From Firewire to Lightning: The History of Apple Cables

Apple's cables have long been the source of our pleasure - and our pain. This blog post will discuss, in extensive detail, how the Apple cable evolved over a period of time, ultimately culminating with the Lightning cable. This post will also explain why, not just how, the cables evolved. Finally, this post will discuss why the Lightning cable is the best of all of the Apple connectors released to date.

The Oldest Piece of Technology?

In Buzzfeed's fascinating article about this very subject, John Herman makes a great comment, "The oldest piece of technology is the cable." And it's definitely the truth, from Apple's very inception of its portable devices, the one constant piece has been its cables.

The difference between then and now, of course, is that the cords have become streamlined - which is right in line with the evolution of the actual machinery. Let's take a look at some of the major touchstones of the Apple cable evolution.

The Firewire

The main benefit of the Firewire cable, Apple's version of the IEEE 1394 connector, was its ability to allow up to 63 different devices to connect to one cable. With its plug-and-socket design, the Firewire had a transfer speed of up to 800 Mbps.

There were several other benefits to the Firewire:

  • Its ubiquity meant that it could be seen on every computer in the Apple system. This meant that it was easily used, and easily replaced if something happened to it.
  • Its appearance was much less arduous than a thicker cable cord used to sync the computer to other peripherals, such as those used for printer connections.
  • It had great plug-and-play capabilities, which didn't disrupt the computer's functions.
  • Most of all, the greatest benefit was the fact that it was easy to set up. You didn't need terminators or other complicated set-up peripherals.

The 30-Pin Connector

With its 2007 release, the proprietary 30-pin connector changed the game for Apple products. Of the changes, the most important was that the new cable design allowed for quick docking of devices, even in the dead of night. Furthermore, the cable expanded the device and peripheral capability by supporting audio line-out and video output transmissions.

The innovative and highly proprietary connector design allowed Apple to fully control the devices that could interact with their phones, tablets, and MP3 players. This state of control ensured users would always enjoy maximized functionality from any of the products that utilized this cable. At first, hooking a device to a dud peripheral was almost unheard of, thanks to the cable configuration. Unapproved third party peripheral manufacturers did eventually figure out a way to integrate the 30-pin connector into their design, however, which signaled the beginning of the end for this cable type.

The Lightning Cable

To protect the brand's reputation, and downsize their device proportions to follow industry trends, Apple began phasing out the relatively enormous 30-pin connector. Its replacement, the diminutive Lightning connector, quickly became the best-selling cable, resulting in its adoption as the company's standard connector. Let's take a look at some of the finer points of the Lightning connector.

First of all, why was it needed in the first place? According to Apple software programmers, the other cables - including the aging 30-pin cable that was once the go-to pin for iPods and iPads - simply weren't smart enough. The limited number of pin type variations meant that most of the dock connector functions wouldn't work. Also, the tiny pin size required for iPad charging was unsupported by manufacturers of cords and connectors, according to ex-engineer Rainer Brockerhoff.

In addition, because the Lightning connector is Apple's proprietary connector, it gives Apple greater control over its peripheries. It's also reversible, which means it can be inserted into the device in any way the user so wishes. The only downside to the Lightning connector is that you'll need a converter if you want to use it on an older Apple device.

Also, consider that since it's an Apple-proprietary connector, there are going to be imitation-style Lightning connectors on the market - something that Apple is trying desperately to circumvent. According to iLounge, the only factories that can manufacture Lightning connectors are those that have been "Apple-Certified" like Paracable.

This hasn't stopped cheap proprietary cables yet again appearing on the market. According to CNet, the habit of buying cheaper versions of the same cord originated with HDMI cables, whose $60 versions were just a way to gouge customers when the $5 versions worked nearly as well.

But it's a very different story when it comes to the Lightning cable. CNet author, Rick Broida, noted that when he bought the discount Lightning cables, unexpected failures would happen with nearly every use. One day, the cable works as intended - the next day, for no apparent reason, the cord failed.

So, what's the deal? According to Broida, you have to look for the approved MFi certification, which is issued by the Apple licensing program. If that designation isn't on your pack of Lightning cables, they aren't worth purchasing, because inevitably, they will fail.

There are, of course, many options out there for purchasing your Lightning cable, and we know that you'll choose Paracable for our extremely high quality cables at competitive prices.


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A Paracable Customer

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