back to article Apple Lightning adaptors reveal limitations

Apple has introduced a Micro USB adaptor for its new Lightning dock connector. Speed freaks will be disappointed to hear it's a USB 2.0 connector. USB 3.0 imposes a less-compact connector than the older version of the bus standard. Since USB 3.0 is essentially two separate buses in one - Superspeed USB and USB 2.0 - its …

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  1. leeeeeb
    Joke

    Thunderbolt and Lightning...

    ... very, very frightening. Are they really naming connectors after Queen lyrics?

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Aaron Em

      Galileo, Galileo

      Galileo, Figaro --

      1. TRT Silver badge
        Windows

        Re: Galileo, Galileo

        I hope not. I get confused with which version I need to order as it is... M-M, M-F, F-M, F-F...

    3. davemcwish

      Re: Thunderbolt and Lightning...

      Appears so. The next one is to rename a video connector as Scaramouch.

      1. Armando 123
        Coat

        Re: Thunderbolt and Lightning...

        Better than Fat Bott-- ....

        Right, sorry.

  2. CCCP
    FAIL

    It gets worse

    Thirty of her majesty's smackaroonies to make the new shiny work with the old shiny. Come off it Apple.

    1. Aaron Em

      Magnifico-o-o-o

      I'm just a poor boy, nobody loves me --

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Magnifico-o-o-o

        I'm just a fanboi, everybody loves me......

        no, no, no, no,. no..........

  3. Steve Carr 1
    Facepalm

    Yikes!

    So the Apple tax just went up, yet again.

    At least with the older connector standard it was possible to pick up a generic (read realistically priced) replacement cable if your original, over priced, Apple branded cable was lost or damaged. Mine cost the equivalent of under two quid from a bargain store, vs the exorbitant priced one from an Apple store. Given the new adaptor will need to contain electronics to convert signal types, it'll be a long while before that becomes true for the new crop of Apple products.

    Good thing I have a Samsung phone then!

    1. Aaron Em

      He's just a poor boy, from a poor family --

      -- spare him his cash, from this monstrosity!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Yikes!

      Who says that third parties won't be able to make these? You're assuming this because there aren't any available on launch day? Maybe it takes more than a few hours for the Chinese factories that sell the $2 connector cables and adapters to reverse engineer this new one and ramp up production? There will be some electronics involved in the adapter, so it may not be $2 - it could be (gasp!) up to twice as much!

      Screw waiting and seeing rather than assuming, I'm sure it's more fun for you to whine, despite the fact this won't affect you since you own a Samsung phone and presumably would not buy an iPhone 5 no matter what kind of dock connector it had (or even if it made you a cup of coffee in the morning and then walked the dog)

      1. Voland's right hand Silver badge
        Devil

        Re: Yikes!

        That depends on what are the license conditions and the royalties. The new connector will surely have a few patents slapped on it (this is Apple we are talking about after all).

        Apple effectively killed the 3rd party power adapter market for the Macs a few years back. I would not be surprised if they refuse to issue licenses for power-only accessories for the new one (they definitely will not kill the home/car electronics interface golden goose).

        1. Rupert Stubbs

          Re: Yikes!

          Re. Voland's right hand's comment "Apple effectively killed the 3rd party power adapter market for the Macs a few years back." Bollocks. Since the power adapters are basically a USB cable and a power brick with a USB port, you can pick them up for peanuts in any mobile shack. Once you have a Lightning cable, I'm sure the same will apply (heck, you can just use the same power brick, although it may take a bit longer to charge).

          The Lightning/30 Pin adapters are a rip-off, though - and I'm sure that black-market ones will be available a few weeks after they get their hands on the real thing.

          1. Kristian Walsh

            Re: Yikes!

            Not bollocks at all. He was talking about Macs, not iDevices. When the MagSafe adaptor was introduced, the market for third-party, non-combustible and adequately constructed power supplies for Mac laptops disappeared overnight.

