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Change in Apple iPhone 5 dock connector irks consumers

Apple's change from a 30-pin connector that's been the iPhone standard to an eight-pin design called Lightning has longtime fans upset over related costs.

September 13, 2012|By Andrea Chang and Salvador Rodriguez, Los Angeles Times
  • Apple is adopting a new eight-pin connector called Lightning for its iPhone 5, shown above at the device's unveiling in San Francisco. The company says a smaller connector is necessary to continue making thinner devices.
Apple is adopting a new eight-pin connector called Lightning for its iPhone… (David Paul Morris, Bloomberg )

CUPERTINO, Calif. — A dock connector may not seem like a controversial feature, but for some consumers it could be the difference between buying the new iPhone 5 or not.

Apple Inc. unveiled the new iPhone on Wednesday and said it was losing the 30-pin connector that has been the standard on the smartphone since the original iPhone was introduced five years ago. It's adopting a new eight-pin connector called Lightning, saying a smaller connector is necessary to keep making thinner devices.

But the move is upsetting longtime Apple fans, who say Lightning is just adding to the cost of an already expensive smartphone.

"I have an iPhone 4 and I've bought a lot of these connectors and cables and things like that, and the idea of having to go out and buy them all again doesn't exactly appeal to me," said Chris Lee, 45, a Web developer from Lake Arrowhead. "It doesn't seem necessary."

Nikhil Kumar, vice president of technology delivery at a software company in Austin, Texas, said he was "definitely annoyed and disappointed" with the connector change.

"It's got people like me wondering if I'm going to upgrade," the 40-year-old said. Apple has "figured out how to help their partner ecosystem make a ton of money, which is great for them, but not great for the consumer."

Businesses, too, such as hotel owners who bought iPhone-compatible docking radios for guest rooms, are also grappling with whether to keep the soon-to-be outdated devices or buy new ones.

On the flip side, the Lightning connector is a boon to accessories makers, who are hoping to cash in with new products to fit the smaller dock, such as car chargers and speakers.

The accessories market for gadgets is huge and growing fast. Aftermarket accessories for mobile handsets are estimated to total $36 billion in worldwide sales this year, said Michael Morgan, senior analyst for mobile devices at ABI Research. Of that, as much as $7 billion will be spent on accessories for the iPhone.

Dave Gatto, chief executive of Apple accessory maker Incase, said the smaller connector is the "kind of change that always seems to create opportunity."

Mark Sabbagh, co-founder of iPhone accessory maker Good Call, noted that 30-pin accessories currently on store shelves won't go obsolete. All five previous generations of the iPhone use the larger dock connector, and millions of consumers are still using the iPhone 4 and 4S.

"This is only going to be better for us at the end of the day," Sabbagh said.

Despite consumer grumbling, the new connector isn't expected to affect sales of the iPhone 5.

"I imagine people will buy it despite the modest headache you'll get out of it," said Amit Daryanani, an equity analyst at RBC Capital Markets. Daryanani, who attended the iPhone 5 launch in San Francisco, said hype for the latest iPhone iteration was unprecedented.

Apple began taking pre-orders for the iPhone 5 at 12:01 a.m. Friday. The phone will be released Sept. 21, and analysts have estimated the Cupertino, Calif., company could sell as many as 10 million in the first 10 days.

Apple shares Thursday reached an all-time high of $685.50 before closing at $682.98, up $13.19, or 2%.

After announcing Lightning, Apple said it would sell dock converters starting at $29, which consumers can use to connect their iPhone 5s to accessories with old docks. But some accessories won't be compatible with the adapter. And many current iPhone owners complained that the company should give out converters for free instead of reaping big sales from consumers forced to buy them.

Analysts pointed out that other makers of handsets have updated their connectors more frequently than Apple, with much less controversy. They added that Apple was probably overdue for a connector upgrade anyway, and noted that Lightning could be attached face-down or face-up, an improvement over the previous connector.

"Apple has used the same connector for several years, and this is just an upgrade process: It's a little sleeker, and probably a little more reliable," said James Ragan, an analyst at Crowell, Weedon & Co. "Although it'll generate some revenue, I don't think that's Apple's motivation; I think they believe they have a better adapter, so they want to make that transition."

As for Apple's unhappy consumers?

"In the big picture, it's minor," Ragan said. "They'll get over it."

andrea.chang@latimes.com

salvador.rodriguez@latimes.com

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