iPhone 6 lightning cable 'will end USB frustration'
Leaked images and patent filings suggest the iPhone 6 will come with a double-sided USB cable
One of the unbroken rules of modern life is that anyone plugging in a USB cable will first try to put it in the wrong way up. Now, with the iPhone 6, Apple looks set to end that particular first-world problem.
Reports suggest that the new handset, expected to launch next month, will come with a "Lightning" cable that can be plugged into a USB port either way up.
Existing Apple products come with Lightning cables that can be plugged into an iPhone or iPad either way around, but still have to be lined up correctly with the USB port.
The latest leaked images and patent filings suggest that when Apple launches the iPhone 6, probably next month, it will introduce a cable that's reversible at both ends.
The Australian blogger Sonny Dickson, who has a good track record for leaking accurate information about forthcoming Apple products, tweeted an image of the new cable yesterday.
— The Verge (@verge) August 18, 2014
The Guardian suggests that Apple has been working on the new cable for some time.
"A patent filed in 2013 by Apple, however, describes 'reversible or dual orientation USB plug connectors' that can be plugged into any standard computer USB port to "reduce the potential USB connector damage and user frustration'," the paper says. "The connector design would be compatible with any current and future full-sized USB ports on computers and other devices."
Not everyone has welcomed the news of Apple's apparent breakthrough, with some seeing it as yet another way in which the company seals its products off from the rest of the technological ecosystem.
"The joke goes: if there is a universal standard Apple will find a way to make it proprietary," writes Gordon Kelly for Forbes. "Well now it seems not even USB is safe."
Apple has a track record of moving in the opposite direction from its rivals. As most of the smartphone industry standardised its charging and docking cables, Apple introduced the first Lightning cable, which was incompatible with all other devices, including previous models of iPhone.
Its latest move also puts Apple at odds with its rivals, who are preparing to step away from the existing USB cable. A new "Type-C" cable, with a much smaller USB connector, is expected to appear before the end of the year. It will be faster than its predecessor – and there will be no "wrong way" to insert it – but it will not be compatible with existing devices or ports.
This could lead to a novel situation in which the iPhone 6 is compatible with more existing PC equipment than new Android or Windows smartphones. The catch is that the Apple cable will not be compatible with the Type-C USB cable – although it's likely that new and old USB ports will exist alongside each other for some time.
More iPhone 6 rumours
There is no shortage of speculation about what will be included in the next iPhone, some of which seems to be based on wishful thinking:
Sapphire crystal: the use of sapphire crystal (also known as sapphire glass) for the iPhone 6 screen has been one of the most persistent rumours about the new handset. Apple is known to have invested heavily in the super-strong manmade material, which is resistant to scratching and bending, but recent reports suggest that it has been having trouble making it in sufficient quantities – and at sufficiently low costs – to furnish an iPhone production run of 100 million units or more. The Guardian recently suggested that Apple may end up using a blend of glass and sapphire crystal.
A Liquidmetal shell: As Apple strives to make the new handset as slim and strong as possible, some commentators have speculated that it may turn to Liquidmetal, an alloy that's stronger than aluminium. In theory that would mean the handset could be lighter and slimmer without skimping on strength or build quality, but in practice it seems unlikely. Although one of the inventors of Liquidmetal predicted two years ago that Liquidmetal cases would be possible by mid-2014, its use has so far been limited to small components.
Liquidmetal components: This is much more likely. Documents published by Apple-watching website MacRumors, suggest that the alloy could be used in buttons and switches in order to toughen up what have often proved to be weak points on previous iPhones.
Aluminium frame: Although Liquidmetal may be off the cards, most of the leaked images and technical drawings suggest that Apple will adopt an all-metal rear frame for the iPhone 6. Previous iPhones have made either extensive or decorative uses of glass, but this year's preview shots appear to show a rear panel fashioned entirely from aluminium – with a cut-out for the Apple logo.
Super-slim frame: Whatever it's made from, most commentators expect the iPhone 6 to be noticeably slimmer than its already svelte predecessor. A few months ago some were predicting a depth of just 6mm, but specs supposedly leaked by Amazon in recent weeks suggest we can look forward to a 7mm iPhone. The slender dimensions are apparently causing problems for component-makers: the difficulty of making a battery that's just 2mm thick has reportedly led to production delays.
