Apple's new 9-pin Dock Connector for iPhone 5 may support USB 3.0

Posted:
in iPhone edited January 2014
While Apple's new Dock Connector for iPhone 5 has been assumed to simply allow for a smaller physical port, the number of pins it uses coincides with the emerging USB 3.0 standard, which supports transfers up to 5 Gbps.

Apple hasn't yet introduced any technical specifications for the new iPhone 5 Dock Connector, so its pinouts and physical shape have only been evident from spy photos of components.

However, Apple's latest crop of Macs have all adopted support for USB 3.0, an interesting development simply because Apple has also put its weight behind Thunderbolt, an even faster data interconnect that supports 20Gbps transfers.

Why not Thunderbolt?

However, Thunderbolt not only requires 20 pin connectors but also requires an Intel-designed chip that multiplexes DisplayPort video with PCI Express signals. While modern Macs have Intel chips and support a PCIe architecture, no iOS devices do.

Instead, they use ARM architecture chips with no PCIe interface, and generate VGA/HDMI video rather than Display Port signals. That rules out any support for Thunderbolt and its blazing fast speeds that iOS devices couldn't make any effective use of anyway.

However, Intel's parallel USB specification can work on any architecture; Apple's ARM-based iPods have supported USB 2.0 since Apple first introduced its 30-pin connector on the third generation iPods in 2003.

That's when Apple began transitioning from Firewire (widespread on Macs at the time but rare on PCs) to USB. And that transition only happened as USB 2.0 began to offer speeds competitive with Firewire (the first generation of USB was very slow, providing a significant edge to Firewire in terms of sync time).

Why USB 3.0?

Apple has shifted the pin out assignments of its existing 30-pin Dock Connector several times over the past nine years, finally ending support for Firewire while adding features such as HDMI video output.

With the advent of last year's AirPlay wireless video distribution and iOS 5's WiFi sync, the need for a bulky connector supplying 30 pins of wired connectivity has diminished. However, as iOS devices gain storage capacity and as apps, photos and particularly 1080p high definition videos balloon in size, the need for a faster sync method has increased.

By shifting its iOS Dock Connector to USB 3.0, Apple could gain the ability to sync data at much faster speeds, with transfers reaching 5Gbps, ten times faster than the top 480Mbps rate of USB 2.0.

Docking cable


Doing so now would also allow Apple to essentially own the USB 3.0 Dock peripheral market, because it is using a proprietary connector, similar to the MagSafe power adapters it added to MacBooks (killing the third party market for Mac power adapters).

Slow progress for USB 3.0 so far

While a variety of PC makers have added USB 3.0 support to their computers, many well ahead of Apple (which only started supporting USB 3.0 on new Macs this summer), the new standard hasn't aggressively taken off. Many new PCs sport two sets of USB connectors: one only supporting USB 2.0 while special blue-colored ports handle the faster USB 3.0. Apple's newest Macs support both standards on all their USB ports.

PC adoption of USB 3.0 peripherals was also stymied by the fact that Microsoft's Windows 7 didn't support USB 3.0 from the start, as well as growing pains related to buggy drivers, chipsets and motherboard BIOS that have all hampered the new specification's launch much the same way that the original USB failed to rapidly take off in the mid 1990s.

That is, until Apple added USB to the original iMac in 1998 as the only way to connect peripherals. After that occured, devices supporting USB 1.0 exploded. Other PC makers continued to ship older PS/2 keyboards and mice well into the next decade, simply because they were slightly cheaper.

Apple has similarly taken over control of other emerging standards, including DisplayPort, which was only in minor use before Apple added it to its Macs across the board using a smaller "Mini DisplayPort" connector. Most PCs still ship with HDMI/DVI or even VGA ports, which Apple abandoned many years ago.

Adding USB 3.0 support to the iPhone 5 and iPod touch (and upcoming iPad and iPad mini models) would give Apple a fast new advantage in sync rates, comparable to the lead the first iPods enjoyed over other MP3 players on the market shackled to the much slower USB 1.0.



