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The Life and Death of the 30 Pin Dock Connector

updated 04:21 pm EDT, Thu October 4, 2012

Size spelled format's demise

Amid the excitement of the iPhone 5 launch, the exposition of new features and the unveiling of upgrades, there was one casualty that few Apple fans could have missed. After nine years of faithful service, the trusty 30 pin dock connector is being relieved of duty, so we're taking this opportunity to look back over its career and eventual retirement.

The Life

The 30 pin connector first appeared way back in 2003 on the third-generation iPod. The first two iPods had employed FireWire connections to sync music with a user's computer, but this standard was not widely employed outside of Apple's own machines. Enter the 30 pin connector, with the ability to use both FireWire and the more widespread USB standard.

But the 30 pin connector did much more than just interface with Firewire and USB ports alike. USB functionality used four pins, FireWire used eight. That left eighteen pins for just about any other function Apple could imagine, and that was the secret to the 30 pin connector's success and a part of how the iPod and iPhone series' spawned such a vast range of accessories.

Because Apple could dedicate pins to specific functions that accessory makers required, they could support a whole range of accessories with just their one, standard adapter.

To take maybe the most common example, a manufacturer who wanted to make a set of speakers for iPods or iPhones would need to draw power from the connected device and an audio signal. Apple could designate a pin for each of these functions and then all accessory makers could make use of them, hassle free.

The Death

Although it was a cleverly designed system, the days of the 30 pin connector were numbered just like everything in the tech industry. Ultimately, it wasn't lack of functionality but simple size that brought about the end of the traditional Apple dock connector.

While the old connector is tremendously versatile it is also very bulky, particularly by modern standards as gadgets get shrunk down into ever more slim and streamlined forms. The reliable old 30 pin connector has simply reached the point where it is beginning to restrict designers.

That could possibly have been tolerated if every part of the 30 pin connector was still useful, but that's not the case any more, either. Take the 8 FireWire pins mentioned earlier, for example. This standard is more or less dead, and it's simply taking up space.

So, sadly, the 30 pin connector's time is drawing to a close and the Lightning connector's time has come.

The Replacement

Though a change in standards was inevitable, Apple have a tough job on their hands convincing people of the merits of their new Lightning connector. It's not that the new connector isn't good - far from it.

At Best Mobile Contracts, we received an Apple iPhone 5 to review shortly after launch and we loved the new connector. It's tiny enough that we can't see it restricting any designs for a long, long time to come, and, though it seems so basic, the ability to plug in the connector either way up takes away a daily frustration in one simple step.

No, the reason Apple will find this a hard sell is that after nearly a decade of the old standard, many avid fans have collected a wealth of accessories that, without the purchase of an expensive adapter, are now heading towards obsolescence.

Given time, we're sure that most Apple fans will come over to the new standard as they upgrade their devices. We do hope, though, that Apple make their adapters a touch more affordable when they're not quite so brand new, so more people can keep their accessory collections running without spending a fortune.

We'll just have to wait and see how this one plays out...

by MacNN Staff



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