Why does Apple refuse to use Micro USB? And where are the cheap China Lightning cables?

Author Dragan Berak 30.10.2012. | 21:34

Yes, it’s definitely a “First World Problem” – but what a classic one: Apple brings out its new devices with a completely new connector standard called “Lightning” and even the Apple lovers are divided into “oh no not more expensive accessories to have to buy” versus an ever so slightly defensive “it must be awesome, yes I tell you, it IS awesome, you just don’t get it” as they swipe the credit card. Meanwhile users of phones and tablets with good old MicroUSB connectors are free to laugh from the sidelines (or from the past as Apple users would see it).

Is Apple refusing to implement the industry standard Micro USB charger/data connector just because of blatant profiteering in switching the iPhone 5 and latest iPads into the proprietary “Lightning” connector? Or is it a hi-tech high-ergonomic visionary solution which will become a long lasting standard in its own right? Opinions on the web are divided, with an obvious division of loyalties between iOS and Android users (why is it we rarely see people who are both 😀 )


The common, universal, standard, cheap
Micro USB connector, as not found on any Apple products.

For a good overview discussion on the social/tech blog Mashable check out: Why Doesn’t Apple Use Micro-USB?

The article points out that Apple was actually among a group of large tech companies which agreed with a ruling from the EU to standardize onto Micro USB. However Apple’s idea of following that was to release a special (expensive, proprietary) Lightning-to-microUSB adapter.

The comments on the Mashable post are worth reading, including a pro-Android / pro-affordability / pro-choice opinion from Craig Cockburn:

It’s this sort of consumer rip-off which puts some people, myself included, from buying Apple. I might even be tempted to buy some Apple devices but with many of my existing devices using the EU standard connector, the Apple proprietary cables would be an overhead. Apple needs to recognise that people don’t like being ripped off and maybe if it offered better value for money, more people would buy their products. They were years ahead with the “PC” yet got relegated to a niche. They were years ahead with the iPhone and now are being comprehensively outsold by Android, even in tablets the competition is catching up. The Apple way is to innovate, profit, litigate and then be overtaken only to find a new way of innovating again. This seems like such a risky model in the long term, the proprietary cable is just one symptom of the wider problem.

Another interesting side-story about Apple’s new connector is that a few high profile new 15-pin-connector related hardware projects on Kickstarter are basically obsolete overnight and have to consider whether to press ahead or re-design for the Lightning. (Story on The Verge here.)

Basically what we would all prefer is for the Lightning to be the universal standard.
And it’s nothing to do with the hi tech, just about it not being upside down for the first
three ways we try to plug it in in the dark.

Now, onto the second topic, since a lot of people with new iThings are going to need to use this Lightning cable to charge the device, and everyone is likely to have a few chargers and docks at different points in the house and car (if you don’t what kind of gadget owner are you?) – So a lot of people are going to need either adapters or spare Lightning cables and will be searching for how to avoid the rip-off gouging premium priced original Apple accessories.

 

Where are the cheap Lightning cables and adapters?

First of all, it’s worth reading about the technical electrical safety issues  in this teardown of a dodgy Chinese knockoff mains-to-USB power supply. That is salutory reading for anyone thinking “any old junk will do fine, just make it the cheapest”. Unfortunately, ruling out that attitude also rules out 90% of all Chinese suppliers. (Ken Shirriff, who is a power supply specialist, also has a fascinating teardown of the real Apple mains-to-USB adapter which is considerably better designed and safer, as well as a recent comparison of branded and ahem,Chinese power adapters.)

So for those looking for good quality Lightning cables and adapters it is already a difficult job.

Now, the main problem seems to be the way the Lightning cable is protected by a kind of security chip [another cool teardown link!] designed to foil simple Chinese electronics factories copying them. Basically it seems to be working because only very few non Apple sellers are offering Lightning cables and accessories, even though it is quite a while after the iPhone 5 announcement now.

Apparently the security that this offers is not that strong, so probably it is just going to take a little more time before the Apple accessory knockoff inspired accessories are all over the place. As far as AAPL profit margins go, a launch phase of reaping profits before the generic accessories crowd in, is probably a familiar and acceptable curve.

 

Chinavasion’s search continues…

At Chinavasion our own Sourcing Team has obviously been looking ever since the Lightning cable saw the light of day, for something originally designed, not IPR infringing, safe, and good quality/value. Our manager commented to me that he has only seen one working sample and that was an original cable bought by a factory from the States and imported so they could try to reverse engineer it! After searching, all (not some, all) of the suppliers Chinavasion has contacted who are advertising Lightning cables and adapters, are actually advertising concept illustrations or vaporware only.

Obviously as soon as good devices surface, we’ll put them in stock. In the meantime, enjoy our Android Tablets and Android Phones which are not that much more expensive than Apple branded accessories, and of course all these China devices use standard Micro USB nowadays! It’s the future! For a while!

Author Dragan Berak 30.10.2012. | 21:34
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