3:33AM EDT October 28. 2012 - Question: How big of an obstacle, really, is the new Lightning connector on the iPhone 5 and iPad mini?
Answer: Apple's switch from its old 30-pin dock connector to the new Lightning port on its new phone and tablets, as well as the updated iPod touch and iPod nano introduced last month, may not inconvenience you that much. But in some situations, it will.
If the only thing you plug an iPhone or iPad into is your own computer, that's about the best-case scenario: You're simply trading one kind of cable for another. But even then, it will be a little while before you can count on being able to borrow a Lightning connector from a passerby or a hotel's lost-and-found inventory.
If, however, you own a stereo, alarm clock, TV or other entertainment gadget with an iPhone or iPod dock built-in, you face an instant compatibility problem. You'll need to get an adapter to plug any of Apple's new iDevices in. And Apple's site lists a two- to three-week wait for this $29 accessory. A longer, $39 adapter cable ships in five to seven days.
Although some unauthorized Lightning cables and adapters are arriving, Apple-sanctioned third-party hardware has yet to show up. Monoprice.com, a popular Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., vendor of discount-priced cables, hopes to start selling its own line of Lightning adapters and connectors in November but needs to get Apple's approval first, spokesman George Pappas wrote.
Popping a Lightning adapter into an old-school dock probably won't add to the looks of your gadget. Some older hardware may not allow enough room for you to plug it in and then connect an iPhone; Harman's old JBL Radial speaker, for example, has that hangup.
If you have a house divided between Apple gadgets with the old 30-pin dock connector and ones with the new Lightning input, you'll also need to decide which devices to favor with new dock purchases — assuming that manufacturers elect to ship two versions of each dock.
Others may instead pivot to relying on wireless streaming via Bluetooth. Jawbone, for example, is betting on that trend. But that shuts out the Bluetooth-deprived iPod nano.
The toughest situation is in cars. Unless you only wire your iPhone or iPod to your car's stereo with an audio cable from its headphone jack — or your vehicle supports Bluetooth stereo streaming, which isn't the same thing as Bluetooth hands-free calling — you will probably want to keep a Lightning adapter stashed in the car to use it with the dock connector.
And you'll probably have to do that with any new vehicle you buy over the next few years. The long design cycles of the auto industry ensure that car stereos generally lag behind the digital times — the tape deck didn't vanish from new U.S.-market models until 2010.
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