Apple's dock connector: Threat? or Menace?

There is no sane reason for the dock connector to be anything other than micro-USB.

There are a few DRM, third-party-vendor lock-in, and other monopolistic and otherwise consumer-hostile reasons. But no good reasons.


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83 Responses:

  1. dr_memory says:

    Good reasons that (I think) exist, but which I do not believe trump the bad ones:

    -- having the analog audio out lines there is nice
    -- ditto the serial control lines
    -- allowed apple to cut over from firewire to usb without requiring a physical dock redesign

    ...and that's about it. I'm hoping that the euro-zone micro-usb mandate for phones makes them finally pack it in.

    • mhoye says:

      The Eurozone micro-usb thing means only that iPhones in Europe (and China, from what I understand) will ship with a Dock-to-mUSB-female adapter dongle in the box.

      The dock, as egregious as it is, isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

    • jwz says:

      Those are all terrible reasons.

      The headphone jack already has analog out (and would be used only if you have some shitty device that can't be bothered to get the audio digitally -- or maybe you like the "warmth" of your iPhone's pre-amp more than your car stereo's?) and control would be done over USB just as if it were, you know, a computer peripheral.

      (As the iPhone 4 doesn't physically fit in an iPhone 3gs dock, the idea that Apple might have been motivated by making existing docks continue to work is somewhere between cute and delusional.)
      quaint at best.)

      • glenra says:

        Might be worth mentioning that the iPhone 4 DOES fit in the original iPhone dock, if you happen to have kept one of those around. It also fits windshield mount kits that include attachments for the earlier iPhone.

        • jwz says:

          Not only doesn't the 4 fit the 3 dock, it won't talk to it even after you dremel the shit out of it.

          • glenra says:

            Good to know, thanks. I was actually all set to dremel my 3 dock when I happened to think of trying the 1G dock. The fit is perfect *except* that it doesn't have room to add a bumper. Thus, I just don't use the bumper. The 4 is shaped just like the 1G would be if you chopped off the rounded edges to square them off a bit. The four corners are the same, result looks like this:


      • adolf says:

        I have a Droid. It has Micro USB and a headphone jack.

        The headphone jack, being in addition to the usual power cord, is one more wire to connect in the car before I start listening to Pandora.

        This could be eliminated two ways: Treat the phone as a USB audio device, and plug it into the car stereo for charging and audio (but that obviously doesn't work, because the phone doesn't support it, nor does the stereo, even though both talk USB).

        Or use Bluetooth, instead.

        And since the former of these is impossible (because it's a software problem), and the other requires me to replace or upgrade my already-more-than-adequate car stereo, I elect instead to lament the shame that is the monolithic power-and-data USB connector and espouse my yearning for an old-fangled many-contacted connector capable of handling both audio and power at the same time.

        • humble_fool says:

          My god, two cables to plug in! What's this world coming to?

          • pete23 says:

            Come on, multiply the two cable shuffle up by millions of people, doing it every day... That's got to be at least three whole days of deadtime a year across the globe. You aren't going to get those back.

          • [While noting that this thread has perhaps only academic bearing on the original post…]

            Made as a comment on the ceaseless whinging of the middle class, this comment is fair.

            Made as a comment on design, it's a lame defense of half-ass work.

            How this intersects the original post is: things ought to be simple and easy and not made abstruse for reasons of a) greed or b) mediocrity.

        • jakenelson says:

          The thing that gets me is the headphone jack and micro-usb are on different sides of the phone. If the two ports were right next to each other, someone could make a cable that plugged into both, making this no trouble at all. (Also, not having to deal with two cables out of different sides when using it handheld with both plugged in.)

          It's about my only complaint with the Droid.

        • bitjuggler says:

          My Nexus One has analog audio out as little teeny exposted contact plates across the bottom - the dock has matching contact points that stick up. this is in addition to the micro-USB and headphone jack. Makes for an easy 'drop it in the dock' experience.

          Just sayin'.... there are other, better solutions than Apple's. If you need extra outputs, fine, add some proprietary goo... but don't take away the standard bits.

          • jesus_x says:

            The dock is really nice too, except it could use a bit more of a bottom lip, it's stupid-easy to knock the phone off the contacts with little force.

          • herbie says:

            I'm pretty sure those are power/control points, not audio. The audio is A2DP bluetooth.

      • I'm sorry, but even as a fellow under-the-hooder, having to hook up one cable instead of two is not a terrible reason, especially considering that the two cables one has to hook up are frequently on opposite ends of the device. An iPad hooked up for permanent playback to a stereo would need a power connector in one end (for docking), then the headphone jack at the top.