While some Android licenses have already shipped devices with support for USB 3.0, they've used the standard "B" peripheral USB 3.0 ports, which like full sized DisplayPort, are much larger and bulkier than necessary.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 60
    tipootipoo Posts: 1,058member


    USB 3 makes more sense for iDevices. The huge install base for one, TB does not have that many users yet.  Thunderbolt is for higher end stuff. Too many people seem to forget that moving to thunderbolt would not magically make transfers faster, those are limited by NAND speed even before they hit USB 2.0 limits. The flash memory in these devices is more like USB drives than SSDs, it's low power. 

  • Reply 2 of 60


    Wow, AI, are you serious??


     


    Of course it's going to be USB 3, did anyone think it wasnt going to be USB 3? Why else would Apple be adding USB 3 to the Macs.


     


    Tomorrow the iMac and Mac mini will get USB 3 too. I need to start throwing this stuff out to you guys way in advance, I assumed it had been covered already

  • Reply 3 of 60
    Thanks Daniel, consider my attitude adjusted.

    Hadn't really thought about this before and you provide a very plausible upgrade path. I've got a very old iPod with a 30-pin connector. It is time.
  • Reply 4 of 60
    [QUOTE]However, Thunderbolt not only requires 20 pin connectors but also requires an Intel-designed chip that multiplexes DisplayPort video with PCI Express signals. While modern Macs have Intel chips and support a PCIe architecture, no iOS devices do. [/QUOTE]

    So Thunderbolt HDDs and monitors have Intel chips in them that no iOS device could have? They have Intel [I]chips[/I] because Intel created the HW but it's not because iDevices use ARM that makes it technically impossible to do.

    And why would anyone expect an iOS device to be used for the full TB spec of being able to accept and transmit DP instead of just being compatible for data to a TB capable PC? Not that it would make sense since USB 2.0 isn't the current bottleneck on data rates, but I don't get the rationale being applied to this.
  • Reply 5 of 60


    Originally Posted by MDJCM View Post

    Of course it's going to be USB 3, did anyone think it wasnt going to be USB 3?


     


    Plenty of people think Thunderbolt.






    Why else would Apple be adding USB 3 to the Macs.



     


    It's part of the Ivy Bridge spec natively. Why did you think they WAITED until they could not go without adding it?





    Tomorrow the iMac and Mac mini will get USB 3 too.




     


    I doubt that. It's an iPhone event. Apple won't be updating every single product they make on the same day. I should probably start telling people THAT in advance…


     



    Originally Posted by tipoo View Post

    The huge install base for one, TB does not have that many users yet.


     


    I would greatly prefer a cable that branched to both Thunderbolt and USB from Dock Connector 2.

  • Reply 6 of 60
    gazoobeegazoobee Posts: 3,754member
    I don't think it will be "official" support even if it's there. Apple will never use those stupid bright blue connectors and thus it will technically fail the spec.
  • Reply 7 of 60
    I would greatly prefer a cable that branched to both Thunderbolt and USB from Dock Connector 2.

    That will never happen. If TB on iDevices is feasible (which I don't think it is, but for reasons not even addressed in the article) I would expect it to be a separate cable, and one that is sold outside of the product.
  • Reply 8 of 60
    How will the dock connector handle things the current dock connector does, like video, audio, controlling playback, etc.?

    Even if it's USB 2.0 only, I still don't see enough pins to do that, unless Apple somehow overloads the functionality of some of the pins depending on the device that's connected.
  • Reply 9 of 60


    Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post

    That will never happen.


     


    Really? For a physical reason or just a personal belief about what Apple would do? 

  • Reply 10 of 60
    Whatever interface this new connector supports now, it will be capable of supporting other interfaces in the future. The circuitry inside iOS devices is capable of recognizing and reconfiguring as needed, just as the iPod Shuffle headphone connector automatically switches between analog headphone signals and digital USB signals.

