Apple's iPhone 5 connector said to be a control freak
30-pin? Nope. Micro-USB? Nope. Power grab? Yup
Rumors that the iPhone's familiar 30-pin connector will be replaced in the iPhone 5 with a Micro-USB port have riled the fanbois universe, inciting charges of planned obsolecense and worse. New reports, however, point not to a standard Micro-USB port, but a new – and proprietary – Apple port.
A bit of background: in case you missed it, a video surfaced early this month from the parts punters at eTrade Supply which showed a supposed iPhone 5 case with a hole for a new, smaller connector to replace the familiar 30-pin connector that's been around since the third-generation iPod was released in April 2003.
A new port would, of course, make the iPhone 5 unable to slip into the vast crowd of 30-pin equipped, speakers, power-booster, and the like – that is, without an adapter.
A storm of protest arose, with such clarions of democracy as the Daily Mail, for example, reporting "Fury at Apple's 'rip-off' plan" with all the subtlety and understated grace so characteristic of that online gazette, and Australia's news.com.au decreeing that "Every iPhone accessory you own is now obsolete."
TechCrunch "confirmed" a 19-pin – not Micro-USB – switcheroo this Wednesday, and veteran observer Robert Scoble commented to that article that an "engineer who is working in the phone world" told him that Apple was making the change to make thinner devices possible, better prevent water damage, and add a MagSafe-style magnetism to the port to better secure it in such scenarios as automotive use.
Scoble cited one other reason for the switch: "To control device manufacturers much more completely." This control, he said, would be enabled by the addition of a watchdog chip at both ends of the charging system. "It will be nearly impossible to make unlicensed devices, if Apple wants it," he wrote, "and totally impossible to make replacement power supplies that Apple hasn't approved."
Okay, let's all take a step back for a moment and remember that this all started with Yet Another Video™ of Yet Another Supposed New iPhone Part™ provided by Yet Another Unvetted Third-Party™. As such, this could all be speculation, despite what Scoble's unnamed "phone world" engineer might aver.
But if it's true that Apple is planning a new, proprietary cabling-and-controlling scheme, we at El Reg wouldn't be at all surprised. We're talking Apple, remember? King of the Proprietarians? Sure, the ITU got aboard the Micro-USB standard for phone charging back in 2009, and the EU showed off the first universal Micro-USB-based chargers in February 2011. Even Apple started selling a 30-pin-to-Micro-USB adapter last October to comply wiith EU regulations.
But if Apple decides to introduce a new connector and obsolete all existing 30-pin-equipped accessories, who's going to stop them? They might choose to make a new port merely power-compatible with the Micro-USB form factor but not signal-compatible, if only to get past EU regs – or they might not.
After all, what are adapters for, eh? ®