        It might be little details, but that's what matters out here in the real world. Get with it, grandpaw.

  2. ts4z says:

    Trivial audio/video outputs have no equivalent in USB; to use USB, there would have to be DACs in otherwise dumb cables. (Of course, if they replaced the dock connector with a micro-dock and micro-USB pair, that would be good.)

  3. mjg59 says:

    It nominally reduces the amount of complexity in devices by providing a control mechanism without needing to speak USB, but these days I suspect that any cost saving from that is more than wiped out by the dock connector license fee.

  4. latemodel says:

    Steve Jobs is bitter that we all spurned his beloved FireWire, so he's sticking us with something we can't abandon. It's sort of like Henry VIII hoping for a male heir.

  5. ahruman says:

    The dock connector includes analogue audio and component video outputs.

    That said, Apple has committed to transitioning to Micro USB in the EU, although there isn't a hard deadline for that (it was "estimated" that "most" of the vendors party to the agreement would have transitioned by the end of 2012).

    • xunker says:

      As I have heard (and this is heresay and conjecture obviously), Apple's commitment will come in the form of a dock-to-microUSB adapter that will provide power only, not data, thus fulfilling the letter of the law while totally sidestepping the spirit of same.

      However, now that the new AppleTV has microUSB that can be used for connecting the box to iTunes, I am completely prepared to eat my words.

      Captcha: acharce accounts

      • duskwuff says:

        Interestingly, a teardown of the new AppleTV has revealed that the circuit board has (unpopulated) pads for a dock connector.

        • jwz says:

          I also heard this story when the Mac Mini first came out (or possibly the Intel version), so presumably that just means it's the same board.

  6. hatter says:

    It's been an ongoingly more stable standard for combined audio, power and control than any other alternative. Which isn't to say it should live forever but maybe if everyone agrees USB protocols for all this and it becomes widely adopted and people naturally upgrade to new toys which support it, then that would be a better time to ditch it.

    the hatter

  7. wootest says:

    The dock connector was introduced with the third-generation iPod. (The regular iPod, what's now known as the iPod classic.)

    The third-generation iPod was the first to have USB. It had the dock connector and its cable because Firewire can charge directly over a pin, but USB requires you to negotiate a session, and with a flat battery that can be challenging.

    So the third-generation iPod shipped with a Firewire cable, and there was a weird extra cable with one dock connector on one end, and two cables attached to that: one USB, and one Firewire. If you were really insane, you plugged in the Firewire and USB ends into the same computer, but more likely you plugged the USB end into the now prevalent USB port on your computer and the Firewire end into the AC adapter, which used a Firewire plug instead of a USB plug back then.

    Because of this, they needed an interface that could do USB and Firewire at the same time; thus the 30-pin dock connector. (It also has a few extra pins that they can use for other purposes, but I don't believe that that couldn't be multiplexed over a simpler interface in one way or another, say by another USB profile.)

    Around the time of the iPod mini, they figured "screw it, let's do charging over USB, who has a flat battery anyway?" before it turned out that some people did. No worries, thanks to that connector they designed, they could just charge over the Firewire pins with that charger.

    Eventually, the Firewire support got taken out except for the charging, since the charging was so damn useful. Even later, when space was at a premium and they had to reduce their chip count (or they wanted some more money; it's hard to tell) they yanked Firewire charging, too. This is why you can sometimes see "charging is not supported with this accessory" with some docks and car kits - they use the Firewire pin because it used to always be available and it's far easier than needing to set up a USB connection.

    As of a few years back, I think the status is that they can charge by USB after all, even from a flat battery, by just capturing the power of the small current of the connection itself and letting it stay connected for a while. I am not an electrical engineer and I've never so much as taken a multimeter to a dock connector, but I know enough to be dangerous. And now you know where the need for a connector at all comes from.

    The decision to keep using it is simple: keep a market of accessories specifically tailored to your brand. I'm unsure how they will fulfill the micro-USB requirement in the EU when that takes effect, but I was also under the impression that China had a micro-USB requirement even before the iPhone came out, and it is on sale there.

    • jwz says:

      Thanks for the history lesson.

      "No good reasons" it is, then!

      • gryazi says:

        This is complete bullshit, however, because USB mandates providing something like 100ma to an inactive port precisely to power the interface to the device (then, when fully awake, it's guaranteed 500ma). The mandate in the spec might've come a little late but there's never been a USB-powered fan/LED lamp/mug warmer that's 'negotiated' anything.

        If you printed in the bad old days of USB 1.x, when certain mainboards really didn't provide "enough" current on a port, this is why certain HP printers with perfectly good internal power supplies still had to be connected through a powered hub to not flake out. [I guess dual-sourcing voltage to the interface electronics *is* semi-nontrivial, though, particularly if you're Doing It Wrong.]

