pay licensing fees for the AirPlay radio tech. The new port might debut on the iPhone 5, but it’ll make a bigger difference to Apple’s iPod nano and iPod touch, which will be able to slim down even further thanks to the smaller connector assembly.
It’ll also be a spur to upgrade. Oh sure, there’ll be an adapter to go from shiny new port to old-fashioned connection, but it’ll be a carbuncle in your otherwise sleek, Jony Ive designed life. Accessories that require the iOS device to dock more completely will be out of luck too, as the adapter will presumably add some bulk overall. It’s a sop to existing owners, then, but the expectation is that they’ll upgrade sooner rather than later.
And, while it’s galling to be led by the credit card, that upgrade makes more sense. The smaller port means Apple’s famed aesthetic imagination can run wild again, no longer limited in accommodating the 21mm-long connector. iOS device owners are arguably already used to replacing things like cases when they change iPod or iPhone, too; such is the price of staying on-trend and current. The more frustrating kit will be expensive docking stations, which are coincidentally the items that will work most smoothly with the dock adapter.
There are even whispers of microUSB compatibility for recharging at least, something which in itself could make hundreds of thousands of peoples’ lives more straightforward. Yes, you might need the “proper” cable to sync or hook up with more complex accessories than a charger, but cloud- and wireless-based alternatives to that cord have already proliferated.
So, mourn your current iPod speaker dock if you must, but make no mistake: the Dock Connector as we know it has had its day, and was long-overdue the chopping block.
Writing for R3 Media since 2006, Chris Davies is currently executive editor for SlashGear, Android Community and the other network sites. Based in London, UK, he's responsible for SlashGear's editorial decisions and covers all forms of consumer technology. You can follow him on Twitter.
The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of SlashGear