Apple iPhone 5 Review: CPU, GPU, Battery, Wi-Fi, And Display Testing

The Lightning Connector

Apple also made a significant change to the connector used for synchronization, charging, and A/V connectivity. Gone is the 30-pin dock connector introduced back in 2003, replaced by a new Lightning connector. Naturally, this caused considerable angst amongst Apple enthusiasts with complete ecosystems of cables, cars, and clock radios sporting the older interface. At the end of the day, though, the change was necessary to support a slimmer iPhone 5.

Yes, we would have liked to see something like a Mini-B USB connector, the Lightning connector still allows Apple to handle the same functions as the 30-pin version using all-digital signaling, and still offer compatibility with older devices through adapters. 

Let's say you recently bought an alarm clock with a dock that uses the 30-pin connector. Rather than tossing it, you have the option to pay an extra $29 for a Lightning-to-30-pin adapter. There are also adapters for converting the Lightning interface to HDMI and VGA, similar to the previous 30-Pin Digital AV Adapter, and they sell for $49 each.

Thirty bucks or more for an adapter seems pretty steep, but this isn't a case of blatant gouging. As mentioned, the Lightning is a nine-pin, eight-signal interface (there are eight gold contacts that carry the signal, but Apple considers the aluminum shell to be a contact as well). It's all-digital, though. The previous 30-pin interface included USB, video, and line-level audio outputs. Thus, Apple uses logic inside of its Lightning adapters to facilitate signal conversion.

If you buy a docking connector adapter, it will let you do the following:

  1. USB-based audio output, providing your sound system accepts digital input over USB
  2. Analog audio output to any device that uses a 30-pin connector to receive audio
  3. Synching and charging

Now, we've been plenty frustrated about the Lightning connector and what it might mean for our cars, our built-in iPhone/iPod docks, and subsystems that cannot be changed out, like steering wheel controls. Many of those concerns have been addressed through firmware updates, fortunately.

Kia and Hyundai owners had the most reason to worry, perhaps, because their audio systems use a breakout connector from the 30-pin interface to a 3.5 mm audio and USB data cable. However, car owners are reporting back that Apple's new adapters seem to allow full functionality. If you had steering wheel controls in the past, they should continue to work with the iPhone 5.