Apple's iPhone 5 Lightning connector spawns accessory delays

Apple's long certification process is delaying accessory availability and some companies are still getting their heads around Lightning

A long Apple certification process for iPhone accessories is delaying the release of docking and power accessories with Lightning ports to connect directly with the iPhone 5, which started shipping last week.

One of the biggest changes with the new iPhone is an 8-pin connector port called Lightning, which is smaller than the 30-pin ports that have been on iPhones, iPads and iPods for years. The Lightning port in iPhone 5 makes some older accessories like speaker docks, chargers and other connectors obsolete, and accessory makers are now scrambling to add Lightning compatibility.

Apple on its website explains the all-digital Lightning as being more durable than the 30-pin connector. Apple also said that "soon many iPhone accessories will be Lightning compatible." Lightning connector is attractive as it makes connections easier, but users essentially will have to throw away a whole slew of accessories they have purchased over the years, said Jack Gold, principal analyst at J. Gold Associates.

While accessories such as covers, cases and screen protectors became instantly available after the iPhone 5 release, Lightning-compatible accessories are yet to become widely available. For some accessory makers, Apple's certification process -- or the Made For iPhone (MFI) approval process -- is holding back the release of products by months. Apple also shared Lightning specifications with many accessory makers only after the iPhone 5 release, which has further delayed products as companies are still researching the technology.

But there are temporary work-arounds for iPhone 5 users. Apple's US$29 adapter or $39.99 cable connect the iPhone 5 to 30-pin accessories. Bose is offering Bluetooth speaker accessories for wireless audio streaming, but the audio company is also working to add iPhone 5 compatibility to its popular SoundDock speaker dock, which will become available later this year, a Bose spokeswoman said.

Most accessories with Lightning won't go into production until certification from Apple, and after factoring in production and shipping, it could take months before products become available, said Michael Nitti, president of Spyder Digital Research. The company sells charge and sync accessories, and also a $49.99 battery extender for the iPhone.

"You can expect the real bulk of Apple accessories to be released in the December to February time frame," Nitti said in an email.

Spyder has completed the design of a product called PowerShadow i5, which is an iPhone 5 battery case with dock. Apple's MFI process started only after the iPhone 5 was released, and now there is a backlog of thousands of companies waiting to get products certified, Nitti said.

"Apple has told us this could take one to three months," Nitti said.

Redpark Product Development, which sells a 30-pin cable to link the iPhone and iPad to networking gear, is interested in adding Lightning technology to its cable. But Lightning specifications were released by Apple only after the iPhone 5 announcement, and now Redpark is waiting for engineering samples to fully assess the technology, said Mike Ridenhour, president of Redpark.

"Lightning connector samples for use in engineering efforts will not be available until some time next month,." Ridenhour said in an email. "In the meantime, our existing cables can be used with the new iPhone 5 using the Lightning to 30-pin adapter that Apple provides."

Accessory company Kensington Computer Products Group plans to offer docking and power products for iPhone 5, and will have to wait for products to be certified by Apple before availability, said Peter Sgromo, global product manager for power at the company. Sgromo could not talk about specific products and when they would be released.

"Product plans are submitted to Apple once the device is announced and usually approved within four to six weeks of introduction," Sgromo said.

Apple did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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