iPad Pro contains USB 3.0 controller, hints at ultra-fast Lightning connector

Posted:
in iPad edited November 2015
A day after iPad Pro launched on Wednesday, teardowns and reviews of the gigantic tablet reveal Apple quietly included USB controller hardware capable of supporting high-speed USB 3.0 data connections, suggesting a faster Lightning protocol is in the works.


iPad Pro's logic board includes Fresco Logic's USB 3.0 controller (highlighted in orange). | Source: iFixit


In its iPad Pro teardown, repair firm iFixit discovered the inclusion of Fresco Logic's FL1100 USB host controller, a package capable of delivering USB 3.0 "SuperSpeed" bandwidth to four separate ports. The chip is overkill considering all iPads, including the Pro, connect to host computers via a Lightning platform that tops out at USB 2.0.

As pointed out by MacRumors, a review from CNET claims iPad Pro's Lightning port will support "USB 3-level speeds with forthcoming adapters." Lightning already sports pin-outs to handle USB 3.0 configurations, so these "adapters" could very well be modified Lightning cables. If and when Apple releases compatible Lightning connectors and appropriate firmware updates, iPad Pro is in a good position to be the first iOS device to offer support the fast USB protocol.

The USB 3.0 spec can reach signaling rates of 5 Gbps, a tenfold increase in bandwidth compared to USB 2.0. A boost in data transfer speeds would be a welcome addition to Apple's iOS device lineup given each successive iPhone and iPad generation comes with an increase in processing power. Running Apple's latest A9 series SoC's, iPhone 6s and iPad Pro are capable of chewing through 4K video files in iOS 9 apps like iMovie, though the resulting file size makes exporting to a Mac or the Web somewhat of a challenge.

Apple introduced Lightning connector in 2012 as a replacement for the aging 30-pin connector. Instead of going with an industry standard, the company opted to build its own bidirectional connector, facilitating orientation agnostic plug insertion for a better user experience.

Apple is not averse to USB 3.0, however, as evidenced by its inclusion across the entire Mac lineup. Interestingly, Apple chose to implement USB-C -- with a USB 3.1-capable controller capped at 5 Gbps -- in the new 12-inch Retina MacBook, a protocol featuring a bidirectional plug design similar to Lightning.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 41
    Please no please no please no. Please switch to USB-C
  • Reply 2 of 41
    1) If the iPad Pro can support USB 3.0 via the Lightning port with that Fresco logic controller, then why didn't tout this feature or at least silently offer up a Lightning cable with support for a USB 3.0 Type-A plug at the other end?

    2) Why a 4-port controller? In Macs, the keyboard, trackpad, BT, and even the cameras have been connected via a USB bus. I wonder if that's the case with iDevices. I also wonder if the dynamic ally switching speakers from left and right audio, and treble (top) and bass (bottom) might be best served with USB-connected speakers for each channel as the gyroscope detects a shift in the iPad Pro's placement.
  • Reply 3 of 41
    krawall wrote: »
    Please no please no please no. Please switch to USB-C

    Considering Pencil and the Siri Remote are Lightning, I'm guessing that's not happening.
  • Reply 4 of 41

    I hope the next-gen AirPorts/Time Capsules get a USB 3 port as well; archiving a Time Capsule drive over USB 2.0 can take upwards of 24 hours.

  • Reply 5 of 41
    imac.usr wrote: »
    I hope the next-gen AirPorts/Time Capsules get a USB 3 port as well; archiving a Time Capsule drive over USB 2.0 can take upwards of 24 hours.

    Would that make a difference with single-drive 7200RPM HDD write speeds?
  • Reply 6 of 41



    Yes.

  • Reply 7 of 41
    dysamoriadysamoria Posts: 2,211member
    Is it possible that the USB3 bus is being used internally? Some laptop manufacturers make dumb USB use like that when connecting their trackpads and such.
  • Reply 8 of 41
    dysamoria wrote: »
    Is it possible that the USB3 bus is being used internally? Some laptop manufacturers make dumb USB use like that when connecting their trackpads and such.

    It's possible. As I noted, keyboards, trackpads, cameras, and BT are often routed over USB. The question is why they would need USB 3.0 for that, or why it would require a 4-port hub when a single USB port can daisy chain 128 nodes. It's not like trackpad, keyboard and BT usage need a lot of bandwidth.

    Since this chip seems new I also proffered the idea that the 4-speaker system may be best controlled via USB to dynamically shift their output locations.
  • Reply 9 of 41
    ksecksec Posts: 1,563member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by dysamoria View Post



    Is it possible that the USB3 bus is being used internally? Some laptop manufacturers make dumb USB use like that when connecting their trackpads and such.

     

    Yes, Possible, since it is now possibly the lowest common denominator in connector. 

    But why the hell Apple could not use USB 3.1 Protocol?

