Engineer explains why Apple went with Lightning instead of Micro USB

By , Sep 14, 2012

Among the many changes found in the iPhone 5 is the new Lightning dock connector. For months we’ve been expecting Apple to replace the aging 30-pin port in its new handset, and it did.

The change has caused a bit of controversy, because folks don’t understand why it was necessary, and they don’t know why Apple didn’t go with the more popular Micro USB connector.

As it turns out, Micro USB isn’t smart enough…

Rainer Brockerhoff, a software programmer and ex-engineer, explains Apple’s thinking (via The Loop):

“People keep asking why Apple didn’t opt for the micro-USB connector. The answer is simple: that connector isn’t smart enough. It has only 5 pins: +5V, Ground, 2 digital data pins, and a sense pin, so most of the dock connector functions wouldn’t work – only charging and syncing would. Also, the pins are so small that no current plug/connector manufacturer allows the 2A needed for iPad charging.”

There are a few other benefits to Apple’s proprietary plug as well. For one, the connector’s reversible, so it can be inserted in any way. And two, it gives Apple better control over accessories.

The swap certainly isn’t going to be painless. You’ll have to buy an adapter to use the new iPhone with any of your old dock accessories. And even then, they’re not guaranteed to work.

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  • JerseyD

    I know everyone is complaining about the change but I welcome it.

    At the same time I never bought any docking accessories so I only need to shell out for a new car charger. But I always felt the 30 pin was too bulky. It was a fight to get in when it’s dark and most cases didn’t give good access. Also the port was so big it was like a magnet for dirt. I’m happy they finally upgraded.

    • http://youtube.com/MathiasVerden Mathias Lindberg

      It was so frustrating trying to get it in there in the dark ( I know.. )
      It’s so awesome that it’s finally reversible.

      • pegger1

        That’s what she said

      • http://twitter.com/kasimor kasimor

        Reverse cowgirl is what she actually said……

      • http://www.facebook.com/AnimosityX043 Will Burris

        i love this…

      • http://www.facebook.com/gentrell.greenwood Gentrell Greenwood

        lol

    • http://www.facebook.com/AnimosityX043 Will Burris

      yea my old charger just broke and i just bought and awesome new one. luckily its the kind with the removeable usb so i can just get an extra lightning cord.

      • http://twitter.com/dexDD David T

        For the low apple price of $29.99

  • Vittorio88

    Someone needs to go back to engineer school. One can easily send “dock” functions through the USB data pins through a software layer. All you need is a USB driver on a microcontroller, and you can tell your iPhone to do anything Apple will let you do to it through USB.
    I think the big reason was that micro USB is too small to be able to “dock” an iPhone mechanically speaking. It would be very easy to break.

    • http://youtube.com/MathiasVerden Mathias Lindberg

      But this is even smaller than micro USB.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ben.nevis.902 Ben Nevis

    “Also, the pins are so small that no current plug/connector manufacturer allows the 2A needed for iPad charging.”

    That’s clearly not true. The HP TouchPad charger is a 2 amp micro-usb charger. A quick search of Amazon or Google shows many more 2 amp micro-usb chargers.

  • rafaelpz

    The only thing I disagree is the fact that Apple won’t supply an adapter for free for the iPhone 5. That would be reasonable for such a significant change.

    • http://twitter.com/WouterDS Wouter De Schuyter

      That would be reasonable since the prices raised again with 50 euro in my country. (It’s now 679 euro for the 16GB version = +890 USD)

      • pegger1

        The prices were raised because it’s a more expensive phone.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1507068701 Jorit Studer

        says who Apple? It production cost are so low u can’t even imagine! Chines people almost work for free so u better don’t come with such an argument..

      • pegger1

        It’s not an argument, it’s a fact. iPhone 5 costs more than previous iPhones to produce. iDownloadblod already has an article on the cost of parts for the new iPhone.

      • Yan Kar

        you wrong
        estiamted parts cost around 168 vs 189 for 4S

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Matthew-Childs/1067107105 Matthew Childs

        try factoring in R&D, advertising, packaging, import fees, VAT taxes if your country has them, currency exchange rate…there are a LOT of factors that influence the cost of goods in foreign countries. try thinking about that.

      • http://twitter.com/gatorkountry Jeff Martin

        Wow, might have been cheaper just to made it ALL in the U.S.

    • http://twitter.com/jewvenile77 Stephen Rardon

      Disagree

  • http://www.facebook.com/joe.jonsen Joe Jonsen

    im cool with the change… its and improvement..

