In case you didn’t have enough dongles in your life, it looks like Apple is adding another type of cable to its devices in the future.
Here’s the issue at hand: If you own, say, a new iPhone 7, a pair of (Apple-made) Beats headphones, and a brand-new MacBook Pro, none of these devices can connect easily. In 2016, Apple killed the headphone jack on its smartphones, replacing it with headphones that plug directly into the Lightning charging port. The company also removed every port other than USB-C from its new laptops, meaning you can’t charge a new Apple phone, or Beats headphones (which have a regular USB connector) on a new Apple laptop, at least not without buying a few adapters.
As if this wasn’t confusing enough, Apple appears ready to invite another connector to the party. According to a report from Apple news site 9to5Mac, the company has introduced a new standard to third-party companies in its MFi program. Short for “made for i,” (as in iPods, iPhones, iPads, etc.), the program’s participants pay Apple a licensing fee to make products to the company’s standards; in return, they receive support from Apple to actually build those products, and an early heads-up on new standards.
According to 9to5Mac, MFi participants were recently introduced to the ”Ultra Accessory Connector,” or UAC. It’s about half as wide as a USB-C or Lightning connector, meaning it’ll take up a lot less space in devices, although it’s not entirely clear which Apple devices it would appear in. According to The Verge, the connector is actually a standard that’s been used in digital cameras for years, and Apple could potentially use it for specific headphones in the future.
Right now, Apple uses the USB-C standard for its laptops, and the Lightning standard on its mobile devices. If someone buys a pair of Lightning headphones that they then want to plug into their MacBook, they’d need an adapter, but there isn’t yet one that works between Lightning and USB-C. This is where the UAC would come in, to act as an intermediary connecting the two standards—sort of a dongle for your dongle. The Verge added that Apple said it has no plans to replace its Lightning or USB-C cables on devices.
AppleInsider, another Apple news site, spoke with an MFi manufacturer who said they “weren’t sure what Apple has in mind, what the port would be specifically used for, or how it would be an improvement over anything currently on the market.”
Perhaps if Apple hadn’t rid its smartphones of the 100-year-old standard that was the headphone jack, or if its (otherwise excellent) AirPods wireless headphones had longer battery life, we wouldn’t need multiple standards just to connect headphones to other devices. But this is 2017. Things just aren’t that simple.