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Nokia Design Guru Urges Apple To End Cable Chaos 791

Posted by samzenpus
from the one-plug-to-rule-them-all dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Nokia's former head designer has called on Apple to work with the broader technology industry and end its policy of having proprietary connectors for its device chargers and accessories. Other experts say Apple cannot continue to go it alone with Lightning Connectors and ignore Micro USB."
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Nokia Design Guru Urges Apple To End Cable Chaos

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  • by jawtheshark (198669) * <slashdot&jawtheshark,com> on Monday October 14, 2013 @05:17AM (#45119453) Homepage Journal
    Oh, I totally agree... With the slight difference that I actually think that the Lightning connector is actually better design. It's small and orientation less and rather robust. Micro-USB, while ubiquitous, is rather fragile and has orientation. It'd rather see all phone manufacturers switch to the Lightning connector instead. I know this won't happen, especially since the EU mandates Micro-USB.

    Oh, and before you accuse me of being an Apple fanboy. I'm still on a non-Lightning iPhone and if it wasn't my employer who paid for my phone, I wouldn't even have a smartphone.

    • by LordLucless (582312) on Monday October 14, 2013 @05:31AM (#45119517)

      I know this won't happen, especially since the EU mandates Micro-USB.

      And even more especially because Apple has patented aspects of the Lightning connector, and have no intentions of sharing.

      • by jawtheshark (198669) * <slashdot&jawtheshark,com> on Monday October 14, 2013 @05:39AM (#45119551) Homepage Journal
        Absolutely. An open connector is preferable. Doesn't mean the Lightning connector isn't technically superior.
        • by AmiMoJo (196126) * <mojoNO@SPAMworld3.net> on Monday October 14, 2013 @07:44AM (#45120095) Homepage

          Is it technically superior? The low quality of video output over it compared with Micro USB suggests that it isn't universally "better".

      • Yep (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Monday October 14, 2013 @06:26AM (#45119723)

        If Apple's issue really was that micro USB was too fragile, well they could have introduced a new, standard, connector to fix that. Design a "mobile USB" standard, that is durable, orients either way, integrates pins for HDMI, etc. Get it all nice n' designed and tested, then hand the design over to the USB Group, royalty free (like all USB standards). Particularly if it was going to be part of new Apple phones I don't imagine that there'd be a lot of resistance to adoption.

        The EU's mandate doesn't come from a love of micro-USB, but rather the need for a standard, whatever that is. Micro-USB is the best we've got and the most prevalent, so that is what they are going for. If there was a better one out there, particularly if you could show how increased durability could lead to longer life and less waste, I think it'd have a good chance of being the standard.

        However Apple has no interest in that at all. Their new connector wasn't made because micro-USB is so bad, it was made because Apple desires to be the only place you buy Apple accessories.

        • by noh8rz10 (2716597)

          The EU's mandate doesn't come from a love of micro-USB, but rather the need for a standard, whatever that is.

          where is this need? were planes falling out of the sky? eu is legislating something that belongs to the market, and using heavy handed politics to do so.

    • by remus.cursaru (1423703) on Monday October 14, 2013 @05:34AM (#45119533)
      Because yes, a simple 4 contacts/4 wires cable is clearly inferior to a proprietary crap, with custom connector and single-manufacturer authentication chips lock-in.
      • by jawtheshark (198669) * <slashdot&jawtheshark,com> on Monday October 14, 2013 @05:38AM (#45119549) Homepage Journal
        I'm not saying that proprietary is preferable. I'm saying that from the design, the lightning connector is better. That's if parent encumbered an proprietary doesn't mean that it can't be technically superior, right? In other words: it would be preferable to have an open connector with the hardware design characteristics of the lightning connector.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Mitreya (579078)

      It'd rather see all phone manufacturers switch to the Lightning connector instead.

