Will new connector burn iPhone faithful?

17:00, Jul 20 2012
CONNECTIVITY: Are you ready to throw away your accessories and start again?

Apple rumours are a dime a dozen, but talk of a new connector on the iPhone 5 is getting louder.

The current 30-pin connector has remained consistent with every iteration of the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. This consistency has certainly worked to Apple's advantage when it came to building a thriving ecosystem of speaker docks, sound system connectors, car mounts, chargers and other iGadget accessories. I'd say this ecosystem has long been part of the iPhone's attraction and one of its key strengths over the ever-improving Android.

The consistency of the iGadget connector has also meant that hand-me-down iPhones could remain useful. My old iPhone 3G is now in the hands of my young son (although it's been locked down to become little more than an iPod). While this might deprive Apple of a sale in the short-term, in the long-term it brings another iGadget user into the fold who will certainly favour Apple when the time comes for him to buy his own gadgets.

Meanwhile my original iPhone 2G, shipped over from the US, lives on an iPod dock in the bathroom. The ability for my family to mix and match our iGadgets between chargers and sound docks is one of the key benefits which has seen me resist the lure of Android and stick with the iPhone.

My colleague Charles Wright recently jumped ship to the Samsung Galaxy S III and I agree with much of his reasoning. I've also become "disillusioned with Apple", as Charles puts it. To be honest my home has become a little too iCentric to easily make the shift. But all this could change with the iPhone 5. Households which face the hassle of owning iGadgets on either side of the connector divide will be forced to question whether they want to throw away everything and start again. If they're also disillusioned with Apple, it could present the perfect opportunity to make a clean break.

Switching the connector on the iPhone 5 would significantly fragment Apple's ecosystem, a fragmentation which Cupertino has fought hard to avoid. It will be interesting to see what Apple adds to the iPhone 5 to sweeten the deal. Near Field Communications is an obvious candidate, but Apple might also take the opportunity to overhaul the iPhone form factor and change the screen size. Better to do it now than to wait for another year and make a second change which renders yet another generation of iPhone accessories obsolete.

Significant changes to the iPhone present a risk to Apple, especially now that Android is putting forward such worthy competitors. The extra screen real estate of the Galaxy S III and HTC One X is certainly putting the pressure on Apple to upsize the iPhone. If the new iPhone won't fit old iPhone accessories then a connector change probably won't matter all that much. But a connector change without a bigger screen is going to be a hard pill for some iPhone owners to swallow. Apple will resort to all its usual tactics to encourage people to upgrade, but there will be plenty of iPhone 4 owners wondering whether it might be easier to just upgrade to an iPhone 4S on the cheap to postpone the pain.

Are you locked into the Apple or Android ecosystem? What would it take for you to change?

-Sydney Morning Herald