Last September, when Apple debuted its new Lightning connector to replace the company’s venerable 30-pin connector, I predicted that the move might cause surprising problems. My post attracted a lot of attention and garnered a whopping 135 comments. Many of those commenters agreed that Apple’s move – while perhaps necessary, would have significant complications for the company. But many others said I was crazy to doubt Apple in any way, shape or form.
Well, according to an article by Nick Wingfield and Brian X. Chen in Sunday’s New York Times, the move has indeed given Apple’s rivals an edge in the push toward wireless accessories (Accessories No Longer Tethered To Apple).
In my original post, I warned that the peripheral market’s commitment to the iPhone’s 30-pin connector was a big competitive advantage for Apple, because being the one device that could attach directly to external speakers, clocks, stands and chargers added an extra helping of utility for its devices. I said that the new Lightning connector threatened to eliminate that advantage, and that could hurt Apple:
“The availability of all those peripherals, in turn, has helped make the iPhone even more popular. iPhone buyers know that no other phone comes close to enjoying the choices and support that the iPhone has – in cars, in hotel rooms, at airports and everywhere else. By carrying an iPhone instead of a competing phone, they have a much better chance of being able to buy and use supporting infrastructure – which can make a big difference in the overall experience. The iPhone 5’s new Lightning connector threatens all that, and not just for iPhone 5 users.”
Sunday’s Times‘ article seems to confirm that prediction:
“Apple’s iron grip on the digital accessories in hotel rooms, store shelves and living rooms is starting to slip – potentially risking the royalties it earns from accessory makers and, more significant, giving Apple customers more freedom to switch to rival products.”
“Jeremy Horwitz, editor in chief of iLounge, a Web site devoted to Apple accessories, said Apple’s aggressive control over accessories for its products drove many makers to more open means of connecting devices, which helped feed the success of mobile devices made by other companies.”
“Fewer people who buy sound systems that work only with Apple devices, in theory, could mean fewer obstacles for those interested in switching to competing phones and tablets in the future.”
To be fair, though, there has been an industry-wide movement toward wireless connections to peripherals, and Apple devices are fully capable of supporting this trend. It’s just that the wireless world is pretty much a level playing field, while Apple used to utterly dominate hard-wired connections. You can’t blame all of that on the Lightning connector, but as the Times pointed out:
“‘Even before Apple shifted from the 30-pin connector to Lightning, the market had started shifting,’ said Rory Dooley, senior vice president for music at Logitech. ‘Lightning came in and accelerated some of the change.'”
As for me, I couldn’t get my speaker docks to work with my iPhone 5, so I ended up using a “spare” Apple TV device to let me control the speakers using Airplay. Works for me, but probably not a cost-effective solution for most people.