Nothing makes a consumer appreciate a connector more than not having one. I learned this lesson the hard way by misplacing the connector that attaches to the charger that powers my camera's lithium-ion battery. There was one -- exactly one -- compatible charger available at Best Buy, and it was more than $40. Luckily for me, it doesn't require a connector.
As I've been reading reviews of Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL)'s iPhone 5, one pesky little criticism keeps cropping up: the connector. It sounds pretty innovative, actually: There's no right-side up or upside down -- you can insert it either way. It doesn't, however, connect to the old iPod/iPad/iPhone accessories, docks, or chargers.
If you are already set on the iPhone 5, this detail won't deter you. But The New York Times disses Apple for this incompatibility:
Apple calls its replacement the Lightning connector. It's much sturdier than the old jack, and much smaller -- 0.31 inch wide instead of 0.83. And there's no right side up -- you can insert it either way. It clicks satisfyingly into place, yet you can remove it easily. It's the very model of a modern major connector.
Well, great. But it doesn't fit any existing accessories, docks or chargers. Apple sells an adapter plug for $30 (or $40 with an eight-inch cable "tail"). If you have a few accessories, you could easily pay $150 in adapters for a $200 phone. That's not just a slap in the face to loyal customers -- it's a jab in the eye.
I'm not an iPhone owner, so this doesn't affect me. I do have one charger, each, for our iPod Shuffle and Nano.
I have a connector problem with just about every device I've ever owned. Instead of following the advice of the organized people in my life and labeling each connector with masking tape or peel-off labels, I have a tangle of old connectors that I threw in a box "in case I need it." As I searched through this tangle for the camera connector, I discovered connectors for our old Palm Pilot, several Game Boys, two monitors, three printers, several laptops and desktops, a half-dozen cellphones, and a number of things I can't identify. (One of those things is scary-big and I don't remember owning anything that large, but in addition to being disorganized, I'm also forgetful.) When I can't find the connector, I need I go to Plan B (also known as Best Buy.)
Every time I attend EDS – a trade show focused on IP&E vendors – I'm amazed at the technology advancements in connectors. I admit to taking connectors for granted in my personal life -- just one more thing to keep track of -- but in my professional life, I'm in awe of this stuff.
For every product and application you can think of there is a specific connector. They get smaller, bigger, have more pins, have fewer pins, get faster, more efficient, shorter, longer, thinner, thicker, and more rugged. Some can't be dislodged by wind or water and others just snap away. I used to think OEMs picked unique connectors just so they could sell more stuff that works with them. This may be true among some products (game console makers, I'm talking to you) but the engineers that design connectors never fail to come up with a solution to a problem I didn't even know I had. So Apple's decision is a big deal. (And I just need to get organized.)
Among Apple-philes, this incompatibility is just another opportunity to own more Apple stuff. For the car makers, hotels, and kiosks that provide Apple i-chargers/i-docking stations for their customers' convenience, what will they do now? The iPhone 5 is likely to be the best-selling phone in the world, or at least reach a scale that's worth their attention. Will they invest in an adapter or upgrade for the iPhone 5?
All because of a single connector.
This kind of stuff makes me nuts, but I'd like to hear from you. Do you think Apple's new connector is a sales tactic, or does the iPhone 5 set the next standard?