            This wouldn't be so bad if Apple's units were any good, but they're not - they sacrifice strength and cooling for a svelte transformer - and they're not earthed, which results in the unsettling "electric fur" sensation on the aluminium-bodied machines when you plug them in to a slightly unbalanced mains supply.

            1. Richard Ball

              Re: Yikes!

              It's not unbalanced mains supplies that make that happen - it's because there is a small capacitive coupling between the output DC and the mean voltage of the input pins at any given time. So with the neutral pin at or near ground-potential and live going between plus and minus 230V (RMS), the mean will alternate between plus and minus 115V with respect to ground. The output DC is lightly coupled to this mean through the very small capacitance of the transformer in the SMPSU, so it normally doesn't take much to hold the output near ground potential. i.e. a small current to ground easily defeats its ability to exhibit a high voltage.

              With no earthing in a PSU, I believe this effect is expected to some degree whether the PSU is good or cheap.

              If alternatively you ran the SMPSU on AC that had both pins alternating about zero, like the RLV supplies that building site tools run on, then the average voltage would always be close to zero and the whole effect would be history.

              I always wonder whether the visible sparks that jump around when I plug HDMI cables between the boxes by my telly are really a sign of good engineering ...

              1. handle

                @Richard Ball

                No, the original poster is right: it IS unbalanced mains supplies. There is a deliberate capacitor between live and output ground, and another between neutral and output ground, for interference suppression. (Parasitic capacitances would be too small to matter.) If the mains supply were balanced about earth potential, then the voltage at the junction of these capacitors would be at earth potential; because it is not balanced ("neutral" is connected to earth at the substation or closer), you get half mains voltage relative to earth at the junction - albeit at a high impedance due to the capacitors. Indeed it is possible to see small sparks when connecting ground of such a device to an earthed appliance.

            2. mccp

              Re: Yikes! - they're not earthed

              Magsafe PSUs are earthed, but you need to use the cable that goes between the PSU and the mains, not the diddy little adapter. For some strange reason, the UK plug adapters don't connect the earth pin to the PSU. EU/US adapters are only two pin so no earth there.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Yikes! - they're not earthed

                "EU/US adapters are only two pin so no earth there"?

                I know for a fact that French (EU) mains sockets have an earth built into the top of the plug (so it connects/disconnects first/last) so only 2 pins there.

                1. Slx

                  Re: Yikes! - they're not earthed

                  European CEE 7/7 "Schuko" plugs are actually fully earthed (grounded) and have a 3rd contact.

                  The earth's a strip of metal across the top/bottom of the plug which connects to two clips at the top and bottom of the recessed socket (in most countries).

                  Or, in France/Belgium there is a pin which sticks out of the recessed socket and connects to a hole in the face of the plug. This also polarises the socket/plug connection i.e. you can only insert it one way. (German and other European countries use non-polarised sockets. However, EU appliances [including those sold in the UK] are designed to operate 100% safely in either polarity, so it makes no difference)

                  The sockets are recessed to prevent you from being able to touch the pins when inserting the plug and the earth connection makes first and breaks last. Quite a safe design actually.

                  The Apple adaptors are weird however:

                  If you use the snap-on plug (regardless of which one, including the UK one) it is not earthed.

                  If you use the original cable that came with the adaptor, it is earthed. There's a metal lug on the transformer that goes into a slot on the cable connector which has an earthing contact.

                  You'll notice with the MacBook Pro that if you use the adaptor with the cable, you get no tingling and if you use the snap on plug or a figure-of-8 connector you do get tingling !

          2. Androgynous Cupboard Silver badge

            Re: Yikes!

            For Macs, not iPhones. The Magsafe power connector is patented, so third parties have to pay for licenses (which is why third party powerpacks are so thin on the ground and solutions like this exist for powering a Macbook from a car.

    3. Blofeld's Cat Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Yikes!

      "Good thing I have a Samsung phone then!"

