Is The Next Killer App A Wire? – The Apple Lightning Connector

Does what came first really matter? Apple touted the need to replace its 10+ year old 1-inch plug because this dated technology is too big for the sleek new iPhone 5. It’s clear that the old 30 pin plug could use updating, but what really drove the change to happen now? Was it the need to reinvigorate the lucrative “i” accessories market or did the change in iPhone form factor truly drive the need? What is certain is that the change will have a resounding impact on the Apple accessory market over the coming years.

Apple’s new, more sophisticated, all-digital, reversible plug, the Lightning, was introduced on September 12th and met with applause (in fairness, everything that Apple announces at its own events is met with applause). The iPhone fans agree that the old school plug needed to go, and if that means paying $29-39 for the new look, well, so be it. The current array of amassed accessories is probably due for replacement anyway and this is simply part of the cost of the new iPhone design, or so the iPhone consumer logic goes. Let’s think about that for a minute: could any other OEM make such a bold move, driving a need for a mass-replacement of accessories and have the audience applauding? Such is the power of the iPhone brand at this juncture.

Certainly there are the dissenters, who question the upheaval caused by such a move. And pushing users to buy an adapter or replace their accessories is an easy one to be upset about. This may be one of the most talked about wires in electronics history. We care because it’s this innate consumer behavior that each manufacturer and retailer is trying one day to evoke.

Within hours of the new iPhone 5 being available for pre-order, servers were being over loaded and AT&T announced record-breaking first day sales. This is far from surprising given that each new iPhone launched drives even more immediate upgrade demand. But given the need to change all accessories (let’s not forget that with the form factor change cases also need replacing) one would have thought there would be just one moment of pause before the upgrade leap.

It is also significant that Apple chose to upgrade the old 30 pin connector with this new Lightning solution. In a world where the other OEMs have all huddled around the Micro USB connector, Apple’s decision once again highlights its strength and power. In a previous era, Lightning would have been described as “proprietary,” with negative connotations. Now, given Apple’s market size, the move is a smart one that provides a modicum of control over the fragmented accessories market. How the world changed. The reality is that the device market will see:

  • Apple selling millions of Lightning adapters over the coming year, at a retail price of $29-39.
  • Other companies are already producing generic versions of these adaptors for a lower price.
  • Apple will charge manufacturers a license fee allowing them to build a device leveraging this new adapter.
  • The accessory market will again innovate around the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPod Nano this time building for the iPhone 5’s larger dimensions and the new features that the all-digital Lightning technology will enable.
  • As consumers, we’ll buy these adapters, accessories, and most importantly a majority will be excited to do so.

Has it ever mattered if the chicken or the egg came first? Does it matter what drove Apple to launch this new adapter or is it simply that the launch itself maybe the “killer app” for the Apple device market?