Apple’s move this fall from the classic 30-pin connector to the new standard eight-pin Lightning plug has been one of the most disruptive to the 12V aftermarket. Those who upgraded to the iPhone 5 initially had to wait for the Lightning-to-30-pin adapter to bridge the gap for in-car integration, except that it currently only solves half the problem.
Apple Lightning-to-30-pin adapter
Available at: Apple Store, Future Shop, Best Buy, The Source, London Drugs, Amazon.ca, many other retailers
The Lightning connector, found on the iPhone 5, iPad mini and fourth-generation iPad, is considerably smaller than the original wide 30-pin one, making it easier for Apple to shed girth and weight to its devices. Lightning is also all-digital, meaning that it supports audio out, USB audio out, syncing and charging, but not video output. The most important thing that’s missing is the old iPod Out mode that enabled iOS devices to interface directly with OEM and aftermarket systems over and above audio.
This became apparent in a number of ways once the adapter came to market. Steering wheel controls all but ceased, navigation apps could no longer display on head units and integrated app-based systems couldn’t even recognize new iOS devices. And unfortunately, there’s no real recourse around this. Lightning simply doesn’t support the analogue video signal that was a staple of the 30-pin connector, but at least the adapter has a converter for analogue audio.
Playing music isn’t a major issue, especially if you have more than one way to do it. Most cars manufactured in the past five or six years have at least one AUX-In jack, and maybe even the ability to stream music via Bluetooth. USB ports are another good option, assuming your car’s factory or aftermarket setup have them. The Lightning USB cable that comes with the new iOS devices works well with those ports, and the adapter at least lets audio – native on the device or streaming – from all apps pass through. Metadata should show up on your unit’s screen, but it might not work quite as well as it did before.
Even two months after the adapter was finally released, there’s still confusion about what works and what doesn’t. Pioneer (appradioworld.com) and Kenwood (liveconnecteddriveconnected.com) have each released detailed compatibility lists to help consumers. Apple, which rarely comments on the aftermarket that supports its products, has stayed silent on the issue.
Another practical problem with the adapter is its overall design. Small and diminutive, it’s noticeably deeper than the Lightning connector on the USB cable. And because it slides in flush against the bottom of the iPhone, iPad or new iPod Touch, it might not fit well if you’re using a case that protrudes out too much.
The inflated price tag is also hard to swallow. It might be possible to justify paying $39.99 if it offered iPod Out, but, as is, this is simply a way to get music, syncing and charging to work like they did before. That could be enough for the wholly music-minded, but consumers used to more won’t be satisfied until a Lightning adapter covers all the bases.