Why Apple’s new iPod dock connection makes sense

Rumours from pretty much every outlet are confirming that the yet-announced iPhone 5 will have a redesigned iPod dock port, much to the annoyance of anyone who has ever bought an iPod dock. While we know some people will be a little ticked off, there is method to Apple’s madness.

Apple’s 30-pin dock connector first made an appearance in 2003, and has changed over the years, originally supporting Firewire and analogue audio, with these features lost and changed for other things such as video.

Used for every Apple iDevice since its introduction, it has remained as a way of charging and moving data to and from an iPod, iPad, and iPhone, as well as the numerous accessories designed for products in Apple’s iStaple.

But too many rumours have appeared this year suggesting that the next iPhone will ditch the classic 30-pin connector, with images of leaked prototypes supporting the concept.

So why would Apple change its iPod dock, after so many cables, stereo docks, and hundreds of thousands of dock-connector accessories have been sold?

Size matters

With every generation of devices, we see technology shrink in size. Computer processors are a great example of this, constantly evolving and seeing notable size reductions, as is the smartphone: remember how thick and large these things used to be?

Apple’s current 30-pin iPod dock connector is long, taking up a little over 2 centimetres of space on any Apple iDevice. A longer connector doesn’t just mean a bigger plug; there’s also a reasonably large connector on the inside of the device, taking up space that could be used for other pieces of hardware.

Imagine if Apple made the dock smaller, though, and was able to reduce the size and bring in new technology, like Near-Field Communication (NFC), LTE, and possibly a larger battery.

Shifting the iPod dock to a smaller format can make that possible.

These images originally from "9To5Mac" show a smaller dock port on the bottom of what is apparently a leaked iPhone 5 prototype.

Better… stronger… faster…

Without wanting to quote “The Six Million Dollar Man,” Apple can build a new dock to be all of the things Oscar Goldman says: “better, stronger, faster.”

The current 30-pin dock has lasted almost a decade, and a new one designed to be smaller can last ten more years.

Let’s look at speed and connectivity for a moment.

When the first iPod dock came out, it supported Firewire and USB 2.0, the high-speed data transfer and charge port technologies art the time. Fast forward to now, twelve years later, and Firewire is dead, replaced with Intel’s Thunderbolt technology, capable of transferring data at higher speeds and send even more power across the port.

The standard plug port is still USB, though we’re now seeing the third version (USB 3.0) included with new computers and drives, just four years after it was released in 2008. Unsurprisingly, it’s faster than the previous version, and is backwards compatible with older versions.

With USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt being the high-speed connections of today (and likely tomorrow), Apple essentially needs to redesign its docking port to take advantage of the higher transfer speeds and power demands these technologies can support.

In fact, future development with USB suggests that it could even be used as a power port for laptop and tablet computers, making it a must have in a new gadget, especially one set to be around for the next year or two.

There are other things Apple can do to its new port, such as include the magnetic technology used in its proprietary Magsafe power plug used on MacBook laptops, making it easier and safer to plug in.

Expect support

There’s plenty of logic and reasoning for Apple to switch the docking connector, but there will still be loads of people annoyed that the company could switch to something new.

Imagine if you bought Bang & Olufsen’s $1500 iPod dock? Or a dedicated projector with the dock? Or even a car with the iPod dock connector built-in?

You’d be pretty annoyed, and rightfully so, but if Apple does change the dock, you can expect to be supplied with at least one dock converter.

Going from a big port to a small one won’t be too hard an ask with a bit of plastic, and it’s even possible that we’ll see some form of aluminium dock converter providing a strengthened and more solid way of converting the old dock to the new one.

The fact of the matter is there will always be teething issues when it comes to making such a huge jump in something that has become a standard, but it has to happen, and just like when Apple switched its monitor ports to a different design, people will begrudgingly adapt.

Keep in mind that Apple has yet to confirm the rumours regarding a new iPod dock connector, but even if we don’t see the change in the iPhone 5, a new dock is more or less inevitable, and isn’t a question of “if,” but one of “when.”