     

    And I am not getting where the Apple I/O are heading. I am guessing Lightning Port for all peripherals, Hence it doesn't need the 10Gbps offered by USB 3.1. 

    And then Thundebolt, which is essentially a external PCI-Express with DisplayPort, will be using USB-C, but then the controller cheap is still Intel only. Which slows the adaption considerably.

  • Reply 10 of 41
    anomeanome Posts: 1,279member
    solipsismy wrote: »
    Considering Pencil and the Siri Remote are Lightning, I'm guessing that's not happening.
    And all of the "Magic" devices (Keyboard, Mouse, Trackpad). It's clear they're going to keep Lightning alive for a while yet. It's either as a gateway for the "MFI" program, since accessory makers have to licence the Lightning ports from Apple, or possibly because they're cheaper (for Apple) to include in low margin devices. (For anyone else, USB-C would be cheaper.)
  • Reply 11 of 41
    dreyfus2dreyfus2 Posts: 1,071member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by dysamoria View Post



    Is it possible that the USB3 bus is being used internally? Some laptop manufacturers make dumb USB use like that when connecting their trackpads and such.

     

    Complete speculation, but could this also be related to the Smart Connector (which transports data and power) and hint at future accessories using it? OK, that's far fetched, but for e.g. audio interfaces, 4k video cams or (blush) even some kind of dock... it would make sense.

  • Reply 12 of 41
    dreyfus2 wrote: »
    Complete speculation, but could this also be related to the Smart Connector (which transports data and power) and hint at future accessories using it? OK, that's far fetched, but for e.g. audio interfaces, 4k video cams or (blush) even some kind of dock... it would make sense.

    Smart Connector seems far too simplistic to ever be used for fast data, and yet a part of me really wants this to show up on future iPhones as I 1) want an iPhone I can dock and undock simply by grabbing it with one hand without having to do a controlled push and controlled pull with both hands, and 2) so it could be more water tight with only those pins showing.
  • Reply 13 of 41
    dreyfus2dreyfus2 Posts: 1,071member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by SolipsismY View Post



    ...  I 1) want an iPhone I can dock and undock simply by grabbing it with one hand without having to do a controlled push and controlled pull with both hands, and ...

     

    Have you tried it? The Smart Connector is not at all like e.g. a MagSafe, it is quite strong. To remove the Logitech Create keyboard you need two hands and quite some force. An iPhone dock would have to be extremely heavy for this to work.

  • Reply 14 of 41
    dreyfus2 wrote: »
    Have you tried it? The Smart Connector is not at all like e.g. a MagSafe, it is quite strong. To remove the Logitech Create keyboard you need two hands and quite some force. An iPhone dock would have to be extremely heavy for this to work.

    Yes, I had read that about the IPad Pro's keyboard peripherals. Still, that's just the strength of the magnets which could be adjusted. Ideally I would like for a docked iPhone to lift as perfectly and fluidly as the top case of an Apple notebook.
  • Reply 15 of 41
    Originally Posted by Krawall View Post

    Please no please no please no. Please switch to USB-C



    Obviously not happening. The iPad Pro got a Lightning port. Why would you even say that?

  • Reply 16 of 41
    What about a switch to USB-C on all the PSUs? The MacBook has it, but the MacBook also comes with a single USB-C-to-USB-C cable so that made since there. My desire is for USB-C adoption for WinPCs and handheld devices is so quick and through that everything migrates to USB-C in record time.
  • Reply 17 of 41
    Originally Posted by SolipsismY View Post

    What about a switch to USB-C on all the PSUs?

     

    I think that would come with the universal switchover to USB-C on the Mac line. Why the new iMac didn’t even include ONE is completely baffling.

     

    EDIT: Wait, no it isn’t. Because even the new iMacs don’t use the chipset that includes Thunderbolt 3, right? So since they can’t have the dual purpose Thunderbolt 3/USB C ports, Apple went without it.

     

    Never mind. That’s just ol’ wrinkly up there killing off its neurons again.

  • Reply 18 of 41
    I think that would come with the universal switchover to USB-C on the Mac line. Why the new iMac didn’t even include ONE is completely baffling.

    Do the new iMacs come with Skylake and TB3?
  • Reply 19 of 41
    Originally Posted by SolipsismY View Post

    Do the new iMacs come with Skylake and TB3?



    Ha! Ten seconds pipped. ;)

  • Reply 20 of 41
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by SolipsismY View Post



    Since this chip seems new I also proffered the idea that the 4-speaker system may be best controlled via USB to dynamically shift their output locations.

     

    Impossible idea. That would require 4 separate codecs and speaker power amps.  Plus 192 kHz * 24 bit = 4.6 mbit/s. Not even a single USB 1.0 link per speaker. Even if you wanted a internal digital speaker link, you'd do I2S or MIPI SoundWire for far lower power.

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