      Ah, but even phone manufacturers did adopt Lightning connector and it sold cheaply, Apple would design a new Thunder connector to once again sell them at $30+ each

      It's not the question of who has the better design -- it is that Apple intentionally keeps their connectors completely incompatible with the rest of the phones.

      • by Goaway (82658)

        Well, no, they wouldn't. They stayed with the old connector for ages. They replaced it because it was getting too big.

    • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Monday October 14, 2013 @05:45AM (#45119577) Journal
      I agree. There definitely should be a standard connector for this kind of thing, but it should be something that doesn't suck. The old Apple Dock connectors had a lot more functionality than the newer lightning ones, but the connector was bit too big. A ubiquitous connector needs:
      • A future-proof data signal (e.g. Thunderbolt, which can carry a signal fast enough that it won't be obsolete within a couple of years of release), that doesn't need to be supported by endpoints but can be detected and used if it is.
      • A widely-supported legacy signal (e.g. USB) so that it works everywhere
      • A lightweight mechanism for negotiating power demands and capabilities between supply and device.
      • A physically sturdy connector, with a reference design of a socket that will stand at least 1,000 insertions and ideally 10,000 in normal use.
      • A connector that either has an orientation so obvious that no one could possibly plug it in the wrong way, or one that works in either orientation.
      • Any patents that cover the design must be licensed royalty free, so third parties can interface with it cheaply and easily.

      Neither microUSB nor Lightning meets these requirements. If Nokia wants to fix this, they should get together an industry group to design and agree to use such a connector. Don't complain at Apple, design a better connector than the Apple one, get everyone except Apple behind it, and market the hell out of it. Make every non-Apple phone have a big sticker on it saying that it supports the standard connector and list the features that make it better than the Apple one.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      One that Apple did right was the headphone jack with the mic. If you want to see a bad selection of incompatible devices, try the multitude of cell phone wired headsets. Nokia was just as bad as the rest. My old Nokia phone had a connector that did not match anything by anybody else. Apple wired headsets, earbuds with mic, etc work fine on Motorola and other phones and some tablets. I first saw that configuration on Apple phones. It would be nice to unify on chargers. Motorola has a standard connecto

    • by Trogre (513942) on Monday October 14, 2013 @06:17AM (#45119689) Homepage

      Micro-USB, while ubiquitous, is rather fragile and has orientation.

      This.

      What complete muppet designed USB, a frequent plug-unplug connector by nature, to have orientation?

      • by AmiMoJo (196126) * <mojoNO@SPAMworld3.net> on Monday October 14, 2013 @07:39AM (#45120069) Homepage

        What complete muppet designed USB, a frequent plug-unplug connector by nature, to have orientation?

        It was the genius who understood the product requirements for a ubiquitous, low cost and robust connector.

        There are only two ways to avoid having orientation. You can have pins on both sides of the connector in a mirrored formation, or you can have a multiplexer in the device. Mirroring requires duplicate sets of pins, which means twice as many failure points and more PCB space dedicated to pads and signals instead of large anchor points to give the connector mechanical strength. It also increases cost. Multiplexers for high speed signals are not cheap either, and having a more complicated PCB layout for high speed signals also adds cost.

        Lightning works for Apple because their products are expensive. It isn't suitable as a universal connector for all manufacturers. The genius of Micro USB is that it is cheap but also robust (the cables are designed to break in order to save the connector, which is rated at 10k cycles minimum) and supports very high speed signals like MHI/HDMI which the Lightning connector does not.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          There are only two ways to avoid having orientation. You can have pins on both sides of the connector in a mirrored formation, or you can have a multiplexer in the device.

          Actually, there's also a third way, commonly used in audio cables: Make the plug and all contacts rotationally symmetric. That strategy might not work well for the type of signal USB carries (I have no idea if it does), but in terms of being rotationally symmetric, it can't be beaten. You can even rotate the plug while plugging it in.