    So we might see USB 2.0 (or maybe 3.0) now and Thunderbolt in the future. As stated elsewhere, the interface is not currently the bottleneck, unless the new iPhone has much faster Flash storage.
  • Reply 11 of 60
    Really? For a physical reason or just a personal belief about what Apple would do? 

    Just a belief that Apple will never make a Y-shaped cable will plug into both USB and TB. It adds cost, potential issues, but most importantly, it's ugly.
  • Reply 12 of 60


    Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post

    Just a belief that Apple will never make a Y-shaped cable will plug into both USB and TB. It adds cost, potential issues, but most importantly, it's ugly.


     


    They did with USB and FireWire. My mother got one with her old 4th gen iPod. Here it is!


     


    Huh, but I have to find hers… Seem to have misplaced it. That's what I get for wanting all my family's old tech.

  • Reply 13 of 60

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by MDJCM View Post


    Wow, AI, are you serious??


     


    Of course it's going to be USB 3, did anyone think it wasnt going to be USB 3? Why else would Apple be adding USB 3 to the Macs.


     


    Tomorrow the iMac and Mac mini will get USB 3 too. I need to start throwing this stuff out to you guys way in advance, I assumed it had been covered already



     


    If you do a Google search of USB 3.0 and Dock Connector, you don't currently see any matches. Lots of people have been speculating about Thunderbolt however.

  • Reply 14 of 60
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 12,898member
    My god AI has broken a record today for totally obvious posts. Slow news day it is.

    As it is I'm really thinking these pins will be multi functional. For one introducing a new port without analog out just seems beyond stupid.

    As for TB, would people get a grip it is an entirely different class of port compared to USB. the arguement about Intel is bull crap anyways, Apple would not adopt such a port without the option of alternative processors even if they had to implement the bridge chip themselves. Right now though I suspect the port is simply more power hungery than Apple wants to deal with.

  • Reply 15 of 60

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post





    So Thunderbolt HDDs and monitors have Intel chips in them that no iOS device could have? They have Intel chips because Intel created the HW but it's not because iDevices use ARM that makes it technically impossible to do.

    And why would anyone expect an iOS device to be used for the full TB spec of being able to accept and transmit DP instead of just being compatible for data to a TB capable PC? Not that it would make sense since USB 2.0 isn't the current bottleneck on data rates, but I don't get the rationale being applied to this.


     


    Thunderbolt is PCIe+DisplayPort, and requires a host computer with an Intel chip. Not sure why you're talking about Thunderbolt peripherals. Can you plug a Thunderbolt HDD into a Thunderbolt Monitor and do anything? No, you need a Thunderbolt PC attached to do anything with them.


     


    Think of Thunderbolt as an external, cable form of a PCIe slot. PCs have them. Mobile devices do not. They have USB serial ports. 


     


    While AMD could possibly implement something similar, it hasn't (and can't freely duplicate it because the underlying technology is proprietary to Intel). Same thing with ARM, except that ARM is completely different from x86 and has no need to support an interface like PCIe. Everything on mobile iOS devices is USB. There is no PCIe architecture on ARM devices. 


     


    Also, Thunderbolt without the DisplayPort is PCIe. Again, mobile devices don't have that.


     


    Also, the 30 pin dock connector was created in 2003 with room to expand. It wasn't fully exploited on 3G iPods. You can expect that Apple's new connector is designed to last several years, and the speed advantage of USB 3.0 is only going to get more important.


     


    Also, why do you suppose Apple added USB 3.0 to its new Macs this summer? To take advantage of all those new USB 3.0 peripherals that don't exist? The only things available are HDDs. You think Apple wanted to create some quarter-speed competition for Thunderbolt?  