      • wootest says:

        There's few good reasons to keep it around now, but there was enough of a reason to invent it in the first place.

        The connector keeps both "making it easier for customers" (by providing a line of fine licensed wares) and "biting customers hard in the ass repeatedly" (by pulling tricks like removing FW charging and deprecating everyone's fine licensed wares, some of which cost several times more than the actual iPod).

    • jerub says:

      This is an amazing history lesson.

      One thing confuses me however. Why is it that new gen ipods can't be charged by previous-gen equipment? My car's integrated ipod adapter can't charge any of the late gen nanos but charges my mini fine.

      • ckd says:

        Because the old chargers sent charging current (usually 12V IIRC) through the Firewire pins on the dock connector, and new iPods don't have circuitry to take advantage of that. Naturally, resulted in a market opportunity.

    • aldren says:

      It's worth noting that Firewire voltages range from 24V to 40V, at up to 45W. USB is 5V at 500mA. It could be they didn't want to handle such a wide range of voltages for charging, so they decided to deprecate Firewire.

      A shame, as charging the iPad on 500mA can be a problem from what I understand, as the screen alone draws about that much when powered up!

    • giantlaser says:

      USB does not require you to negotiate a session to charge. I have USB adaptors that charge my Nokia E71 phone and Nintendo DS. Both cables merely connect to the DC pins, and other dumb.

      • fnivramd says:

        And because USB people care about compatibility, someone actually sat down and tested lots of devices to figure out how a hypothetical standard "USB charger" can:

        • Not explode random USB devices that are mistakenly plugged into it but have nowhere to dump 2.5W or more of input power (e.g. that cheap USB flash stick you got as a promotional item and keep family photos on)

        • Be so simple a Chinese factory can reliably make ones that work despite minimal quality control*

        • Deliver enough power to charge real world devices (so 2.5W is a good start, but 5-10W is better)

        ... and then they wrote that up and standardised it, so that there's now an excellent chance that an arbitrary "USB charger" plugged into the mains plus arbitrary USB connected portable device results in the device charging, but not catching fire. Convenient.

        * I own a cheap DVB dongle which appears to have no indicator LED... until you turn out the lights and see it glowing dimly through the solid case plastic on the opposite side from the translucent area where an LED was supposed to go...

        • giantlaser says:

          Whoever sat down and did that did not understand electricity. You don't "dump 2.5W of power" at all. You make a voltage differential (in this case 5V), but how much power the device DRAWS is up to its own wiring. Your USB flash storage device does not draw 2.5W of power.

    • jered says:

      You're wrong in such fundamental ways that it's not worth refuting. The fundamental wrongness is the "you have to negotiate to get power" part; if that were true then all the USB humping dogs, lights, cup warmers, etc. wouldn't work.

      You're supposed to negotiate so as to not exceed the power budget of the host, but when you plug into USB you get power on the power pins.

      The iPod was Firewire because Firewire Was The Future. That future didn't happen, and in an incredibly non-Apple move they released a generation of hardware that supported both interfaces, and continued to support 12V accessory charging (instead of 5V USB) for several additional generations.

      • wootest says:

        (For everyone else telling me I'm an idiot about USB power, this is the canonical reply. I don't feel like running around.)

        > You're supposed to negotiate so as to not exceed the power budget of the host, but when you plug into USB you get power on the power pins.

        Thanks. I am probably wrong about USB power. I actually know close to nothing about how USB or Firewire works. I know what VCC means in a pin-out, and it stands to reason that a protocol with such a pin should be able to trickle out some safe current to all compliant devices without anything blowing up.

        I suppose that they didn't manufacture the two-headed tentacle dock cables of doom for sheer fun. Your point about them wanting Firewire to win out is well-taken, but if they've already given the USB option, there's no reason for them to cripple it. I would like to think that there was still a technical reason for this somewhere, even beyond simply "allowing" 12V charging, but I don't know where to find that answer.

        I also know from a friend who used to work in the SF Apple Store that many of the "dead" iPods a few years ago were just out of juice, and had to be charged with Firewire chargers in the Genius bar. I still can't write that off as just being quicker thanks to more volts and therefore letting them serve more customers, but according to him, they *had* to use the FW chargers because the USB chargers wouldn't do anything in that situation.

        Maybe it's related to controller design, where Firewire has to support daisy-chaining and therefore pass along voltage even when turned off. Like I said, I know enough to be dangerous.

