Apple Connector: Audio Industry Hopeful

Joseph Palenchar On Sep 14 2012 - 3:37pm




New York – It looks like suppliers and users of home and aftermarket car audio equipment will have, for the most part, dodged a bullet when Apple ships the new iPhone 5, new iPod Touch, and new iPod Nano with all-digital nine-pin Lightning connector.

First, the Lightning-to-USB 2.0 cable shipped with the new mobile devices will make it possible for home A/V receivers and aftermarket car stereos, if equipped with Made for iPod/iPhone-certified USB ports, to stream music from USB-connected Apple devices, an Apple customer-service representative told TWICE. Users would also be able to use the audio products, like before, to control song selection, he said.

Presumably, select car audio systems with iPod-iPhone-certified USB ports would also be able to stream album art and Internet radio apps through the supplied Lightning-to-USB cable.

Second, Apple’s planned $29 compact Lightning-to-30-pin adapter will incorporate a digital-to-analog converter (DAC), the Apple customer-service representative said. The adapter will convert the new Apple devices’ digital audio output to analog for playback by docking tabletop-audio systems whose 30-pin connectors capture analog audio from Apple devices.

Most docking speaker systems pull analog audio through their 30-pin connectors, iLuv told TWICE, so the inclusion of a DAC in the adapter is critical for current owners of docking speakers. For many premium docking speakers systems, however, the inclusion of a DAC isn’t crucial because, like Yamaha’s, they capture Apple-device output in digital PCM form through their 30-pin connectors, said Yamaha president Tom Sumner.

The only remaining issues for tabletop audio devices would be the physical stability of the Apple devices when docked and the space available on the docking system to accommodate the adapter, Sumner said.

“My only questions would be the stability of the iPhone — it looks as if it would sit a bit high on some speaker docks — and the width of the adapter — if it will fit in all docks,” Sumner said. “We'll check it with Yamaha docks when we can get our hands on one to make certain it works.”

At least two home audio suppliers — Bose and Bang & Olufsen — have overcome the challenge in a different way. Bang & Olufsen plans November availability of a nine-pin connector module that replaces a 30-pin connector module in its $1,149 BeoPlay A8 docking-speaker system.

The company said it is developing new docking speakers that will also be compatible with the iPhone 5.

For its part, Bose in 2009 launched a modular docking-speaker system promoted as being future-proof. The $599 SoundDock 10, still available, comes with swappable 30-pin Apple module and stereo Bluetooth module included in the price.

Bose is likely developing a nine-pin module to accept the iPhone 5 and new iPods, but the company didn’t respond to an inquiry at post time.

The situation changes when it comes to video in the car and home.

In the car, playback of moving video stored on the new Apple devices – and viewing of apps such as navigation--will not be possible on current video-capable car stereos unless new adapter cables become available, the Apple representative said. That’s because the video output of the new Apple devices is digital, and the video inputs on select iPod/-iPhone-certified aftermarket head units are analog composite-video inputs.

As a result, aftermarket suppliers will have to develop an adapter cable that converts the digital-video output of the new Apple devices into composite video.

Currently, video-adapter cables supplied by aftermarket companies for their iPhone/iPod-certified head units are 30-pin-to-USB adapter cables with a composite-video wire that branches off to connect to the head units’ rear-panel composite-video input. Suppliers would have to develop a new nine-pin-to-USB cable with digital-to-analog video converter to stream video from the new Apple devices to existing car stereo systems.

Current adapter cables retail for $50. It’s not known how much more costly such cables will become if a digital-to-analog video converter is included.

At least one car audio supplier described the need for a new video-adapter cable as “not a major deal.” New adapters are created every year to deal with new iPhones all the time, he said.

To add video playback to their car, consumers won’t be able to connect Apple’s $29 compact nine-pin-to-30-pin adapter to current USB/video adapter cables supplied by their head unit’s manufacturer, Apple’s website indicates. That’s because the compact adapter doesn’t support video, nor does it support iPod Out, which enables the display of an iPhone’s user interface on compatible head units, the site said.

In the home, iPhone 5 users won’t be able to play back video stored on the new Apple devices though the handful of docking audio systems that transfer iOS-device video to a connected TV. That’s because the docking audio systems accept analog video from current Apple devices but won’t accept the digital video output of the new Apple devices.

For their part, some home audio suppliers are cautiously optimistic that their current products will work with the adapter and cable — at least for audio — but some note that until they test their products with the new cable and adapter, the jury is still out.

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