The thorny issue of the iPhone 5 dock connector

Evidence is mounting regarding the possibility that Apple will shrink the dock connector in the iPhone 5, a change that could make a decade of accessories obsolete, but allow Apple to retain tight control over the broad and diverse ecosystem that iOS devices have created.

Reuters is the latest news outlet to report that the 30-pin connector at the bottom of the device will change to a smaller 19-pin connector. The wire service’s source claims this is to make room for the headphone jack, which according to leaks has moved to the bottom. The old connector took up quite a bit of space (both on the inside and out), so the change makes sense from that perspective. Apple is trying to cram more into the device in an ever decreasing amount of space.

Now Apple may be doing this for good reason, but it’s going to cause a world of hurt for upgrading users. For years, Apple loyalists have been able to migrate most of their accessories – including car chargers, docks, iPod/iPhone car integration, and so on – from their old device to the new. With the iPhone 5, it’s the end of the line.

This change will prove to be a gold mine for accessory makers though, as we all rush to purchase new accessories. At the same time, it could cause some serious headaches for those of us with less easily replaceable accessories – for example, in-car iPod integration.

Here the system is built around the 30-pin connector, and in some cases is hardwired into the car itself. Getting that shiny new iPhone to integrate with your vehicle will be a whole lot tougher and some type of adapter may not necessarily work, since the dock may be built to cradle a 30-pin iPhone or iPod. In other words, while that new phone might only cost you a couple of hundred quid, the real cost of upgrading could be much more.

Think about this: Why would accessory makers want Apple to create an adapter anyway? If this change is indeed going to become a reality, these companies have to be looking at it from a financial aspect. In that case, these firms are not going to want Apple to create a workaround.

Apple’s choice to stick with a proprietary connector once again brings up the argument about why the company hasn’t adopted micro-USB like so many other devices have. Had the Cupertino mob used the standard as many other phone manufacturers have – Samsung and HTC among them – we wouldn’t need to have this discussion right now.

An ever increasing number of devices now use micro-USB, and this makes it so much easier when shopping for accessories. Rather than an accessory being exclusive to a single device, manufacturers can build peripherals with a wide variety of devices in mind; a much bigger market, potentially.

Of course, Apple has always been one to march to the beat of its own drum, and it understands the value the iPod/iPhone ecosystem has built – largely due to third-party accessory manufacturers.

I doubt Apple is ready to give that up, and probably never will.