If you have any of Apple's new iOS devices — the iPhone 5, the fifth generation iPod touch, the iPad mini, the fourth generation iPad — or for that matter a new seventh generation iPod nano, then you have the new, small Lightning connector on your device. The Lightning connector replaces the 30-pin connector that Apple had been using since it was added to the third generation iPod that was introduced in April of 2003:
The 30-pin connector was pretty cool back in 2003, much slimmer and more convenient than the Firewire connector that had been on the top of the first two iPod models introduced in 2001 and 2002. But it is now almost 10 years later, and I consider the new Lightning connector a vast improvement. First, it is very small and thin, helping Apple to make the newest iPhones, iPads and iPods even thinner and lighter. Second, it is reversible, so you never again need to be annoyed when you try to make a connection only to discover that you need to flip over the connector. Third, it seems much more durable than the prior connector.
The only problem is that we are still waiting for third party manufacturers to update their devices to work with a Lightning connector. And if you already have peripherals that you used with your prior Apple devices, you cannot use them with the newest Apple devices without a connector.
Apple sells two 30-pin to Lightning connectors: the $29 Lightning to 30-pin Adapter and the $39 Lightning to 30-pin Adapter (0.2 m). I purchased both of them when I purchased my iPhone 5 and I have been using them since late September with my iPhone 5, and more recently with my iPad mini.
If you are trying to use an iPhone 5 in a device that features some type of dock connector in which the iPhone stands up, you may or may not have much luck with these connectors. For example, on my nightstand I have an iHome alarm clock that includes an iPhone dock. I place my iPhone in that dock every night so that it is fully charged the next morning, and if I want to listen to music or a podcast on my iPhone while I am in my bedroom, the speakers on the iHome clock sound much better than the built-in iPhone speaker. For this device, I find that the $29 connector works well. The connector makes the iPhone 5 sit up much higher than an older iPhone would sit without the connector, but fortunately the iHome has a small nib that supports the back of an iPhone so that the iPhone 5 remains stable. The only problem is that when I lift my iPhone out of the iHome dock, more often than not the adapter comes up as well, so I need to disconnect it from the iPhone and put it back in the dock so that it is ready to use the next time. I'm sure that at some point iHome will release an alarm clock with a Lightning connector, but the $29 adapter works well enough that I doubt I would ever get a new iHome device just to get the Lightning connector.
On the other hand, I also have a Bose SoundDock Portable Speaker Dock in my living room. It lacks any support for the back of the iPhone, so when I use the $29 adapter, the iPhone sits up very high and leans back, so much so that I worry it will break the 30-pin connector on the Bose. Fortunately, the Bose has an audio input in the back so I can run a cord from my iPhone 5's headphone jack to the back of the Bose — not nearly as elegant as the dock, but it works. I'm also testing a Bluetooth solution for the Bose that I'll review in an upcoming post. [UPDATE 1/30/13: Here is that review.]
The $29 adapter works well when you want the iPhone to stand up and rest on the connector. However, if you just have a cord to connect to the iPhone or iPad, such as a cigarette lighter to iPhone charger in your car, I prefer the $39 adapter that includes a small cord. Placing the large edge of the $29 adapter next to the iPhone or iPad certainly works, but it looks and feels awkward because it is so large. The $39 adapter has a tiny Lightning connector (similar to the USB to Lightning cord that comes with the iPhone and iPad for charging and syncing) that is much more enjoyable to connect to the device.
For example, at my desk in my office, I have an Apple USB power adapter plugged in to an outlet, then I have a USB extender cable to reach all the way to my desk, and then I have a standard Apple USB to 30-pin cable on the edge of my desk so that I can charge an iPhone or iPad while I am working at my desk. I could have purchased another $19 Lightning to USB cable from Apple, plus another $19 Apple power adapter, plus spent a few more bucks for another USB extender cable, but then I would have to have two cables on my desk (one for my third generation iPad and one for my iPhone 5 and iPad mini). I'd rather just have one cable on my desk, and for the same amount of money, I can use Apple's $39 Lightning to 30-pin Adapter (0.2 m). When I'm charging one of my newer devices, I just plug in the $39 adapter. When I'm charging my third generation iPad, I just disconnect the $39 adapter.
The $39 adapter also gives you a little more flexibility if you are using an older accessory that was created to fit around or mold to the iPhone 4/4S. That accessory might not fit the taller iPhone 5, but the 20 centimeter (almost 8 inch) cord on the $39 adapter gives you an (awkward) way to make the device work. It won't look pretty, but it will work in a pinch. For example, here is my iPhone 5 connected to a PowerSkin battery case:
The $39 version of the adapter also might be necessary if you have a case on your iPhone or iPad. The cord on the $39 adapter might fit in an opening that the larger $29 adapter will not accommodate.
The Lightning to 30-pin adapters will not always provide a solution. In my car, I use a Kensington AssistOne to listen to music or a podcast from my iPhone through my car stereo. I can still use the device for that purpose with my iPhone 5 because the AssistOne communicates with an iPhone via Bluetooth. I just keep my iPhone in my pocket and press one button on the AssistOne to make the connection. However, my iPhone 5 is too long to fit into the dock of the AssistOne so I cannot charge my iPhone using the AssistOne while I am driving, nor can I use the AssistOne as a holder so that I can view maps on the iPhone screen while I am driving. Ultimately I'm just going to have to get another solution for the car, and I'm sure that companies like Kensington are busy working on new products for the car with Lightning connectors.
Note that these adapters will not send video from a 30-pin connector to a Lightning connector. Also note that with some very old accessories made for the iPod, charging is not supported becuase those devices used Firewire charging and these adapters only support USB charging. And if you have an accessory that supports the special iPod-out mode in which the iPhone generated a menu that was displayed on a device such as a car, that also doesn't work with these adapters.
While I focus here on the Apple adapters, I see that some third parties will be selling cheaper adapters. However, these are not licensed by Apple, and until they undergo rigorous testing, I myself wouldn't want to trust those products with my expensive iPhone or iPad. For now, if want an adapter, I recommend buying one sold by Apple.
You no longer hear anyone complaining that the iPod lacks a Firewire connector, and before long there will be little reason to worry about the lack of a 30-pin connector on the iPhone and iPad. For now, however, we are in a transition period in which you might have the latest Apple device, but the accessories on the market require an adapter. Hopefully my experiences will help you decide whether an Apple Lightning adapter is a good solution for you and, if so, which one to get.
Click here to get the Apple Lightning to 30-pin Adapter from the Apple Store ($29).
Click here to get the Apple Lightning to 30-pin Adapter (0.2 m) from the Apple Store ($39).