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iPhone 5: What's Up With the Dock?

iPhone 5: What's Up With the Dock?

In 2003, the third-generation iPod debuted with a 30-pin dock. That basic design has been used on iPods, and eventually iPhones, ever since. But with the arrival of the next iPhone, Apple may introduce a new dock design. That could provide some design advantages to the upcoming handset, but it could also leave customers and third-party device makers in the lurch.

By Rachelle Dragani MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
06/22/12 5:00 AM PT

When Apple's next iPhone hits the market, users may notice something different about the device -- something that so far hasn't changed in Apple's iPod/iPhone line for nearly a decade.

The company will switch from the iPhone's current 30-pin port to a 19-pin port, according to TechCrunch. The basic 30-pin dock connector debuted in the third-generation iPod in 2003 and has since been featured in every model of full-sized iPod and iPhone. The reported new design would make the dock smaller and more similar to universal micro USB cables.

"The current design has been more of a legacy design left over from the iPod," Wayne Lam, senior analyst at IHS iSuppli, told MacNewsWorld. "Apple is starting to think of the iPhone as an iPhone, a separate entity from the iPod."

Apple has not revealed when the next iPhone will launch, although it has begun previewing iOS 6, the latest version of its mobile operating system. The iPhone 4S was released last October.

Apple did not respond to our request for comment on the story.

Evolving Design

The flexibility that comes with a design change could lead to significant advantages for Apple and its customers, said Lam.

"They can try to double the functionality of the cord," he told MacNewsWorld. "They could do something to create a data port, and it could also help to improve the speed."

A smaller, more universal dock could also lead to an improved iPhone, Colin Gibbs, analyst at GigaOM Pro, told MacNewsWorld. As customers demand more computing and entertainment capabilities from their phones, manufacturers struggle to make the devices smaller yet more powerful.

"Manufacturers and developers are constantly trying to pack as much technology as possible inside mobile phones, so that space is very precious real estate," he said. "Less space for a dock means more space for radio chips, processors, etc."

A dock redesign could also help the iPhone meet European standards. Last December, the EU passed new regulations requiring cellphone vendors to make their phones connectable via micro USB. At the time, Apple didn't alter the iPhone design, but it began selling a micro USB adapter to comply with the rule.

Selling the Pros

The switch could also lead to resentment among the Apple faithful. The 30-pin port has been a standard in Apple mobile products since the third generation of the iPod. Since then, third-party accessory manufacturers have created thousands of speaker sets, car chargers, battery packs and other devices designed to use iPods and iPhones in a variety of ways via the established 30-pin port.

In addition to customers upset that their accessories could be rendered obsolete, the companies that produce those gadgets might be apprehensive about a makeover as well, Gibbs said.

"The people who are really concerned right now are manufacturers of Apple accessories, because they have no idea whether their current inventories will be worth anything when the new iPhone is unveiled," he explained.

Despite Apple's tendency to shield its products in a veil of secrecy, the company might clue in those manufacturers before the next iPhone's launch, Lam said.

"Everyone would be sworn to secrecy, but that's a possibility," said Lam. "The port redesign is a little less interesting than the overall design, but it does affect this industry of accessories makers, and Apple might decide to let them know ahead of time."

With manufacturers on board, Apple will also have to win over its loyal user base, who might be quick to critique the decision as the next iPhone hits the market, said Lam. Apple will have taken that into consideration, he noted, and if the rumors are true about a dock size change, it is probably for good reason. Like they did in Europe, the company might also release an adapter that would allow the devices to function with the old ports, said Gibbs.

"There have to be some compelling advantages so that people are able to live with the changes," said Lam. "This is a company that can't afford to alienate their users, and that is definitely something that factors into their design."

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