  8. dfrezell says:

    An interesting read about charging iphones and why people get "Charging not supported"

  9. owen says:

    Everyone who is saying "the dock connector enables analog audio out" ignores the fact that my Android G1 has analog audio out through it's mini-USB jack. I actually find it retarded that I have to use this, with a mini-USB-to-1/8" dongle to listen to music, but there it is.

    • bmdesmet says:

      Your G1 has an extusb (aka HTC mini-USB). It adds pins to the normal mini-usb connector and is backwards compatible with mini-usb cables.

      See images here

      • gryazi says:

        That is actually a pretty rational way to go about it. Does it blow up with whatever they'll do to support USB 3 over MiniUSB?

        Certain Motorola (and other) devices overload the data lines on a standard MiniUSB connector to accomplish half the same trick, which is clearly a case of Doing It Wrong.

        I'd prefer something with a little more mechanical stability than MiniUSB so we could have docks that don't mangle devices or vice-versa under torsion/common physical loads, but In The Meantime...

  10. lafinjack says:

    See also: the idiotic non-support of back/forward buttons on Bluetooth headphones.

    • ultranurd says:

      AVRCP finally started working for my Motorola S308 headphones with the iOS 4.1 update. I have no idea why the profile wasn't in there from the beginning, but it's there now.

  11. baconmonkey says:

    I have seen a few micro-usb charged phones croak because the tolerances on those pins are fussy, and repeated plugins wear something out. The wide apple connector has nearly no opportunity for lateral flex, while micro-usb seems practically designed to shift and pivot and bend laterally under trivial strain.

    also, video out is the only other reason.

    • rane500 says:

      I'll agree the connectors themselves sit better, but the physical cable quality I've experienced with both always seems far superior in the any-size-USB camp. USB cables of any size seem to be considered "computer cables" in manufacturer's minds (maybe because they are!) and have nice solid housings with thick insulation that tends not to break or get kinked. I've gone through two iPhone/Pod chargers because the cables were thinner and ended up being much more flimsy, just like any old DC wall adapter for [insert random household electric device here.]

      Edit: I should clarify they were third-party iPhone/Pod chargers, the ones in the product boxes directly from Apple do hold up well.

  12. kyhwana says:

    No! Only jobs' connector is allowed on anything he makes :P

  13. jpeace says:

    Regular reason: because there are a billion dock-connector thingies, trinkets, and cables already made, paid for, and generally working.

      • jpeace says:

        Yes, true, granted, Apple is cunt.

        You're either making the argument that Apple should have used micro-USB from the start, or else that Apple should move to micro-USB now.

        The engineering challenge for 2004's iPod Photo: get data, analog audio, animated photo slideshows over analog RCA output, playback control, power over Firewire, and power over USB in and out of the same port. Why not use micro-USB? Because that format didn't show up until 2007.

        So the argument must be that Apple should move to micro-USB now. This necessarily implies a few changes in the CustomerSphere, starting with the fact that Apple must pack in a USB-A to USB micro-B cable with every iDevice.

        The "iPod cable" as it stands has the following properties: it is white, it is flat on the end, it's about yay long, and there's one somewhere around the house/office because there are, literally, a half billion of them on the planet located in the proximity of moneyed yet technologically unengaged people and their belongings.

        The cable you want has the following properties: you have one lying around already from another device, you think it would be a saner, more open alternative, and fucking Apple would never do it. For customers, they'd see it as their "Blackberry cord" or else a "micro what the fuck is this other thing I have to buy now?".

        And then every thing they ever bought as an iPod accessory doesn't work now without a new cable or a dongle, which necessarily means stamping another half billion things and injecting them into the world of technologically unengaged people with money. And the new cable won't be capable of half the things the old one did unless Apple twiddles the pins, which makes this... not a micro-USB cable.

        Which makes this an exercise in internet petulance.


        • jwz says:

          Your argument makes no sense.

          If you already have an old iDevice, you already have a cable, and that will all continue to work, so talking about that is pointless.

          If you buy a new iDevice, it's going to be a different shape, and you're going to have to replace all of your third party docks and whatnot, because that's just how Apple rolls. If you buy a new iDevice, it will come with a new cable. Presumably this cable will be white. It would be nice if it had a standard connector on it like USB instead of this proprietary piece of shit, because then maybe the N+2 iDevice you buy will work with cheaper fucking cables -- and maybe for the N+3 device you will have fewer accessories going into the landfill.

          Obviously Apple won't do this because they will choose nickel-and-diming their customers to death over actual ease-of-use and lack-of-waste. This only backs up my point, which you seem to have trouble grasping even though I used very few and relatively small words: the iPhone dock connector has no technical merits. There are no good reasons for it to exist on modern devices. Only bad ones. I can try again using words of only one syllable if that would help you.

