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To some, the move may seem insignificant — it’s not a new Retina screen (the iPhone 4S already has that), or 4G connectivity (the iPhone 4S has that, too) — but it is an innovation that will have a far-reaching impact. That’s because Apple devices from the iPhone to the iPad to the iPod have been using the 30-pin dock connector for the better part of a decade. Many peripherals and accessories are built specifically for that port. And when it changes, everyone’s drawer full of goodies will become obsolete.
The iPhone 5, Apple’s next generation iPhone, is expected to go on sale around October, and Reuters is reporting that it will come with a smaller 19-pin connector port at the bottom instead of the 30-pin port “to make room for earphones moving to the bottom,” according to two sources. If true, that would mean that the new phone wouldn’t connect with a myriad of existing accessories — at least, not without an adapter.
And analysts say that means new business for accessory vendors.
But what motive has Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) for making such a move? Tech blogs have long speculated on the demise of the 30-pin connector, which at 21 millimeters wide takes up a large piece of real estate on some relatively small devices (it’s almost the full length of one side on the iPod nano). It seems Apple may be trying to free up some space for new product designs, perhaps a bigger battery, or maybe just to make its devices even smaller.
But while customers are certainly the winners when it comes to such innovations, the peripherals industry has a lot more to gain from the switchover. Some enterprising vendors in China have already begun offering new cases for the iPhone 5, complete with earphone socket on the bottom and a “guarantee” the dimensions are correct.
To ease the transition, Apple is likely to offer some sort of adapter for the 18-pin port that will allow it to connect to devices with 30-pin ports, but it will still be a difficult change for Apple to manage. With Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android devices nipping at its heels, Apple can’t afford a single misstep. And some are concerned the new dock connector may be just the sort of misstep that could shift the balance of power to another device maker like Samsung, which creates some of the most popular Android phones.
Still, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) fans have time and again rolled with the punches. Each major update by Apple seems to completely change the playing field, and yet they continue to return for more, they continue to line up to get their new devices on day one. True Apple enthusiasts are used to the company’s refreshes making their old devices obsolete, but they welcome the innovation anyway, because Apple always gives them something new to be excited about — the question now is only, what else does Apple have in store?
Shares of Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) are trading flat at $604.32 per share Monday.
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