      A Fanboi might read that as "Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me".

    4. Annihilator Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: Yikes!

      "Given the new adaptor will need to contain electronics to convert signal types, it'll be a long while before that becomes true for the new crop of Apple products."

      It won't contain electronics, it's literally just wires and plastic (which is why the £30 price tag sticks in the throat). There's no signal conversion going on, which is why some (most?) dock devices won't work.

      1. JeeBee

        Re: Yikes!

        It is likely that Lightning does not directly carry USB signals itself, but that the cable includes a Lightning->USB convertor chip (I believe someone already took a Lightning cable apart to see a small chip within the connector housing).

        It's probably an i2c bus to communicate with the on-cable/peripheral chip, and some data lines for high speed data transfer using a custom Apple "lightning" protocol.

      2. Dave 126 Silver badge

        @Annihilator

        Why do you say that the adaptor won't convert signal types?

        The slide at the iPhone clearly states that their new cable is "all digital", whilst most docks receive an analogue signal from a iPods. This suggests that any dock adaptor twixt the old and the new requires a DAC, if a new iDevice is to be used with an older speaker dock.

        Or am I missing something?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          @Dave 126 - Re: @Annihilator

          Yes, you are missing something. The speaker jack is on the bottom now, so even if Apple doesn't do it, a third party could easily produce an adaptor with the 30 pin dock connecter to hook up to your speaker on one end, and attach to both the new dock connector AND the speaker jack on the other end, so you can still get your analog audio.

          That's probably why they moved the speaker jack to the bottom at the same time they changed the dock connector...

  4. banjomike
    Thumb Down

    may explain why Apple devised its own ...

    No. Apple are control freaks. Nothing sophisticated. No clever analysis. Just Apple do it this way and you will obey.

    1. Tom 35

      Re: may explain why Apple devised its own ...

      I expect anything that plugs into the port will require an AppleTax chip before it will be allowed to work to protect us from cheap cables.

    2. Aaron Em

      Easy come, easy go

      Will you let it go?

      1. DF118

        Re: Easy come, easy go

        Bismillah NO!

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Meh

    Mixed feelings

    It's annoying, but the connector definitely seems less fragile than the old one.

    If this design lasts nine years as well, I won't mind too much. Third-party makers should get the price down to saner levels soon. If the design lasts for two and then they change it, I'm going to be annoyed.

    1. Aaron Em

      BISMILLAH, NO!

      They will not let it go!

      ...okay, enough.

      1. LaeMing
        Go

        Nice roll there Aaron!

    2. EvilGav 1
      Thumb Down

      Re: Mixed feelings

      What design has so far lasted 9 years? The current 30 pin standard is the second one and the iWhatever has only been around since 2006/7.

      At this rate we can expect a new one on the iPhone 6S . . .

  6. Gordon 11

    Standrad connector not the real point

    in a bid to reduce the number of phone power supplies in circulation and thus minimise the number of them ending up in landfill because new handset otherwise need new PSUs..

    Bit of an irony then then when I bought a new Samsung recently it came with a new charger. Yes, it's micro-USB, but that misses the point if all new 'phones still come along with a new PSU.

    And when I sent it for a repair it came back with yet another PSU (but this one was better - folding pins and a separable USB cable).

    1. Andrew Torrance 1

      Re: Standrad connector not the real point

      I read it as "in a bid to reduce the number of (types of) phone power supplies in circulation and thus minimise the number of them ending up in landfill...."

      If your new phone works with old charger you're more likely to keep and use it in some way and less likely to throw it in landfill.

      Though didn't Apple lead the way on this by not including AC adapters with iThings?

      1. An0n C0w4rd

        Re: Standrad connector not the real point

        "Though didn't Apple lead the way on this by not including AC adapters with iThings?"

        AFAIK all iPads and iPhones have chargers in the box. I suspect iPods as well but I don't know.