        • by sootman (158191) on Monday October 14, 2013 @12:45PM (#45122905) Homepage Journal

          Oh please. It isn't *that* hard to make. Imagine a connector with 4 pins, doubled, viewed from above:
          1 2 3 4
          4 3 2 1
          You run a wire up, split it, then join the two 1s. Another wire goes up, splits, and joins the 2s. Etc.

          "Twice as many failure points" -- LOLOL. We're creating REDUNDANCY here. That's a GOOD thing. If one of the 4 pins in your USB connector breaks, you're fucked. If one of the 4 wires in a connector like I describe breaks, you put a dot with a marker on that side and remember that this connector only works one way now.

          The difference in PCB printing and other costs are marginal. You can buy a variety of more complicated cables from monoprice for $3 each -- these things literally cost pennies, or a dollar or so, in quantity. And the OEM only cares about shipping a cable with a $300 device, or selling individually for $20. Let the commodity cable companies go after the low-end.

          I'm not saying Apple's Lightning design is perfect but there's no reason not to make cables reversible. You're talking about something that gets used literally daily by hundreds of millions of people around the world. If automakers can afford to make keys that go both ways, electronics companies can make reversible cables. Design is all about compromise, but making a two-way connector isn't *that* big of a deal.

          • by AmiMoJo (196126) * <mojoNO@SPAMworld3.net> on Monday October 14, 2013 @01:49PM (#45123649) Homepage

            You run a wire up, split it, then join the two 1s. Another wire goes up, splits, and joins the 2s. Etc.

            Hi. I see you have never done any mechanical connector design so I'll explain how it works for you. The connectors need to be mountable on a PCB by flow/wave soldering. No wires, so that plan is out I'm afraid. I suppose you could add some to the connector itself, but that costs money. Ideally you want the connector to be made entirely out of stamped metal parts, like the Micro USB connector is.

            "Twice as many failure points" -- LOLOL. We're creating REDUNDANCY here.

            Redundancy as in "one side now shorts so, so both sides are broken". Pins bent out of shape and shorting is the most common failure mode of small pitch connectors like this. Again, this is well understood by people who design mechanical connectors.

            You can buy a variety of more complicated cables from monoprice for $3 each

            Micro USB connectors (PCB mount, the part that takes the strain) cost about 40c (Euro) for quality ones. Of course we have no idea how much lightning connectors cost, but I guarantee it's more. Might not sound like a lot but if a phone sells for 40 Euro retail then wholesale price will be about 20 Euro and BOM cost will be about 10 Euro, so that connector is maybe 4% of the total cost.

      • by argStyopa (232550) on Monday October 14, 2013 @07:59AM (#45120175) Journal

        MicroUSB's orientation isn't the problem.

        The horrible part of the design is that the orientation is something you can only tell with good eyes in clear light.

        Why the hell you'd design a modern plug that way is beyond me.

        Bias: fine, sometimes necessary. I might even say its a preferable simple-physical solution to requiring everything using the plug to have the extra few-cents' worth of circuitry to switch around the pin that's taking in power before it burns out your system completely. FAR simpler to have an L-shape or right triangle or SOMETHING that I can feel for in the dark and plug in without wrecking either my cable or the device.

    • by poetmatt (793785)

      wrong approach. just because it's better (and it is), doesn't mean for even a second it should be used if it's proprietary. Either force apple to open it up 100%, or find a non proprietary solution. In the case of phone cables, proprietary does not work.