          • rob_from_ca says:

            "If you buy a new iDevice, it's going to be a different shape, and you're going to have to replace all of your third party docks and whatnot"

            This isn't true for almost all consumers. Most dock-connector accessories are form-factor independent. They either just have a cable like in car connection kits, or they use the universal dock system ( So far and away people usually don't have to replace anything when they get a new iDevice. The very specific standalone docks for individual iPhone models are the exception, not the rule.

            Since cars in particular are reliant on the dock connector, changing it would highly annoy a lot of people, since the car kits tend to be difficult to modify or replace, and will be installed for a while. Adapters might work I suppose, but...

            Personally, I don't know what I'd replace it with. Standard Micro-USB doesn't have analog audio or video. Sure, you could have janky adapters that plug into the head phones and the usb connector and provide a dock connector, but that doesn't solve video. Create a new micro-USB extension standard (which would then confuse everyone)? Add a separate video connector to all future iPhones? Not really room on the iPhone to add standard RCA plugs, HDMI, or mini-display port, so it would have to be a proprietary video connection requiring adapters right?

          • jpeace says:

            Raise the pH a bit. I'm not arguing in bad faith.

            What's your argument that micro-USB has technical merit?

            The iPod dock connector did have technical merits over what was available at the time.

            There are thirty pins available, currently providing fast data, analog audio, analog video, and power. Micro-USB has eight pins available, providing fast data and power.

            30-pin has grown into a colossal wad of devices that cannot be moved off of the dock connector without fundamentally breaking the platform. It doesn't matter to me if that's by design or market happenstance.

            If one argues "power and data is all you need to implement all of the things that iDevices already do", then yes: you can shovel a bitstream, a library, a photo, a song, whatever over micro-USB just fine, and have DACs do the rest on the other side as necessary. And if we're going to choose an industry-standard power+data implementation then why not micro-USB? It'll work fine for the next billion phones.

            But that's a political argument. If we need the most democratic and unencumbered way to get data and amperage from point A to point B, then why not use a chain of paper clips and scotch tape? Not even the USB-IF has a say there!

            Moving to micro-USB would fundamentally disrupt the iDevice ecosystem, remove existing capabilities, and shortens the functional life of existing Apple-compatible gear. Apple is already good at doing that on their own.

            Feel free to argue "I want Apple to have less control over the iDevice platform" or "I want to reuse a forty cent cable I already have", but Apple has no technical reason to switch away from 30-pin. Volts is volts, lawyers is lawyers, pinouts are contracts are outcomes.

  14. lloydwood says:

    I have a bunch of mini-usb (hard drive, usb flash card slot box) and micro-usb (cameras and Nokia phone) devices. It's difficult enough telling the mini from the micro - but there are also variants in the micro usb in terms of connectors and fit. (Wikipedia lists A, B, and a common socket, but I swear I've seen more, and with electrical differences to boot.) The cameras both have micro-usb, but each camera will only switch into download-from-flash mode if the right micro-usb cable that shipped with it (an identical pair with some sort of thick cylindrical sleeve near the plug - some sort of solenoid?) is used with a computer.

    As the micro-usb connector is so small, identifying which connector is which and how it goes in can be pretty hard for people with poor eyesight or for children. Never mind distinguishing micro from mini.

    All in all, micro-USB is a usability non-starter all by itself. Even if there's only one standard connector, it's still fiddly, and will still get confused with mini-USB.

    3.5" headphone TRRS (adapted for USB in e.g. the iPod shuffle) actually seems more sensible as a connector from a plug/unplug usability viewpoint, as it can't be inserted upside down - though my Nokia stereo earpieces have a ridge around the base which means they ground signals and won't work in my iPod, so there's some manufacture variation there as well, and not putting in all the way leads to electrical shorting, which is bad.

    And the full-size USB (both rectangular and square plug for slave devices) resists accidental pull-out better that mini- or micro-usb, or headphone TRRS, which is incredibly weak at that. This could matter.

    Oh, and none of the sockets prevent water ingress. That sucks.

    • shandrew says:

      The "thick cylindrical sleeve" is a ferrite, one of those nocturnal animals that are illegal to keep as pets in California. It should not make a difference in functionality.

      • lloydwood says:

        Yes, solenoids are ferrous (which is to say, made of iron) even when they're effectively only active in a passive damping capacity as a simple coil with induced eddy currents. Given the observed differences in behaviour between these cables, there may well also be other electronics in at least one of the cables or wiring differences - not that I'm going to open the usb leads up to check.

        Does the expense of a camera dictate adding an inductive coil to the USB cable to protect the electronics from non-existent voltage/current spikes? Is this a marketing thing?