        If they stopped shipping chargers there would be an outcry over Apple forcing you to buy separately what people expect in the box.

        1. Tom 35

          Re: Standrad connector not the real point

          No iPods don't come with chargers, I think the mini was the last one and then only with the deluxe 4 Gb version.

    2. Aaron Em

      Oh mamma mia, mamma mia, mamma mia, let it go

      Stevelzebub has a socket set aside for me-e-e, for me-e-e, for MEEEEEEEEE

      ...okay, actually done this time, I swear!

      1. Gordon 8
        Trollface

        Re: Oh mamma mia, mamma mia, mamma mia, let it go

        So you think you can screw me and spit at a standard

        So you think you can charge me and make me pay

        Oh Apple - can't do this to me Apple

        Just going to switch over - Just going to switch over to Android

        Ooh yeah, ooh yeah

        Money really matters

        Anyone can see

        Money really matters

        Money really matters to Apple

        Any way the wind blows...

        1. Gordon 8
          Happy

          Re: Oh mamma mia, mamma mia, mamma mia, let it go

          Sorry, had to get to the end....

        2. Aaron Em
          Meh

          E for effort, Gordon --

          -- but it has to scan and to rhyme, dunnit? Otherwise we could just slop anything we like in there and call it a day...

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Oh mamma mia, mamma mia, mamma mia, let it go

          @Gordon 8

          Brill, but I now need to go off and create several sockpuppet accounts in order to upvote you sufficiently to express my appreciation.

  7. Justin Cottrell
    Stop

    Names not original

    Do they know AMD have a Lightening connector which isnt the same?????

    1. LaeMing
      Go

      Re: Names not original

      They will just sue AMD.

      1. Danny 14 Silver badge
        Headmaster

        Re: Names not original

        Ah but if it just makes things lighter then AMD should have no problem.

        (sorry, ive not had my coffee yet)

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Apple Tax

    Very interesting I'm seriously thinking of switching from Apple to either W8 or Andriod.

    Apple cable costs are getting a bit silly!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Apple Tax

      Yeah that makes sense - then you can enjoy no docks, poor in-car support and fewer accessories.

      1. Dan 55 Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: Apple Tax

        Yes, terrible. The poor chap would just have to struggle along with Bluetooth (a non-gimped version at that) and USB Mass Storage. What on earth uses those?

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If the standard connectors are crap then why use them?

    The problem with some standards is they're designed by a committee and everyone wants to feel like they're contributed something. Think Robocop 2 where they're adding hundreds of additional directives to his memory, doesn't work out well does it.

  10. Velv
    FAIL

    EU

    I hope the EU levy a fine on them.

    Apple signed up to the European agreement (and it was an Asian agreement first) that all phones would come with the same USB charging port.

    An adapter that you need to carry around is even less compliant than a bunch of different incompatible chargers. While some will argue it meets the letter of the EU directive, it is the SPIRIT of the directive that is important, and that's where Apple have failed.

    (and before the fanbois down vote me, I'll probably upgrade my 3Gs to a 5 later in the year when the fuss settles down (although now I'll get voted down by the fandroidbois))

    1. SteveK

      Re: EU

      "An adapter that you need to carry around is even less compliant than a bunch of different incompatible chargers."

      Not just carry around, but actually pay an extra £15 for in the first place (unless that price is only to buy additional adapters?). I had assumed that, in line with the EU arrangement on phones being required to use a standard charging port, it would actually come with the adapter in the box when sold in the EU?

      Steve.

    2. chr0m4t1c

      Re: EU

      > it is the SPIRIT of the directive that is important, and that's where Apple have failed.

      Have they really?

      I thought the SPIRIT of the directive was to stop people throwing away their old and perfectly serviceable charger when they got a new phone because the chargers changed both the connectors and power delivery between handsets - even those from the same manufacturer.