  • Seriously, what's the problem? The important thing are charges that you can plug into the wall and that should be safe and powerful, with a USB outlet. And then you have cables that you plug into devices - what's the problem with having different cables? And why should a company producing _better_ cables switch to an inferior one?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Is a design that requires an authentication chip in the cable really superior? It doesn't protect you from unsafe cheap power supplies and means you have to buy these cables from Apple, or someone whom Apple has blessed with a license. I accept the physical design is safer, but why does it have to be proprietary?
    • by gigaherz (2653757) on Monday October 14, 2013 @05:25AM (#45119485)
      Because Apple's cables are proprietary, and even contain a chip with the sole purpose to prevent third-parties from making their own. Apple overcharges users for the cables, while preventing the competition from building cheaper alternatives.
    • by Sockatume (732728) on Monday October 14, 2013 @06:20AM (#45119697)

      If you're asking for the rationale behind the EU charger harmonisation, it's waste. If every device uses the same charger then fewer chargers have to be manufactured and ultimately recycled. For example you never have to go out and buy a "spare" charger for your smartphone to keep at the office, or a replacement for the one you left behind on holiday, if you already have four mutually intercompatible chargers that originally came with different products.

      Of course whether that rationale makes any sense is up for debate but that's the logic.

  • I believe they will have to cave in, eventually, as European regulators are pushing for micro USB-B as a standard for charging mobile devices.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_External_Power_Supply [wikipedia.org]

    • by Amouth (879122) on Monday October 14, 2013 @05:32AM (#45119525)

      Apple uses the charge port/connection for handling all of the accessories and controlling what goes on the market for their phones while also getting a nice chunk of change in licensing fees.

      If they are forced to comply with the European regulators, my bet is they will just add a micro USB-B port to the side of the device that is only connected for charging period while keeping their proprietary connector for everything it does now. I predict it will also be in an inconvenient location say the right side of the phone. And it may only be done for phones intended for orginal sale in Europe (although that is more dependant on sales volume their vs. supply chain cost/impact).

      Either way they are going to do their best to comply with the letter of the law, and keep every bit of their business model and revenue streams intact.

      I'd actually be willing to put money on this one,

      • by Spad (470073)

        Their solution thus far has been to sell a £25 Lightning->MicroUSB adaptor to people, which for some bizarre reason the EU thinks is fine even though the entire purpose of the MicroUSB charging standard requirements was to reduce waste (because previously everyone would have to bin their old charging cables when getting a new phone).

        • by Sockatume (732728)

          It does meet the goals of the standard: the adaptor means that the iPhone 5 and later can accept any microUSB charger, and the Lightning charger can charge any microUSB phone. Functionally it's equivalent (once you buy two of them...) to just having a microUSB port on there.

          Aesthetically...

      • And it may only be done for phones intended for orginal sale in Europe (although that is more dependant on sales volume their vs. supply chain cost/impact).

        Given that, I'd probably go out of my way to get the european version... Being able to charge anywhere and any time is that important. I'm not constantly re-syncing, but I am constantly re-charging.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 14, 2013 @05:27AM (#45119495)
    Reason for Lightning: see this hideous microUSB 3.0 cable [androidbeat.com] what sort of shitty design is this? I know it's backwards compatible, but the USB standard was not future-proof as one can see from the picture, so it deserves to die.
    • by RedBear (207369)

      Reason for Lightning: see this hideous microUSB 3.0 cable [androidbeat.com] what sort of shitty design is this? I know it's backwards compatible, but the USB standard was not future-proof as one can see from the picture, so it deserves to die.

      As you can see from the cable, the backwards compatibility will only work in one direction. Clearly, because of the larger connector, USB 3.0 cables (regular, mini or micro) are not compatible with non-USB 3.0 devices. Newer devices will still work with the older micro-USB cables that don't have the wider connector, but that's as far as "backwards compatibility" goes. The new USB 3.0 connectors are essentially completely different connectors, and ridiculously larger.

      Seems to me the EU is being very prematur

  • I was sure this was going to be about cable TV.
  • Nokia had there own connectors for years, the B+N nook has it's own connector, it just one of those things. I think it's more important to have a single USB charger.

  • ...has finally bought an iPhone
  • by sirwired (27582) on Monday October 14, 2013 @06:49AM (#45119801)

    "Other experts say Apple cannot continue to go it alone"

    Cannot. You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

From Sharp minds come... pointed heads. -- Bryan Sparrowhawk

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