UPDATE: According to ArsTechnica, Apple has replied stating the POP didn’t meet the standards for the ‘Made for iPod’ program, but has approved the device for side-by-side (by side) Lightning/30-pin (/USB) charging.
OK, first of all, the title is imprecise; Apple did NOT kill anything. However, because they hold the patents – and therefore the decision to license or not license – the Lightning connector, they effectively held the final decision-making power about whether or not the POP portable power station would be a worthwhile product.
Did you know about the POP portable power station project on Kickstarter? A cool design in a product that does nothing but serve up power for our various portable devices such as smartphones and tablets. It was cool enough that some of us at Gear Diary backed it; and it was cool enough to get more than double the asking funding!
But now the project has been killed off, and backers will be getting back their money. Why? Because the top-selling smartphone and tablets in the world right now – iPhone 5, iPad 4 and iPad Mini – all use the Lightning connector. This is a change from the 30-pin connector that Apple iPods, iPhones and iPads have used since ~2004.
And because ‘all the cool kids’ have the latest devices, and are also backers and likely customers of the POP portable power station – the manufacturer Edison Jr decided that Lightning support was a ‘must-have’. But Apple wasn’t cooperating. According to Jamie Siminoff, Edison Jr CEO:
“We didn’t get a yes or a no up front,” Siminoff said. “But as we kept going back and forth it was clear that it was getting harder. Then, when we saw that they weren’t even going to allow a Lightning connector and a 30-pin connector together, we knew it was over.”
On the surface this is all rather trivial – a company designs and promotes a product based on intellectual property they do not own, and when they fail to get a license they need to kill the product.
Yawn. So why the outrage?
Because it is a reminder of why proprietary standards suck.
For years, I have complained about Sony and their incessant need for everything to be home-built. I honestly feel that one of the biggest issues with the PSP was that the entire device was built around proprietary standards that they didn’t share freely. The UMD disk was a cool idea, but the mechanics they used for security and the pricing attached to movies (I really wanted Tron to watch on a plane trip, but it was $25) made it a PSP-game-only medium … and the same goes for the Memory Stick and later Memory Stick Pro. Sony used these in their products; their first-party pricing was way out of whack with competing technology, and the licensing and pricing ensured that no one else would use them.
Years ago Apple pioneered open standards – they were fast to adopt the CD-ROM and later DVD-ROM; they led the USB revolution with their Plug & Play peripherals; they led the high-speed interface race with the IEEE-1388 ‘FireWire’ standard connector, and so on. Their video connectors have always been funky, but that is another thing …
And when the iPod launched, it had a FireWire connector in the top that allowed you to fill up your device at amazing speeds and the universal connection made life easy. But with the advent of the 30-pin connector Apple moved to USB, and soon dropped FireWire support at all. People who had iPods in that era know that some accessories would work with one device but not another – it wreaked havoc until things settled down. The ‘iPod Dock Accessory’ market eventually spread to become a massive multi-billion dollar crowded space; Apple has seemed quite happy to allow third parties to operate freely in that space while still making accessories of their own.
With Lightning, Apple has introduced a new standard that is incompatible with old accessories, and has been very proscriptive about how they have allowed accessory makers to operate. We see sub-$10 Lightning-to-30-pin adapters on Amazon and other places, but none of them are fully functional.
And based on what just happened with POP, we see that Apple doesn’t want to have Lightning and 30-pin coexist in a product – or at least not in a well-designed product such as POP. Maybe they think it hurts the market uptake of Lightning … I really don’t know. All I know is that for some reason Apple has an issue with a product that can charge an iPhone 4S and iPad Mini together. No problem with an iPad 3 and Samsung Galaxy S3 … but anything with a Lightning connector cannot charge alongside anything else.
You know what DOESN’T have this issue? Any phone made by anyone BUT Apple. Most people probably remember having a feature phone from Samsung or Nokia or LG that had a special connector that plugged in one way, was fragile, and didn’t work with anything else – even from the same company! Our junk drawer still has a few of those chargers around!
But then the micro-USB standard was adopted, and quickly phone makers started using it, and then the EU mandated it – and suddenly it was cheaper to just use it in every phone worldwide. So now I can grab my Galaxy S3 charger and use it to power up my Kindle, Nook, Nexus 7, Kindle Fire, HTC 7 Pro, and on and on and on.
Apple is a company that comes up with amazing designs, and anyone who has used the Lightning connector will never want to go back to 30-pin, because the new connector is directionless and small and … perfect. But it seems that rather than trying to get the connector out there as quickly and as pervasively as possible, Apple is keeping the roll-out closely guarded, and they are seemingly punishing people with Apple devices of all eras who seek to use them together.
Not everyone can simply upgrade everything whenever Apple tosses out a new standard, but it seems likely that using this punitive restriction around licensing Apple will make some people less likely to stay with the iOS world when they DO have the chance to get their next new device.
So as I said, the outcome of this reminds us why closed standards suck … and why companies who use those closed standards as a hammer to force a certain outcome suck even more.