      All the phones I have had since that directive have come with a mains->USB "charger" and a USB->phone cable that can be used to charge the device as well as sync with a computer. As a result of this I've only thrown away one charger and only because it stopped working. When I get a new phone now, I just try it with my existing cables, or use the new cable with all of my existing chargers; the chargers for my last two handsets are still in the boxes, unused. Always handy to have spares.

  11. Geoff Campbell
    Boffin

    Exposed conductors

    Am I the only one seeing a problem with having exposed conductors on the Lightning cable? Leave the cable plugged into the charger or PC, pick the end up clumsily, and you can short out the power to earth, or to the signalling pins.

    Seems like (whisper it quietly) bad design to me.

    GJC

    1. Piro

      Re: Exposed conductors

      Apple likes to believe they're the paragon of good design, but it isn't so in many cases. They're too fond of sharp edges, for a start. I read an anecdote of a man taking sandpaper to the edge of his brand new Retina MBP.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Steve Todd Silver badge
      Stop

      Re: Exposed conductors

      They've got some sort of smart chip in the connector that lets you plug in the connector either way around. I suspect it will prevent shorts and other such issues also.

  12. Fuzz

    which is it?

    "Apple has introduced a Micro USB adaptor for its new Lightning dock connector. Speed freaks will be disappointed to hear its a USB 2.0 connector."

    ...

    "It's not yet clear whether Lightning is based on USB 3.0, but given that all new Macs now support the standard, it seems unlikely that it's USB 2.0 only."

    So do we know that the connector is usb 2 as the top quote implies or do we believe the bottom quote which suggests it's most likely USB 3?

    Personally I think USB 3 is unlikely here, the connector seems to have 8 pins (assuming there are 8 mirrored pins on the other side to facilitate the dual insertion) which is only just enough for usb 3. On top of USB they need at least two pins for SPDIF or similar digital audio.

    1. Disintegrationnotallowed

      Re: which is it?

      I read it the same way initially. However by re-reading this I gathered that the adapter runs at 2.0 (which they do know), but it is not certain if the standard lightning connection runs at 3.0.

    2. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: which is it?

      @Fuzz "On top of USB they need at least two pins for SPDIF or similar digital audio."

      It is possible for the USB pins to carry digital audio, so additional contacts aren't necessarily required- in fact, it is promoted as a feature of Jelly Bean 'USB AUDIO':

      http://www.talkandroid.com/119937-jelly-bean-brings-usb-audio-support-to-android-devices/

  13. JaitcH
    FAIL

    Lightning Micro USB adaptor costs £15 ; 30-pin adaptor is £25 and the cabled version £30

    Don't worry, there is undoubtedly a Chinese toolmaker busy carving up a block of metal so they can bash out imitations.

    Nothing beats a connector that meets acceptable international standards.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Lightning Micro USB adaptor costs £15 ; 30-pin adaptor is £25 and the cabled version £30

      I will measure their success by how long it takes them to appear in a Poundland shop.

  14. Andy 115

    Why would it need to be USB3 right now?

    I'm pretty sure the limitation is the speed of the flash storage, you could put thunderbolt on it for bragging rights (like the droid bois enjoy) but its unlikely to sync any faster and will undoubtedly just up the costs further....

  15. Francis Vaughan

    Maybe much more complex

    It looks a bit more complex that Apple have actually said, and Apple have not been smart in dispelling the confusion.

    There is a lot of talk about the loss of audio line level out, and the Apple web page says that iPod out is not supported on the adaptors, leading many to assume they mean no line level audio out. Which it seems isn't the case. IPod out is a mode where an iPhone or iPod Touch will emulate an iPod in a manner that allows really nice integration into car audio systems, where it actually displays an iPod control screen, complete with album art on the in-car system. It is this that doesn't work. Assuming they are actually supporting line level audio out in the adaptor, the adaptors at least include a DAC, so it isn't just a connector. The adaptor probably contains more than this too.

