Hands on with Apple's Lightning to 30-pin Adapters

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The adapters also support syncing, so if your speaker dock or dock cradle—old or new—has a pass-through 30-pin or USB port for connecting to your computer for syncing, that feature will work with the latest iPhone and iPods.

Chargers and batteries: I also tested the adapters with a dozen or so 30-pin-dock-connector chargers and batteries. As expected, most worked properly, successfully providing power to and charging the battery of the newest iPhone and iPod models. The only exceptions, as explained above, were older accessories that provide power only via the 30-pin connector’s FireWire-power pins (in other words, they don’t also supply power over the USB-power pins). These power accessories won’t work with the latest iPhones and iPods through Apple’s adapters—just as they didn’t work with recent 30-pin iPhones and iPods.

An iPod nano connected to a 2005 speaker dock using Apple’s Lightning-to-30-pin adapter and a third-party charging adapter

There is a workaround here, though it epitomizes the term “kludge.” A number of vendors sell 30-pin adapters that send FireWire-pin power over the USB-power pins, letting older, FireWire-only docks charge recent iPhones and iPods. A couple of examples are Scosche’s $25 Charging Adapter for iPod & iPhone and CableJive’s $23 DockStubz+. I tested these adapters with Apple’s Lightning adapters, and they worked fine. Of course, this setup involves an iPod or iPhone connected to an adapter connected to another adapter (see the image to the right). Even if the arrangement is stable, as it is with the 30-gram iPod nano, it’s certainly not elegant. At this point, it may be time to retire that mid–2000s speaker dock or make it a dedicated dock for an older player.

Video: As Apple makes clear on the product pages for the two adapters, neither adapter supports video output. If your 30-pin speaker dock or other accessory offers a video-out jack to display iPhone or iPod video on a TV or projector, that feature won’t work with the 2012 iPhone and iPod touch when connected using Apple’s adapters.

The Lightning connector itself actually supports video output, but these adapters don’t pass video signals to the 30-pin connector. Apple told Macworld, back when the Lightning connector was announced, that Lightning-to-HDMI and Lightning-to-VGA cables will be available “in the coming months.”

iPod-out mode: For some people, the most disappointing limitation of Apple’s adapters—or, more accurately in this case, of the Lightning connector itself—is a lack of support for iPod-out mode, a special mode that lets particular accessories, such as car stereos and some whole-home-audio systems, display a version of your iPhone or iPod’s menus on the accessory’s own screen. This limitation appears to be related to the previous item: The Lightning connector doesn’t provide the analog-video signal that was used by older devices for iPod-out mode.

I wasn’t able to confirm this limitation, as I didn’t have access to any accessories or cars that support iPod-out mode, but many reports on Apple’s Discussions forums confirm that you can’t use this feature with the latest iPhones and iPods, even with the adapter.

Microphones and other audio-input products: As noted above, Apple’s adapters support USB audio, and that feature seems to work in both directions: Microphones and other audio-input accessories that communicate via USB-audio protocols and worked with the previous iPhone and iPod models should work fine with the newest models using the adapters. We didn’t have many of these accessories on hand to test, but we did reach out to a few vendors to ask about compatibility. Blue Microphones, for example, told Macworld that the company’s 30-pin Mikey Digital works through Apple’s adapters.

Pro-audio company Line 6 told Create Digital Music editor (and Macworld contributor) Peter Kirn that “audio products that operate using USB Host mode and follow Apple approved methods such as CoreAudio and CoreMIDI” should work fine with the new iPhone and iPod models using Apple’s adapters.

Other products? Cloudy. Ask again later: The Apple Store’s product page for each adapter notes that “some 30-pin accessories are not supported.” This cryptic caveat surely includes the iPod-out-mode accessories discussed above, but it also likely includes any accessories that use analog video, require power from the iPhone or iPod itself to function, or communicate using serial-port signals. It may also include older accessories that used particular electrical resistances to trigger special communication modes. And it’s likely that accessories that send analog audio to the dock connector won’t work. (Many vendors have, in recent years, switched to using the microphone connection of the iPhone’s headphone jack for analog-audio input.)

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