If there’s one thing the pre-iPhone 5 leaks showed us, it’s that Apple’s iPod dock connector was likely undergoing some serious changes with regards to size and design. True enough, when Apple announced its 2012 flagship smartphone this week, the dock had changed. So what is this new Lightning connector, and what happens to all of your old docks and appcessories?

Existing for nine years and serving as Apple’s main way to charge and move data to and from iDevices, the iPod docking port is about to become very different.

At the launch of the iPhone, Apple said its new connector featured an all-digital design, adaptive interface, improved durability, was reversible, and 80% smaller.

Landing on all new and (likely) upcoming Apple products, this new docking port can be seen on the iPhone 5, and 2012 models of the iPod Touch and iPod Nano. It’s slimmer, smaller, reversible and easier to plug in, and is called “Lightning” by Apple, probably to fit in with the “Thunderbolt” name Apple uses on its other high-speed port.

Lightning is a completely different design to the original iPod dock connector, with the now old-school 30 pin docking connector being shifted to a 9 pin design that can be used on either side, compared to the original which could only be plugged in one way.

A smaller dock – like a smaller SIM – means Apple can play around with the internal design of the iPhone and move parts around, coming up with a better and more efficient product, but there is a catch: your old iPod dock products may not work.

New dock connector on the left, old dock connector on the right.

To try and combat this, Apple will be releasing a $35 Lightning to 30-pin adapter that you can plug into older devices, helping to update them, so to speak, to the new version.