    The iDevices have never supported S/PDIF, and I very much doubt they will start now. Those docks that do support it have licensed a special USB chip from Apple that allows access to the internal digital audio stream. I doubt Apple will be giving up that control.

    I suspect we are going to see some later technical descriptions abut the Lightning interface, but Apple have let slip a few things, and a look at some of the issues with USB make these make more sense. Apple say it is an 8 signal interface. Which is already interesting. USB 2 is two signal (+ and - signal) and USB 3 adds four more (superspeed TX +/- and RX +/-). The remaining two signals may be Apple simply keeping the old serial interface, or they may have done something much more interesting and the Lightning interface may not be USB at all, and the adaptor contains a USB interface chip as well as a DAC.

    The plug is double sided, and I think everyone has assumed that because it can be inserted either way up it means that although it has16 physical pins, they are simply 8 electrical pins duplicated. This may not be true. If the socket has only 8 pins, sure, but if the socket has 16 pins we may see some slick use of differential signalling and symmetry allowing four pairs of differential signalling pins, plus the power, ground, and maybe power output for accessories. Apple have explicitly said 8 signal pins - so the question of where power and ground come from needs answering anyway.

    Apple will want to future proof this for some time, so a range of things are possible. In a decade's time our expectations of what can be done on the connection interface, and indeed what we expect from our smart pocket device may be significantly more extended than we imagine now. Indeed, have a look at Thunderbolt. Cut out the two low speed signalling lines and a few redundant ground pins and it would fit. Who knows? The name is tantalising.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Maybe much more complex

      Finally, an informed comment. Amazing how the slide at the Apple launch explicitly stated the new connector wasn't analogue, yet people are saying that the adaptor to use with old docks contains no DAC.

      And hell, an oblong adaptor that can go in either way... every comment here should have been "Why the fluff isn't standard USB like that?"

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Scaramouche, Scaramouche

    Will you do the fandango?

  17. Alistair
    Coat

    Apple, Queen, giggles

    Thanks to ieeeeeb Aaron and all for the giggles.

    Anyone can think of a Meatloaf tune to apply here?

  18. JeffyPooh
    Pint

    ::confused::

    My Sony clock radio can accept an old 30-pin iPhone and can display (on its 7-inch LCD screen) the analog video that comes out the bottom of the iPhone.

    The new Lightning connector is reported to be "all digital". The new adapter is too cheap and too small to contain a digital to analog video converter.

    So, does all this imply that the analog video connection from the bottom of iPhones is gone and forgotten?

    PS: I don't really care. I've never used that feature except to try it out. Just curious if any else has notice this apparent change. Or if anyone in the world besides Sony and I ever noticed the analog video output...

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: ::confused::

      It is neither too small or too cheap to convert an uncompressed digital video signal to analogue. However, it doesn't.

      http://www.pocket-lint.com/news/47498/25-quid-lightning-adapter-free-upgrades

      Paragraph 7 "you'll find Apple's website also states: "Many of your 30-pin accessories.* Video and iPod Out not supported." And that asterisk refers to this statement: "*Some 30-pin accessories are not supported.""

      Strange, cos Apple's UK website makes no such caveat:

      "Soon many iPhone accessories will be Lightning compatible. But if you have one that depends on the 30-pin connector, you can still connect it to your iPhone 5. Simply use a Lightning to 30-pin Adapter (sold separately)."

      www.asa.org.uk/...

      1. Francis Vaughan

        Re: ::confused::

        See my post above. I though this too for a while, but a little digging and you find that "iPod Out" is not the analog audio output. It is the special iPod emulation mode iPhones have. I'm reasonably sure that iPod Out requires video out - this is how it displays a virtual iPod on a car's touch screen. (Which a car that supports iPod Out has. iPod Out having been developed in conjunction with BMW.) Apple really should be much more clear on their web page.

    2. Valerion

      Re: ::confused::

      Don't know about the video, but apparently there is an audio DAC in there for analogue audio out, which does explain some of the high cost.

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