2012 was a pretty big year for Apple, all things considered. Despite the lack of any “revolutionary” products, they nonetheless refreshed nearly every single model in their line up.
Most notable amongst the changes was the iPhone 5, a device that not only received a brand new form factor, complete with a larger display and beautifully thin profile, but also came equipped with something never before seen on an Apple product: the so-called ‘Lightning’ connector.
Named more for the speed with which a user can plug it in than for any increase in data transfer speeds, by year’s end the Lightning connector graced the bottom of almost every mobile device that Apple makes including the 4th Gen iPad, the new iPad mini and the redesigned iPod Touch and iPod nano.
The new connector was a change brought on by Apple’s engineering requirements for ever-smaller device construction. No customers were filling up Apple’s complaint queues demanding that the older 30-pin design be retired. In fact, quite the contrary. In the 10 years since Apple introduced the 30-pin adapter on the iPod, it has become a de-facto standard for a myriad of 3rd party accessories. From battery-life extenders, to alarm clocks to portable speakers and everything in-between, the 30-pin connector was a virtual guarantee of compatibility with the hundreds of thousands of Apple devices on the market.
Given this situation, the logical move on Apple’s part would be to create a new universal standard that could accommodate both the older 30-pin and the newer Lightning design within a single accessory. The foundations for such a design already exist. Years ago, Apple created the Apple Universal Dock reference design which let accessory makers include a single “wide mouth” slot for 30-pin devices, which could then be customized to a unique device’s size and shape through the use of inexpensive adapter shims.
It was a brilliant design that made the Apple ecosystem such a user-friendly place to be.
So why not build on this notion of a “universal” dock by taking the reference+adapter design just a little deeper? Apple could have easily created a new universal receptacle that would accept two versions of its Universal Dock – one for 30-pin devices, the other for Lightning gadgets. Accessory manufacturers would ship one product that included both Universal Dock adapters, guaranteeing them easy compatibility with all of Apple’s products. But that was not, apparently, Apple’s vision for the future.
Nature as they say, abhors a vacuum, so it’s not surprising that desperate and resourceful folks out there are beginning to come up with their own solutions. One such ingenious concept is called the Flybridge. Designed as a way to adapt any existing 30-pin Universal Dock into a Lightning dock, the Flybridge is a single piece of injection-molded plastic that accommodates Apple’s 30-pin-to-Lightning adapter into its frame. The combined unit then snaps into a standard Universal Dock. It’s a great idea, but when you combine the $15 unit cost for the Flybridge, the $10 shipping charge for Canada, plus the required $35 adapter from Apple, you’re suddenly looking at $60+ solution just to be able to plug your new iPhone comfortably and securely into your alarm clock.
No, as clever as the Flybridge is, it is not the right solution.
Apple, it’s time to prove once again why you’re the company that enjoys greater customer loyalty than almost any other.
Build us a new Universal Dock so that we might never be forced to choose between our older Apple devices and our new ones.
Image credit: Apple Inc.