iPhone 5 release: Ditching the Dock Connector?

By Jonny Evans

The Apple [AAPL] Dock Connector for iPhone, iPad and iPod is a legacy item, long past its sell-by date. When introduced you'd use it to sync your data and power up your device. iCloud sync means you only need the cable to pump power into the thing. So, is it time Apple dealt a new connection?

[ABOVE: "Is there an ape for that?" Apparently, there is.]

Farewell Dock Connector

Apple's 30-pin Dock Connector deserves a good service award, but how can it be replaced? After all, inclusion of that socket places an inherent limit as to how thick the gadget must be.

Apple has signed-up to a European agreement to deploy micro-USB as interconnect for its devices, but hasn't done anything to adopt it. This suggests Apple isn't interested in developing a cable-based solution. What does this leave? Cable-free.

iMore last month claimed Apple intends ditching the connector inside the iPhone 5 in order to make some space inside for other technologies. iCloud already means you don't need to use a connector for content, you only really need some kind of hook-up to put power inside.

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Developers, developers, developers

There's a problem with the plan: The MFI scheme. There's thousands of iPhone accessories which make use of the Dock Connector under Apple's licensing scheme. Removal of this connection would be a real challenge to that thriving industry.

Whatever Apple does decide to do when it comes to replacing its Dock will most likely involve a proprietary solution, partially in order to continue to protect its scheme. However, any radical move to change that interconnect will be a problem for third party makers, all of whom pay for inclusion within the scheme.

Think about the iPhone 4S release last year. If there's one group of people who didn't share the wealth of that product's Christmas season sales bonanza, it was Apple's army of third party peripheral developers, who, for the most part, didn't get the time they needed to ship compatible solutions in time for peak season.

What about us?

Historically, Apple hasn't always been the easiest company to deal with if you're a third party accessory developer. It doesn't always offer fair warning of major changes in its product design. Most accessory providers only really get to see the product at the same time we do. These people bring good money into Apple and the existence of the third party product ecosystem lends even more credibility to its brand.

If I'm right and Apple is has pondered a cable-free future for iPhone 5 then how does it resolve this question: how will those third party devices connect to the smartphone at all? Already there's patent filings that prove Apple's working to develop power induction technologies for its devices (similar to PowerMat, but hopefully at a better power use/conversion rate).

This begs the question: should Apple chooses to introduce the iPhone in September, then might it announce the device a month or two before release in order to give third party accessory makers a chance to create a forest of supporting devices? If it chooses to do this, then perhaps we will be given a few glances at iPhone 5 next month, after all...

Developers will want to see the new interconnect. If it's a magnet-based interconnect, they're going to want to see if they can redevelop their existing accessory range to make them compatible with the new phone. If they can't, that's a big deal because it means they'll be chasing the existing installed base of older models for sales while winding their iPhone peripheral businesses down. Which would be a shame, I think.

Painful weight losss

Aesthetically, it's pretty clear Apple's moving to a cable-free future. Look at its wireless mice and keyboards, iCloud, WiFi-based iPhone, iPad and iPod touch sync as proof of this direction. Look at the gradual abandonment of the optical drive, or the floppy drive before that.

A move to deliver a completely wireless iPhone will certainly attract attention, but, unless the challenge of third-party peripheral connection is resolved, such a move will also mark the point at which one of the last remaining physical gates into Apple's iPhone garden will be closed down forever.

With this in mind, I'm now even more interested in what the company might reveal next month at WWDC. I still don't expect to see the iPhone 5, but have a feeling the company may discuss its plans for the iDevice interconnect.

Keep up with further iPhone 5 coverage here:

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