A8 chip: Concerted speculation that the new device would include a revamped processor has been "confirmed" by Venturebeat. "The A8 will run at a frequency of 2.0 GHz per core and will create noticeably faster response time and graphics rendering in the new phones," its source says. "By comparison, the A7 chips in the iPhone 5 run at only 1.3GHz per core." Even if those details prove wide of the mark, a newer, speedier chip is a safe bet: Apple is unlikely to build an all-new phone around old technology.
13-megapixel camera: There has been comparatively little speculation about the iPhone 6 camera, but tentative reports out today suggest that Apple may build in a 13-megapixels sensor capable of recording high-resolution 4K video. "Apple is well-known for investing millions into its camera sensor, though the company has always refrained from entering the megapixel count race because adding more megapixels tend to have an negative effect on the low-light performance," Tech Times says. But the website sounds a note of caution: "The original source comes from a Chinese web forum, which may not be the best place to find legitimate iPhone 6 leaked information."
Optical image stabilisation: MacRumors says the bigger of the two iPhone 6 models "may include camera improvements in the form of optical image stabilisation with modules produced by sensor company InvenSense". Camera performance is becoming increasingly important at the top end of the smartphone market, and analysts suggest that optical stabilisation, which reduces image blur, could help to justify a larger price tag for the 5.5-inch iPhone 6.
A curved screen: At the end of last year Bloomberg carried a report predicting the next iPhone models would have screens that curved down at the edges. Curved screens are said to be more durable, more comfortable to use, and better suited to watching videos and playing games, according to Sky News. This would be a bold move for Apple, which usually likes to stand back and see how other phone-makers fare with new, risky technologies – and more recently a source told The Wall Street Journal that Apple has no plans to make use of curved glass. However, despite all the leaked images apparently showing the iPhone 6 with a flat screen, rumours of curved glass have resurfaced, most recently in the Daily Mirror.
Quantum dots: This is probably a technology for future handsets, not the iPhone 6. Patent filings suggest Apple is experimenting with tiny crystal semiconductors just a few thousandths of a millimetre across, which could improve the colour and sharpness of mobile screens. "The techniques Apple describes would let its screens not only show colours more accurately," Business Insider says, "but also show a wider gamut of colours." The publication had predicted in March that the quantum-dot screen may be ready this year, but no further reports of the technology have emerged.
Battery life: Mixed signals have emerged about the iPhone 6 battery life. On the positive side, analysts have pointed to iOS 8, Apple's new operating system, and its new A8 processor as evidence that the company is paying more attention to power consumption. The chip, says 9to5Mac.com "adds significant performance and efficiency enhancements in order to improve the iPhone’s battery life". On the other hand, more recent reports suggest that the slim frame of the new phone has forced Apple to adopt a battery that is just 2mm thick. Taiwanese sources suggest that the new battery has a "similar capacity" to its predecessor, which may dash hopes of significantly improved performance.
Eye-tracking: Some rumours suggested that the iPhone 5S would be eye-controlled, allowing users to scroll through pages without touching the device. When the technology failed to materialise in the last model, hopeful observers shifted their attention to the iPhone 6.
NFC: Another long-predicted feature, Near Field Communication or NFC would allow the phone to act as a payment system. Users would wave their handsets over a receiver to transfer money in shops and restaurants, or between friends. Several Android and Windows Phone devices already support NFC payments, but Apple has yet to make the leap.
Health monitors and apps: Apple has already unveiled its new operating system, iOS 8, and what we've seen so far suggests that Apple is turning its attention to health and fitness. Smartphone accessories such as the Fitbit and FuelBand have proven the demand for health-monitoring devices, and reports suggest that the iPhone 6 will be able to keep track of its owners pulse and body temperature, as well as other metrics. These features may work in conjunction with the long-awaited Apple iWatch.
Price: Financial analysts suggest that the iPhone 6 will be more expensive than its predecessors, in part because of the cost of new components, and in part to re-establish the profit margin eroded by last year's upgrade. When Amazon Japan apparently leaked details of the new device last month, the price, which was the equivalent of £100 higher than a similar iPhone 5S model, took many commentators by surprise. It's unclear whether the leak reflected genuine pricing information, or even if it was a way for Apple to test reaction to a price rise.
Production run: After relatively minor iPhone upgrades last year, analysts expect this year's more substantial changes to create unprecedented demand. According to the Wall Street Journal, Apple "is asking suppliers to manufacture between 70 million and 80 million units combined of two large-screen iPhones with 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch displays by Dec. 30". That's substantially more than the 50 to 60 million iPhone 5S and 5C production run last year, and a huge leap from the 35.2 million iPhones sold in the three months to June.
More on the iPhone 6
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