  • abujafer

    I know Apple has its reasons (valid or not) to bring the new connector, and I fully welcome it. The only negative I have is that it’s a bit difficult to connect anything solidly to (like a dock), especially with the adapter, but I’m sure 3rd-parties will smooth it out. The increase in speed/abilities is more than enough for me.

    Now, why they didn’t go with Micro-USB, I don’t think they have any reason for that, other than money.

  • slappyninja

    i dont care who says what. there was one reason and one reason only! $$$ MONEY $$$ proprietary is the name of the apple game. you want it? then you better pay up!

  • http://twitter.com/sharbeen Sharbeen

    yes the change is kind of bad for few who have those old docks and connectors in their cars and homes. But if apple gotta do this for a better gadget for tomorrow I complately welcome this change. Get used to it folks. But yes apple should’ve thrown in a free adapter along with iphone 5.

  • Yusuf G

    I also think it is a pain but if you think of it this way that apple needed more space in there and make it slimmer it could be the reason. Also i think they should include a free adapter.

  • ctvlateta

    Same story. Fanboys making excuses for apple inc. money machine. Remember sony’s memory stick?

  • http://twitter.com/El_Barto_01 El Barto

    Is has been on for 9 years. Just saying it was damn time that they did this. Wish it was thunderbolt and USB 3.0 compatible though

  • Hovabyte

    “People keep asking why Apple didn’t opt for the micro-USB connector. The answer is simple: Apple don’t own a patent on USB. With lighting we can fleece more money from anybody who wants to buy accessories including the adaptor which is far to easy to make money from than to give it out free with every new iPhone 5″

  • Anirudh B

    Actually microUSB+MHL would do exactly what Apple wants the new dock connector to do, and other phones support it. If Apple had gone with microUSB+MHL, then everyone would need only one type of cable and manufacturers and developers will only have to aim at one single standard to support almost every mainstream mobile OS and smartphone. So it looks like the real reason here is as has been already said, vendor lock-in. (For those who say they welcome the change: a new small dock connector was a long time in coming, and it’s a great idea, but it really should have been a supported standard instead of a new proprietary one).

    • Dp

      Thank you for showing these people that Apple doesn’t HAVE to rape their customers’ wallets, but choose to. People let them get away with it because, let’s face it, they simply gobble up any bullshit apple throws at them.

      • Travis Harvey

        No it wouldn’t. uUSB+MHL is still just a means of output. The problem with USB is it is a master-slave topology, not multi-master. So you must provide another USB-in connection to allow mastering the device from a peripheral. In addition, the Samsung 11 pin microUSB is also proprietary, so what is the big deal with Apple having their own solution?

        You have to think to yourself as if you were an engineer, is a proprietary solution that charges faster, enable external peripherals, provides a better and smaller connector worth it? What is the down side? Nothing, especially when you drive the market.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joseph-Perkins/100001836663921 Joseph Perkins

        You display an ignorance of USB, as do many. Most smart phones have USB-OTG. That 5th wire is a signal to the end it’s grounded on to go into host mode. It’s HOST-PERIPHERAL, btw. The OTG function has been around a while, but the neccessary Micro-B to Micro-A/B connectors are only available online or from folks like HP on printers with OTG. That little fact, by the way, is why Samsung went with their 11 pin connector. It has Super Speed mode (same as USB3, but only one channel) and can hit 3GB/S in MHL mode while the OTG pins can do 1.5G/S (roughly 3 times High Speed). That 5th connection on 5 pin OTG/MHL becomes a signalling path for “AEC”/”CEC” signals called the C-Bus, thus negating using both MHL and OTG at the same time on older connectors. Now, do you think Apple, who is being given the red-arse by Samsung (a rumored 20% hike in the chipe Samsung makes for them) is going to go hat in hand to Samsung for information on a new proprietary connector?

  • Guest

    My 2cents….apple created lightning charger because the micro usb wasn’t adequake to charge the ipad…they created the ipad in the first place, why not make it less power consuming and just use a micro usb to charge it like the other tablet? they just wanna stand out from the crowd…SAMSUNG is still #winning

  • victor o

    My 2cents….apple created lightning charger because the micro usb wasn’t adequake to charge the ipad…they created the ipad in the first place, why not make it less power consuming and just use a micro usb to charge it like the other tablet? they just wanna stand out from the crowd…SAMSUNG is still #winning

  • Wolff

    I’m no geek with this stuff, but using Lightning, Apple has backwards compatability (in some degree), but had they gone for microUSB that wouldnt have been possible, and all your fancy sounddocks and what not, wouldnt be apple to fuction.
    Not without an even pricier adapter..

    • Droosh

      They still can’t function. Even with the adapter you lose the ability to control from the accessory.

