There's been a flurry of speculation that Apple is preparing to abandon the 30-pin dock connector that has adorned the iPod, iPhone and iPad for almost a decade and replace it with a smaller, more modern connector. But how big -- or small -- will that new connector be?
The catalyst for all these rumors seems to be the a video showing a metal chassis purporting to belong to the upcoming iPhone 5 that was posted to YouTube by parts reseller ETradeSupply. This showed a much smaller slot for the dock connector and a headphone jack hole that was moved to the bottom of the iPhone. This metal chassis has since been detailed in a number of photos and videos. Alleged blueprints for the chassis have also been leaked.
The new connector will save a hefty chunk of space inside the iPhone, being as much as 50 percent smaller than the current connector, and it is rumored that it will also feature a magnetic connector, similar to the MagSafe connector found on MacBook systems. This would help prevent breakage when a cable or accessory is yanked accidentally and unceremoniously from the connector; a surprisingly common occurrence based on personal experience.
What all these photos and video show is that Apple has likely shrunk the dock connector on the bottom on the iPhone dramatically. What we don't know is how the internal hardware of that dock connector may have changed. (Though, I hedge, because nobody is quite sure until Apple is ready to deliver what it's been baking.)
Initial rumor suggested that 11 pins were going to be dropped from the 30-pin dock connector, making the new connector a 19-pin far more svelte and slender than the current offering. Cult of Mac found that there are indeed 11 pins that could safely be dropped from the current 30. These include eight pins that supported FireWire and a further three that handled video-out functionality for the now defunct iPod Color and iPod Photo devices.
However, in recent days rumors are circulating that Apple could shave even more pins from the connector. 16-pin and 8-pin connectors are the most popular suggestions. These two rumors appear to be linked in that it has been suggested that the male connector -- such as that found on the connector cable -- will have 8-pins on each side, while the female connector -- found on the device -- has only 8 pins on one side. This would allow the iPhone to be connected in either orientation to a male connector or docking port.
While earlier rumors suggested that the new dock connector would be chipped to prevent unauthorized accessories -- even cables -- rumors now suggest that Apple will offer an adapter to allow old accessories to be connected to the new iPhone, though no evidence has been offered up to back up this claim. A chipped connector would allow Apple to more tightly control its "Made for iPod" business, but I doubt that it will prevent unauthorized accessories from flooding the market.
Some 250 million iPhones have been sold featuring the 30-pin dock connector, along with another 85 million iPads and countless iPods.
There's no doubt that the current dock is a pretty big piece of kit, taking up valuable space inside its iOS-powered devices; space that could be better put to use by other hardware. The following image gives you an idea of how much space the dock takes up inside the current iPhone 4S:
Shrinking the dock connector brings with it benefits that go beyond a smaller physical connector. It has a knock-on effect on the ribbon cabling and connectors, which many seems quite small already, but even being able to shave a millimeter off a component is an opportunity to pack more useful stuff into the iPhone, or to make the overall device smaller by a fraction.
My hope is that if Apple does indeed revamp the dock connector -- if all the rumors are indeed building up into a compelling case for a smaller dock connector -- that an adapter of sorts is offered. This would mean that a new handset didn't immediately render every accessory, such as chargers, in-car chargers, FM transmitters, music docks, and so on, obsolete overnight.
It would also mean that hardware makers could support both the new iPhone and older iPhone and iPads by offering an adapter. This would not only be cheaper for accessory makers, but also help reduce consumer confusion.