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Article: Five Stages of Lightning

by on September 19, 2012

You’re probably familiar with the Kübler-Ross model, also known as the Five Stages of Grief, but after hearing all the complaints regarding Apple’s switch from the Dock Connector to the Lightning connector, I’m inclined to think that people are feeling that way about the death of the Dock Connector, one of the most stable technological things in our lives over the past nine years.

The Dock Connector’s humble beginnings served as a replacement for the FireWire port in the third-generation iPods. Besides carrying the familiar FireWire signal, it also carried a USB signal, allowing easy connection for PC users (most PCs didn’t include a USB port), audio and video out, and remote control. As time went on, FireWire charging gave way to USB charging (mostly to coincide when USB 2.0 became standard on Macs and was actually a practical way to synchronize your iPod), and Apple managed to get HDMI and VGA out around the time of the original iPad and iPhone 4. Although it’s an old connector, it certainly has been adaptable.

While not the most elegant, it worked, and many accessory manufacturers adopted it. A week ago, Apple announced Lightning, a new smaller, reversible connector with fewer pins, and a completely digital interface. To use it with older accessories, one would need an adapter, either the $29 small adapter or a $39 cable. For those looking to outright replace a USB-to-Dock Connector cable, Apple offers $19 cable, exactly like the one that comes with the newest round of devices. Still, I think the sentiments follow the Five Stages of Grief rather well:


This appeared during the earliest reports of a new connector. I felt it was a bit of a stretch, as did Arnold Kim of MacRumors:

Moving away from such a ubiquitous connector, however, would be walking away from an enormous ecosystem of existing 3rd party products. Still, Apple’s constant desire to make smaller/thinner designs will naturally put pressure on the size of all their components. Apple’s recent move to PC-free computing with iCloud syncing may have also diminished the importance of the dock connector.


The knee-jerk reaction to Lightning was anger. Why would Apple change a connector and then require a $30/$40 adapter to use my old accessories with a brand new $200+ (subsidized) phone? Besides the usual forum posts and disgruntled comments, Jason O’Grady summarized for ZDNet what a lot of us were feeling by about Friday of last week:

It’s a slap in the face to customers and shows that Apple doesn’t give a rat’s ass about you and only wants to squeeze every last dollar out of you and then some. Apple is a big, greedy corporation like every other, and if you think otherwise, you’re just drinking the Kool Aid. Apple doesn’t care about you a lick. You’re a calculation, a line item, a number in a spreadsheet. To Apple, you’re a walking bag of money and it won’t be happy until it’s shaken every last cent out of you.


A lot of people gave in and started realizing that no amount of anger would change Apple’s mind on the new connector, so there was hope that we’d see some changes to at least make the transition smoother. During iPhone 5 preorders, a few saw an incorrect statement that Apple would be including a Lightning-to-Dock Connector adapter:

Your iPhone includes a Lightning to 30-pin Adapter for connecting 30-pin accessories to devices featuring the Lightning connector. Purchase this additional adapter to have a second adapter for your home or office.

Although fixed quickly, some were hopeful that Apple would throw one in the iPhone 5 box. This prompted Jeremy Horwitz and the other editors of iLounge to publish an open letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook, suggesting that Apple include one with every iPhone 5, seventh-generation iPod nano, and fifth-generation iPod touch:

While a small group of die-hard fans might deem such “generosity” unnecessary, hear us out. You knew long ago that asking customers to switch from the ubiquitous Dock Connector to Lightning was going to be a challenge; inside Apple, somebody obviously prepared text for your web site with the understanding that a Lightning Adapter would be included with the new iPhone. And outside Apple, compatibility is about to be broken or limited with accessories that people have invested hundreds or thousands of dollars to use—speaker systems, video accessories, and who knows what else. Rather than making the Lightning Adapters inexpensive, you’re selling them for $29 each. Yes, progress comes at a price, but Apple has already made hundreds of millions of dollars licensing “Made for iPod” and “Made for iPhone” accessories, far more than any maker of competing devices. Keeping your past customers happy by letting them easily transition to new accessories on their terms is the right thing to do—especially when so many early iPhone 5 users will be paying premiums for unsubsidized devices.


I think this step is hard to exemplify, especially since it intertwines with the others so well. At least in terms of the Lightning connector, many focus on the positives of a new iPhone and look at it as an inconvenience to have the latest and greatest gadget from Apple. There is some fear, as many aren’t sure how old accessories would work even with the appropriate adapter, especially with car stereos. I even wondered, about the motivations and the technical specifics:

My only concern is how this transition will go, especially with Apple’s mixed lineup for at least the next year (maybe two while the 4S is phased out). It seems that many accessory makers will take the lazy way out of continuing using the Dock Connector and if you’re one of the privileged few to have a new device, you’ll have to grab an adapter. It seems they’re differently electrically, which surprises me, since Apple could’ve probably dropped some pins and shrunk the Dock Connector, much like how USB was supplemented by mini USB and micro USB.


For the next few weeks and onward, we’ll see this—everyone will get used to the new connector, get wrapped up in the new features of iOS 6 and the inevitable fourth-generation iPad rumors. Accessories that must be replaced eventually will, while a new third-party market will arise for accessories to adapt our old gadgets. Although Apple may have the market cornered on Dock Connector-to-Lightning adapters, creative solutions, such as Touchkraft’s Auris (a Kickstarter project), will actually improve old accessories and offer more flexibility (this product would allow you to send music from an iPad to an iPod-only speaker dock, something that was previously physically impossible).

We may see some exciting new products, and this will help the third-party accessory market as a whole. While I do think Apple makes decisions that suit Apple best, not its customers, the smaller and more consumer-friendly connector just makes sense—it’s more durable, among other things. Most auto manufacturers have moved on from a hardwired Dock Connector to rely on a USB connector or even Bluetooth, so that would be as simple as switching a cable.

While it is sad to see a technology be abandoned after a nine year run, it’s time to say goodbye to the Dock Connector.

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