  • Reply 16 of 60
    I can't imagine Apple is dropping audio/video etc. support over the connector. All existing accessories would be obsolete. Not a big deal if it's a dock for $50 but I wouldn't like to see support for an almost new car gone ;)

    By the way, what do we need USB3.0 for? Most people don't sync over cable anymore and I guess apple will be guiding us towards the cloud anyway.
  • Reply 17 of 60

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by wizard69 View Post



    My god AI has broken a record today for totally obvious posts. Slow news day it is.

    As it is I'm really thinking these pins will be multi functional. For one introducing a new port without analog out just seems beyond stupid.

    As for TB, would people get a grip it is an entirely different class of port compared to USB. the arguement about Intel is bull crap anyways, Apple would not adopt such a port without the option of alternative processors even if they had to implement the bridge chip themselves. Right now though I suspect the port is simply more power hungery than Apple wants to deal with.


     


    Speaking of totally obvious posts (!)


     


    It's not impossible that the new connector could be configured to use different pins in different modes, but that isn't news, as that's how the existing connector works. HDMI itself requires 19 pins, VGA 15. When you connect a cable, you can extract either. Clearly it isn't using a dedicated pin assignment as 19+15 > 30 already. 


     


    But with AirPlay, why would you want to connect your iPhone to your TV with a fancy cable that costs nearly as much as Apple TV?


     


    And analog what out? The headphone gives you analog audio. You want analog composite video? For what, to hook up your VCR? It's 2012. 


     


    "the arguement about Intel is bull crap anyways"


     


    No it's not. Show me a Thunderbolt interface on a non-Intel host system.

  • Reply 18 of 60
    No, you need a Thunderbolt PC attached to do anything with them.

    Think of Thunderbolt as an external, cable form of a PCIe slot. PCs have them. Mobile devices do not.

    But you wouldn't plug an iPhone into another iPhone, you'd plug it into another "PC". If the iPhone had the required TB chip and there was a TB dock connector cable, and you plugged it into a Mac's TB port why isn't any different than taking an external HDD with a TB chip and with a TB cable and plugging it to a Mac's TB port? it's not! There are cost, size, adoption, power, usefulness and many other reasons why it's not feasible but to say that you can't connect the iPhone to TB as a peripheral because it's not a "PC" running a modern Intel CPU and chipset is bullshit.
  • Reply 19 of 60
    elijahgelijahg Posts: 1,014member
    solipsismx wrote: »
    So Thunderbolt HDDs and monitors have Intel chips in them that no iOS device could have? They have Intel chips because Intel created the HW but it's not because iDevices use ARM that makes it technically impossible to do.

    The chips in the HDDs and monitors are client chips, relatively dumb compared to the host chips in the Mac. If the iPhone was a client device, it'd have to turn the PCIe comms from TB to something the ARM CPU could understand, which'd waste a lot of CPU cycles. Right now the iPhone couldn't be a TB host, the TB controller chip is about half the width of the phone itself. But in any case, the ARM CPU doesn't have PCIe by any stretch of the imagination, so it just wouldn't make any sense at all. Also the TB to Dock Connector cable would cost the same as 20 USB to Dock Connector cables.

    I don't think the iPhone 5 will have USB 3. That doesn't mean the Dock Connector 2 won't support USB 3 in the future, but it's probably more likely on the iPhone 5S, and most likely on the 6. AFAIK, the ARM chips don't support it yet, and I'm pretty sure Apple won't waste board space with a dedicated USB 3 chip when it won't provide any advantage. Especially as current USB 3 chips are huge, and drink juice. Apple's not in the business of adding X or Y feature just coz they can, they'll only add something that provides a real use. When ARM/Apple build a USB 3 controller into the CPU itself, where it can just sip power and will use little room, we'll see USB3. Right now the bottleneck isn't the external communications, it's the NAND, which tops out at around 10MB/sec. USB 2 is ~20-25MB/sec.
  • Reply 20 of 60

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post


    Apple's new 9-pin Dock Connector for iPhone 5 may support USB 3.0


     



     


    I have realized this ever since USB 3.0 was included with the MacBook Pros. It just makes sense.

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