New iPhone Plug Spells Inconvenience For Users, Change For Accessory Makers

Sep 12, 2012
Originally published on September 12, 2012 4:22 pm

I kind of think of Philz Coffee in Palo Alto, Calif., as the epicenter of Apple fanatics. It's so hip, only hand-poured specialty blends are sold here.

Every day dozens of techie types come to Philz for coffee and then lounge around on the leather sofa sipping away, often with Apple products scattered in front of them.

Yeliz Ustabas has an Apple laptop perched next to her and an iPhone balanced on her knee.

Normally, Ustabas says she's pretty quick to buy the latest thing Apple has to offer. But this morning, before Apple unveiled the iPhone 5, she said this time she might wait to purchase the new smartphone.

"For now, the 4S seems better. So I am going to wait a little bit I guess," Ustabas said.

The reason is the new phone's new connector. Since its debut five years ago, all iPhones have used the same kind of port for charging and docking. An entire industry of iPhone accessories has grown up around this simple little plug.

Scores of different companies sell speakers — docking stations, adapters for car radios and chargers — and they were all built for the old plug. And iPhone accessories are big business. Michael Morgan, who follows the industry for ABI Research, says sales of accessories total $5 billion to $10 billion a year.

Not all iPhone accessories will have to be redesigned because of the new plug and cord — old headphones and speakers that use Bluetooth or Wi-Fi to connect are fine — but pretty much everything else will need to be tweaked or require an adapter to work.

Now Apple is making these adapters, but true Apple freaks will need dozens. If you have built your electronic life around an iPhone that could be kind of annoying — and expensive.

"If you are on the road and you are traveling, it's just another thing to get lost," says Andrea Seebaum, an iPhone user in San Francisco.

But Apple didn't make this change just to mess with you. Morgan says there are good reasons Apple changed this little plug.

"They held out for five years. You might say they were due," he says.

A smaller plug makes room for a bigger battery. Although Apple calls the new plug the "Lightning connector," NPR's Laura Sydell, who was at the Apple event, tells me syncing your iPhone with this connection will be no faster than the older, bigger version.

The new design is 80 percent smaller and Apple says it's easier to use. (But was the old version that hard? It's a plug after all.)

Changing the cord probably made Apple's new thinner design possible but it creates an odd dynamic for consumers thinking about buying the new phone.

While the change is a headache for some consumers it's a business opportunity for accessory makers. Philip Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of worldwide marketing, told the audience in San Francisco that JBL, Bose, Bang & Olufsen and B&W are already building new speakers for the new phone.

And for those Apple fans who have to have the iPhone 5 but have lots of accessories they want to keep, Apple will sell a variety of adapters too — they'll range from $19 to $39 each.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

While the iPhone 5 has a number of new features to entice customers, NPR's Steve Henn reports a new cord could tie Apple's most devoted fans in knots.

STEVE HENN, BYLINE: I kind of think of Philz Coffee in Palo Alto as the epicenter of Apple fanatics. It's hip. In fact, it's so hip it's too hip for espresso drinks. Only hand-poured specialty blends are sold here. Could I get a decaf Swiss water organic Peru?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Absolutely.

HENN: Every day, dozens of techie types come here for coffee and then lounge around on the leather sofa sipping away, often with Apple products scattered out in front of them. Yeliz Ustabas has an Apple laptop perched next to her and an iPhone balanced on her knee. How many Apple gadgets do you think you own?

YELIZ USTABAS: You know what, I don't know.

(LAUGHTER)

USTABAS: A lot.

HENN: Normally, Yeliz says she's pretty quick to buy the latest thing Apple has to offer. But this morning, before Apple unveiled its new phone, she said this time, she might wait.

USTABAS: For now, 4S seems better.

(LAUGHTER)

USTABAS: So I'm going to wait a little bit, I guess, so.

HENN: The reason is the new phone's new connector. Since its debut more than five years ago, all of Apple's iPhones have used the same kind of port for charging and docking. And since then, an entire industry of iPhone accessories has grown up around this simple little plug. Scores of different companies sell speakers, docking stations, adapters for car radios, battery packs and other stuff. IPhone accessories are big business.

MICHAEL MORGAN: You could see anywhere from five to $10 billion a year in revenues.

HENN: Michael Morgan follows the industry for ABI Research. He says not all iPhone accessories will have to be redesigned because of the new plug and cord. Old headphones are fine, so are speakers that use Bluetooth or wireless to connect. But pretty much everything else will need to be tweaked or require an adapter to work. Now, Apple is making these adapters, but true Apple freaks will need dozens of them.

ANDREA SEEBAUM: So we have a music dock that is for our Sonos music system. We have chargers all over the house for the iPhone.

HENN: Andrea Seebaum and Steve Deautsch live in San Francisco.

STEVE DEAUTSCH: We have two cars, both of which have docks.

SEEBAUM: Right. Mine is built into my car. Steve's is aftermarket.

HENN: If you've built your electronic life around an iPhone, it could be kind of annoying.

SEEBAUM: The other problem with the little connectors if you're on the road and you're traveling, it's just another thing to get lost.

HENN: But Apple didn't make this change just to mess with you. Michael Morgan, from ABI Research, says there are good reasons Apple changed its little plug.

MORGAN: They held out for five years before they did this. You might say it was due.

HENN: A smaller plug makes room for a bigger battery. Apple says its easier to use, but it's a plug, and it creates kind of an odd dynamic for these new phones. The switch is the biggest hassle for those consumers who love Apple gadgets the most. Talk about First World problems. Steve Henn, NPR News, Silicon Valley. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.