The New Apple Lightning Connector

The New Apple Lightning Connector

The Apple lightning connector was introduced in 2012 to replace their venerable 30-pin dock connector on their entire product line. The new connector is considerably smaller, which was a practical necessity to accommodate smaller Apple products. It is an eight pin connector, as opposed to the previous 30 pins, meaning that some (largely unused) functions have been left out of the newer connector.


This change was greeted by a lot of anger and skepticism, both from Apple product users and the electronics industry in general. Users were concerned about their newer Apple products, such as the iPhone 5 not working with accessories that they had bought to use with their previous iPhone versions. The anger in the electronics industry in general comes from a combination of Apple Inc. continuing to thumb their collective nose at industry standards and the fact that all Apple compatible products would need to be redesigned to interface with the new connector.


Apple’s long-standing habit of using proprietary connectors has been a sore point with the electronics industry for years. Standards are created, with the participation of many industry representatives, in order to make the manufacture of compatible products easier. By not accepting the standard, Apple puts the entire electronics industry in the position of adjusting to their designs.


The only thing that makes it possible for Apple to ignore these industry standards is the huge success and popularity of their products. The marketplace itself, rather than manufacturers, has clearly stated by their purchase of Apple products, that they are willing to accept Apple’s non-standard connectors, in order to have their products.


To be fair to Apple, the Lightning connector (like other connectors which Apple has designed) is far superior to the Micro-USB connector, which is the industry standard for the types of products where the Lightning is used. It has a maximum current carrying capacity of at least 12 watts (Apple hasn’t released the actual max wattage) compared to the 9 watt maximum current capacity of the Micro-USB, due to the larger contact surface area on the Lightning connector. Since some of Apple’s products which are using the Lightning connector need 10 watts of power, the Micro-USB would not work.


Another problem with the Micro-USB is that it is possible to force the connector together with the pins reversed. This damages both the connector on the cable and the socket in the device. As the connector will not operate in this manner, this causes the device to need repairs and the need to replace the cable.


How the Lightning Connector Works


The Lightning connector is a very unique design, which can be considered a breakthrough in connector technology. It has eight pins, plus the shield, which can function as a ninth pin. The connector is totally reversible; meaning that it can be inserted with either side up, eliminating the need to worry about getting the polarity right.


Actually, the ability to insert the connector in either way is what makes this connector so revolutionary. There are only eight contacts on the plug, but they go through the connector, making them appear on both sides of it. However, the corresponding jack mounted in the device only makes contact with one side. This would typically mean that if the connector is inserted “upside down” the polarity of the contacts will be the opposite of what is needed. However, a chip in the connector senses which way the connector is installed and re-routes the connections to the pins, so that the connector is wired correctly.


This chip makes it literally impossible to insert the connector wrong, even if one were to try. Other connectors use keying (either location of pins, shape of the shell, or non-conductive pins) to make sure they are not connected backwards. There have also been a few connectors developed over the years, which can be plugged in backwards without problem, but this was done by wiring the connector in such a way that the contacts mirror each other from one side to the other (this is called palindromic). This is the only connector developed to date which rewires itself to mate with the receptacle.


There is also some talk around the Internet that the chip has another function; that of verifying connection with an authorized device. This helps to guarantee Apple’s exclusivity and that any other manufacturers who are using the Lightning connector have paid licensing fees to Apple.


Comparing the Lightning Connector to the 30-pin Docking Connector


There is obviously considerable difference between an eight pin connector and a thirty pin one. So, the question is, what has Apple done differently, to allow them to eliminate 22 pins from their main connection?


Apple has eliminated some connectivity in the Lightning connector, when compared to the old 30-pin. The new connection provides connectivity for:


  • Analog audio output
  • USB audio output
  • iPhone and iPod syncing
  • iPhone and iPod charging


However, the new Lightning connector does not support iPod Video Out or iPod Out protocol. For most people, the loss of iPod Video Out won’t make much of a difference, as they don’t use it at all. On the other hand, iPod Out protocol has been used by many accessory manufacturers to provide a way for iPods and iPhones to provide audio control over those accessories. This capability will now be lost. Even if you connect your iPhone or iPad to a device through an adapter, you won’t be able to control that device from the Apple device control screen.


The other thing which allowed Apple to reduce the number of pins was the elimination of Firewire from the docking connector. Removal of Firewire from iPods and other Apple devices happened before the introduction of the Lightning connector, but helped lead up to its development.


Finally, the 30-pin docking connector was a locking connector, with two almost invisible buttons on the ends, which had to be depressed simultaneously in order to disconnect the connector. The Lightning connector doesn’t use any type of lock, more than a friction fit into the socket.


Adapting the Lightning Connector


At the same time that the first devices using the Lightning connector were delivered to retailers, Apple also made available three types of adapters. These allow connecting of devices containing the Lightning connector to equipment which had previously been used through the 30-pin docking port.


Two of these adapters are direct adapters from the 30-pin docking port to the Lightning connector. This allows the iPhone 5 and other newer Apple devices to connect to any devices designed for the older connector. There are two versions of the adapter, one with a short (5 inch) cable and one which is hard connected. The hard connection one is useful where space is not a constraint, and the one with the pigtail is useful for situations where the lack of vertical space over the dock prevents the device to connect with the hard adapter.


In addition, there is a Lightning to USB adapter cable. This allows, charging of the Lightning equipped device, USB audio out from the Apple device and syncing of iPads, iPods and iPhones to iTunes installed on a computer. This same cable also allows connection of the Lightning equipped Apple device to USB chargers for home and auto.


There is also a Micro-USB to Lightning adapter which Apple has developed to comply with the 2009 Common External Power Supply standard. Actually developed for the European market, this adapter is also sold in the United States for use with standard Micro-USB chargers.

for more information, see Wikipedia

Rich Murphy