        And speaking of pointless USB marketing, I see the high-end audiophiles now sell gold-plated USB cables, complete with integrated tightly-wound damping material. Hey, and they do mini-USB!

        • oshepherd says:

          The ferrites primarily exist for interference reasons

          • gryazi says:

            Specifically, to keep the emissions from the camera (backlight noise etc.) from radiating out of the USB cable.

            If they could pass FCC certification without adding the choke, they would. But when they've got the whole thing built and they're soooo close, it's the easiest way to go. (And of course, every time you use a different cable, trains derail and planes fall from the sky.)

            • lloydwood says:

              Aha, ferrite beads, thanks. (Which I know as solenoids for the winding.)

              If backlighting generated interference, wouldn't it be reasonable to expect to find a choke in every usb ipod dock cable, because ipods have LED backlights too? (But dock cables are too small.) I'm willing to bet that it's more likely to do with the motors pushing out the lenses when the cameras are turned on, and the electrical noise that they generate as a sideeffect.

        • shandrew says:

          You can buy five of those audiophile USB cables for the price of the Denon AK-DL1 "proprietary ultra premium Denon Link cable" (aka Cat-5).

          Don't forget some cable lifters to optimize the transmission of your audio bits!

    • oshepherd says:

      Micro-USB male connectors come in two formats: A and B. They're pretty simple; one is host end, one is device end. With all probability, you just have USB-A to Micro-B cables lying around, but you can bet Micro-A to USB-B cables if you want to do something mad like plug your printer into your phone (And yes some phones support this)

      The sockets come in three forms: A, B and AB. A is for small host-only devices; B is for small device-only devices, and AB is for "USB OnTheGo", which can be either host or device and can additionally negotiate this between themselves.

      In practice, you'll have a hard time finding something with a Micro-A connector, but B is very common, and AB is also found (e.g. Nokia N8xx had one; I don't know N900).

      Yes, there will be some confusion in the Mini-to-Micro transition, but its worthwhile; Micro connectors are far more resilient. USB-IF recommend use of Micro connectors on new devices quite strongly; I wouldn't be surprised if Mini becomes prohibited with time.

      As for the cable incompatibility: This seems to be a device or cable tolerance issue. I haven't seen such an issue.

    • dojothemouse says:

      TRRS freaks me out. The "Apple AV Cable" came in pretty handy a couple times, but if you inserted a regular headphone cable too slowly, it'd reboot.

      There's no standard for that, right?

  15. mcity says:


    Not much more to discuss, really.

  16. pikuorguk says:

    I have a dumb stock car stereo, and a magic box that contains some sort of AVR chip and a few bit of simple electronics. Two wires come out of it, one to the CD-multichanger port on my car stereo, the other wire has a dock connector on it (a dumb dock connector, iPhone 3s won't charge).

    So I set my car to "CD Multichanger" mode and can control my iPod. My stupid car stereo just thinks I have a multichanger and I avoid causing multiple pileups on the motorway because I can skip tracks without having to take my hands off the steering wheel.

    To me this is a sane reason. Trying to make car stereos speak some sort of USB control language would never happen, and I'd be left using some shite RF transmitter instead.

    • jwz says:

      So, you have a magic box that is "multichanger" on one end, and "iPhone dock" on the other end... and you think that is somehow simpler or in fact in any way different than a magic box that had "multichanger" on one end and "usb that knows how to talk to iPhones" on the other end.

      It's exactly the same thing! Both are ten cents of embedded logic burned into a chip inside a cable.

      • pikuorguk says:

        oh no, it's no different. Only difference is I have such a box in my car right now being useful in my daily life, rather than waiting for some asshat corporations to design-by-committee a new USB connector standard that nobody will bother to use for five years. Sorting this kind of thing out will be like DVD/Bluray/HD-DVD all over again.

        I guess I spent too many years farting around with Linux as a Windows replacement that now I'd rather just buy some reasonably adequate closed system that works well enough.

        The current gripe occupying my mind is satnav makers who want to charge me 3/4 the price of a new device just to upgrade the maps.

      • gryazi says: has so many damn pins precisely to make it Really Cheap to implement dumb controls like that with the minimum logic possible, doesn't it? Because modern, profitable Apple would understand how to preserve that extra $0.10 of margin on the Apple Stereo or whatever that was when that was still a thing.

        Which probably actually is the closest thing to a "good" excuse to have allowed them to slip into maintaining a profitable proprietary-connector hegemony N years later, now that it is utterly dirt-cheap to speak USB.