  • Appletiser

    what is Jeff going to use in his videos now his docking station is obsolete? :)

  • SimonOrJ

    You forgot to mention that Apple had to change sync cable to make iPhone thinner

  • KyleRay

    This was such a hilariously funny read, that I thought it was a joke. Perhaps this so called former engineer should get off the RDF Spiked Apple Sauce! lol…

    He could try reading the the specs on the new Google Nexus power adapter for starters. That is after he’s been clean of Apple’s RDF FUD for a week or two. Because it’s a 2 AMP Power Adapter and charges the Nexus 7 super fast. Not only that, but it adheres to original MLH Micro USB Standards. How many wires is that? Only 5 wires…. true! But by using the MLH consortium’s signal frequency differentiation protocols it can run HDMI with full 7.1 (8 Channel) Surround Sound no less! hahaha…

    But hey lets take a look at what SAMSUNG has done to Micro USB with MLH Standards, to make it even more powerful on GSIII. They changed the whole ball game with 11 wire MLH Micro USB Adapter (OTG).
    Wiki: “11-pin MHL-USB Connector”
    “It supports the use of USB and MHL simultaneously (note that the new Samsung 11-pin MHL-HDMI adapter also has a USB-OTG port).
    Samsung’s Galaxy S III can power the MHL-HDMI adapter. Although this can theoretically also be done with the standard 5-pin micro-USB connector, the Galaxy S III’s 11-pin connector is believed to be the first smartphone that supports this functionality.”

    Their explanation for using 11 wires? They are preparing for the future. First by allowing Charging at the same time GSIII is running full HDMI 1.4 Surround Sound Audio with 1080p up to 480fps video capability for up to 240fps 3D in the future w/ 4K on the HDMI roadmap as well.

    But now here’s what they wanted to ultimately prepare for. Not just extreme charging for 11.8″ Galaxy Tab coming soon, but simultaneously running it’s USB 3.0 capability (ARM A15), along with HDMI 1.4 as well.
    Plus some other amazing features the public aren’t prepared for ever coming from Apple. But we can assume that will include Multi-screen capability as well as hardware virtualization the Exynos 5 Dual 5250 will have available w/ the A15 chip. That my friends is basically why the truth is stranger than the fiction this guy has dreamed up. So when an Android user says hey look at this, I’m running Linux, Android, Windows 8 and OS X on my New Galaxy Tab 11.8. Believe it….. oh yeah well, except for the OS X! lol…. I forgot it’s doesn’t have Touchscreen capability……. does it? :DDD

    The new Lighting Port is secure coded so they can control 3rd party vendors and keep clone ware and other unauthorized 3rd party accessories makers locked out, while only allowing them to make all your decisions for YOU! …….so have fun locked up down on the good old Apple Prison Farm. Although yes it’s prepared for USB 3.0, but only using their most likely $50 to $100 adapter! lol…

    • http://twitter.com/dexDD David T

      Spot on, true innovation rather than greedy corporatism.

    • http://oscarstech.com/ Oscar Gonzalez

      You tell ‘em buddy!

    • Droosh

      Please post this on every tech site! The level of passionate ignorance out there is staggering.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joe-Mommie/100001740521325 Joe Mommie

      tl;dr…better luck next time…

  • http://twitter.com/dexDD David T

    Apple just wants more money… Hey let’s force everyone to buy a new adapter that only works with the shitty products we make or people pay us to include with theirs. Let’s ignore how everyone else is making there products work with everything.

    They’ll have to buy new stereos at home and in the car, new chargers for home, office and car. Hey for the iPhone 6 lets change airplay to airplay2, we can sell more shit this way too. Sweet lets do this every 3 years.

  • Discit

    I could go either way.
    On one hand micro-USB does take an extra moment to orientate trying to see the the tiny device pattern, they come loose easy, and it’s easier to mistake for mini-USB in a hurry.
    On the other hand, I can understand the people saying they could have used micro USB, and though it would have all those same issues it shouldn’t have been a technical reason they HAD to make their own.
    There is no question it’s superior being reversible, and I am only speculating at this point it fits better than many micro USBs always falling out if you move a little. Worth it superior, we’ll see.
    I am not too vested in the old plug though so I know others it matters more to. I only use Bluetooth and AirPlay or the headphone jack to stream and connect music and video these days. I found the specific docking radios and items too limited and redundant with all the wireless and Bluetooth options this doesn’t affect.
    I’d rather buy an extra cable or two for charging instead of a clunky converter and I wouldn’t be surprised if cables are almost the same price as a converter.

  • anshdeep

    Why is Apple against MicroUSB?

  • http://www.iforce2d.net iforce2d

    USB isn’t smart enough? Did this genious look at the other end of the lightning cable??