  17. gryazi says:

    ...from an equally-aggrieved party (aggrieved because bookshelf stereo systems now only come in a choice of 'buy Apple' and 'rats-nest', if 'rats-nest' is even available):

    1. Kodak, seemingly the last holdout of the ImageLink docking standard (did you know it was called ImageLink? did you know it was a standard?) seems to have finally given up on producing dockable cameras, ending with the Z1485 or thereabouts, with a last gasp video-only dock (because making it convenient to use USB without a card reader or fiddly cable plus a separate charger would be wrong) and the occasional proprietary one for the trendier point-and-shoots. This from a standard originally supported by "Consumer digital cameras from Eastman Kodak Company, Konica Minolta Photo Imaging, Inc., Nikon Corporation, Olympus Corporation, Pentax Corporation, Ricoh Co., Ltd. and Sanyo Electric Co., Ltd." - either they opened it up or were giving it away on pretty reasonable terms.

    What killed it? Something along the lines of consumer apathy, poor advertising (did you know you could use those brands' cameras on Kodak docks and vice-versa?), and the need for a camera-specific piece of plastic to really let them sit right on any particular dock. The fancy spring-loaded connector was probably expensive and hard to source, too.

    ...of course, failing to wedge it into high-end DSLRs (where the press might've appreciated the convenience, but the connector would've posed problems for ruggedness), and giving up before the current wave of digital Leica-alikes hit probably hurt as well. But for cameras, it seems, Nobody Gave a Shit About Docks.

    2. In light of this, a successful dock connector really needs to do as little to dictate the form-factor of both device and dock as possible, but also needs to be designed to support the physical act of, well, docking. This seems to be nontrivial. I'd go for spring-pins in the dock and flat contacts on the device (plus some sort of locator holes, maybe with a 'clip' function), but exposed flat contacts have some issues, while recessed connectors suffer the whole pocket-lint and whoops-I-twisted-the-damn-thing fiascos. MiniUSB is okay, but lacks the mechanical stability to stand a phone_weight thing up on its lonesome without rather easily wrecking both connectors, durp.

    For something to succeed in the market right now, especially with Apple so damn entrenched, I think it needs to offer the ability to actually 'dock' devices (standing up stably and visibly) without requiring a special plastic insert for each and every one.

    3. Since we're a world in transition between analog and digital (do you support HDMI? DisplayPort?) and USB 2.0 to 3.0, any attempt to standardize right now is doomed to be highly future-susceptible anyway. I suspect we're going to see devices built with decent 'piconet' capabilities wirelessly (Bluetooth for audio,* whatever wins for shortrange wireless HD video), and the promised-every-year-now throw-it-on-a-mat inductive charging standard before cabled connections stabilize enough to make contemplating a lasting standard possible. [Unless manufacturers can all agree to save a lot 'reserved' pin-space, anyway.] And that's good enough for music and games in a pocketed device, so I guess I'm okay with that.

    *A counterargument to this is that there seems to be only one portable music player on the market with an iTrip-type FM transmitter in [and a number of lighter-plug-and-USB-stick ones, which are almost okay if you only have MP3s but don't exactly work in your pocket], and unfortunately reviews suggest the 'player' aspect of the device is a piece of crap. This despite the same feature being built into every Sirius/XM receiver ever. Either some idiot holds a patent on the concept of putting peanut butter and jelly together, or the FCC testing just isn't worth the RIAA 'device for infringing broadcasting' liability.

  18. gen_witt says:

    You might be able to make the argument that the USB charging spec only allows them 9W of charging power, and that they could do more with their "captive cable". I don't actually think they do though.

  19. jmtd says:

    A related WTF: sandisk sansa mp3 players use a physically compatible proprietary connector with different pin wirings, so you can plug your device into apple peripherals, but it won't actually do anything useful, and some people claim it has fried their device.

  20. lunaticsx says:

    Because I really want my next iDevice from Apple to have separate connectors for:

    Composite AV out (
    Component AV out (
    VGA out (
    SD cards (
    Combo things like drop-in keyboards-and-stands that include a passthrough connector on the back for all of the above, plus audio (

    And maybe later HDMI/DVI AV out.

    But these, of course, are not sane reasons at all. It would be much more sane to have at least two connectors: micro-USB plus one or more of the above, or yet another additional proprietary connector that could carry all those signals, and be incompatible with everything else before it. Or that additional proprietary connector that carried all those signals could be a 30-pin connector that IS compatible with hundreds of millions of other products that have already been built and sold.*

    No, there's no sane reason for keeping that 30-pin connector around at all.

    *The fact that an iPhone 4 didn't work with an iPhone 3G dock after it was dremeled out is a silly exception. 99% of the owners of iPhone 4s are not going to try to dremel out their old 3G docks to squeeze something in that *does not physically fit*. 99% of accessories that claim to work with universal dock adapters will fit the iPhone 4 just fine, as they will with the even newer 4th gen iPod touch (there's no plastic dock adapters for the new square clip nano yet, though), and next year's crop of pocket-sized iDevices, as well.

    The iPhone 3G dock was a mutant bastard that was customized for the iPhone 3G. It was sheer luck that Apple didn't change the form factor of the iPhone 3GS and it continued to fit in the iPhone 3G dock. It's similar sheer luck that the iPhone 4 will fit in and work with the old 1st gen iPhone dock. If you hope to use your 30-pin connector-equipped gear with any future iDevices, just don't buy one of the 2% or so of them that are device-specific (the packaging tends to be pretty clear, like "iPhone 3G Dock" or "iPhone 4 Dock").

    • oshepherd says:

      Teach the iDevice to talk USB OnTheGo, then....

      > Composite AV out (
      > Component AV out (
      > VGA out (
      Use the USB display adaptor profile for the devices (I think there is such a profile. There are certainly USB display dongles. I have, however, never used one)

      > SD cards (
      Now its a USB host, just plug in any USB mass storage device

      > Combo things like drop-in keyboards-and-stands that include a passthrough connector on the back for all of the above, plus audio (
      See above? You just put a hub in the drop-in stand

      > And maybe later HDMI/DVI AV out.
      Also run it over USB. Alternatively, have a MiniDisplayPort connector instead and run USB over the aux channel (This would involve creating a standard way of running USB over DP-aux. This would be a good thing.)

      So, why do we need a custom connector again?

      • lunaticsx says:

        I've got a USB display adapter. It takes up about the same volume of space as an iPhone 4 (I just compared them), and it's got a DVI connector on it. It comes with a DVI-to-VGA dongle. It also relies on the host to supply power. So I'll carry around that, plus a USB adapter cable, plus the DVI-to-VGA dongle, and run my iDevice's battery down twice as fast, and it'll cost me two to three times as much as the existing 30-pin-to-VGA cable. (Some USB display adapters may have separate power-in jacks, but most, like mine, don't. Even the ones that do have power-in jacks now follow the standard practice of not including a power brick, since it's an optional power source.) Plus I'll have the joy of an additional two cable/adapter linkages that can come loose and need troubleshooting.

        Rinse and repeat, separately, for composite and component AV, which I'm not even sure exist. There are USB display adapters for DVI/VGA that include audio, though, for about a 30% additional premium. They've got two RCA jacks hanging off the side, at a right angle (!), adding bulk and requiring an additional two cables for the left and right audio.

        Or you just get a dumb cable.

        Yep, USB is very flexible and can be adapted to do loads of things, as long as you have the correct device profiles (if they exist), drivers, dongles, gender changers, etc. etc. No existing combination of those things will also provide power to charge your iDevice while you're using them, either.

        Or, right now, you just get a dumb cable.

        And don't forget that these are iDevices. People who even know what a USB device profile is are NOT the target market for them. IOW, everyone here in xkcd-land reading this thread, much less commenting on it, is completely irrelevant to the positioning of Apple's products.

        • oshepherd says:

          Way to completely miss the point.

          What difference does it make whether the cable the user buys is "Dock to DVI" or "Micro-USB to DVI"? Why does the latter cable have to be huge? Why does it have to draw obscene amounts of power?

          As for charging - yes you can charge an iPod while it is acting as a USB host to a USB-to-DVI dongle. Thats explicitly allowed in the OnTheGo specification.

          • lunaticsx says:

            *Theoretically*, someone could invent a Micro-USB-to-DVI dongle that isn't huge, and doesn't draw obscene amounts of power, and can charge your iDevice while you're using it. Why don't you get right on that?

            *Technically* everything that's currently done over the 30-pin connector can be done over USB-plus-various-additional-logic-and-software.

            *Practically*, it's not there, yet.

            At some point Apple themselves may do adapters/dongles/whatever to squeeze all this stuff out of a Micro-USB connector (go ahead, hold your breath for that).

            Or some competitor may do it first and Eat Apple's Lunch With Their Technical Brilliance(TM). Right now, though, those competitors are throwing in separate Micro-HDMI ports, SD card slots, etc. etc. and geeks are wondering why these clearly technically superior products individually have such low market share.

            Right now, the 30-pin connector exists, it's got all these signals on it, and there are hundreds of millions of compatible products using it.

            Here in xkcd-land, none of that amounts to a good, sane reason for keeping the 30-pin connector.

            Apple. Ha ha. They're so stupid.