Editorial: It’s Time To Fix Lightning Dock + Case Compatibility | iLounge Article


Editorial: It’s Time To Fix Lightning Dock + Case Compatibility

Back in January, it became obvious that Apple’s first round of officially-sanctioned Lightning accessories were about to have some compatibility problems. The company specified a small Lightning port opening for the bottoms of cases, but separately required a larger 40-millimeter Lightning plug housing for authorized docks and speakers. Since roughly 4 out of 5 iPhone users protect their devices with cases, companies quickly figured out that complying with Apple’s directives meant creating products that wouldn’t work together. Multiple developers have told us that they want to release compatible accessories, but can’t without running afoul of Apple’s rules: Apple now reviews and approves every licensed design, so there’s no way around its requirements.

Prominent developers are telling us that “it’s time for Apple to start over on this one.” Case makers and dock/speaker makers shouldn’t be getting two different stories given how common types of accessories are supposed to interact with each other. Thus far, the requirements have led to a collection of Lightning speakers that are even less case-compatible than the Dock Connector versions that came before. So now that the first-year dust has mostly cleared with Lightning—a supposedly long-term connector standard for iOS devices—Apple could easily provide a common connector size specification that works on both sides of the equation.


The critical concern for Apple’s engineering team appears to be providing sufficient support for a docked device—something as small as an iPod or as large as an iPad—such that it doesn’t tip in any direction once installed on a Lightning connector. Relatively smart case-friendly solutions such as OCDesk’s OCDock use spring-loaded plates to adjust the depth of the Lightning plug, providing as much support as is needed, while companies such as iHome and Soundfreaq have previously used removable rubber dock inserts with more modest success. Interestingly, several developers (notably including Belkin and Cooler Master) have required users to insert Apple’s Lightning cables inside otherwise passive iPhone docks, primarily because Apple has saved for its own products the smallest and most case-compatible plug housing around. Inconvenient to install and somewhat loose after being placed inside, the cable-based solutions nonetheless offer case compatibility that typical speakers cannot.


Spring-loaded plates and rubber inserts aside, there are other options. We could return to the days of hard plastic Universal Dock Adapters that preceded the iPad’s release, but that’s something we’d guess Apple’s not keen to do again. Alternately, Apple could recommend that developers make open-bottomed cases, though this would unnecessarily limit device protection. Or it could develop a novel dock-specific Lightning plug with hidden reinforcement underneath to reduce width. It’s quite possible that such a solution has existed in Apple’s labs for a long time, given that this isn’t the first connector it has developed for these devices.


One simple and plausible alternative: just let third-party dock and speaker developers use the same small sized plug housings as Apple does for its own accessories, jutting up a few millimeters from the otherwise flat surface. Case developers could size or taper their case bottoms around the port to accommodate this, if they haven’t already. Most existing cases would work without an issue. A rubber pad could be included for the 20% of users who use their devices bare.


Is this a critical issue? If it affects a strong majority of iPhone users—and for no good reason—we’d say yes. And it’s time to fix it in an elegant way.

« Retain existing tracks when enabling iTunes Match

Listening to iTunes Match tracks on an airplane »

Related Stories




Posted by Brian Hardyman in East Amherst, NY, USA on June 20, 2013 at 7:17 PM (CDT)


Where the hell are ANY multi-device Lightning docks!

I have 4 devices in my house, and it’s driving me crazy that over 10 months since the iPhone 5 was released, we still have ZERO options.

Brilliant policy there Apple!

Posted by jimthing in East Amherst, NY, USA on June 24, 2013 at 12:42 AM (CDT)


Multi-device docks have become price-prohibitive for developers to sell, thanks to Apple’s increased Lightning licensing fees. Witness Griffin’s announcement earlier this year of a PowerDock with nothing but USB outlets so you can self-supply the Lightning cables.

Posted by Jeremy Horwitz in East Amherst, NY, USA on June 24, 2013 at 2:48 PM (CDT)


Who still uses docks?! Airplay, Bluetooth, the only reason we use the cable is for charging; and the lightning cable’s plug is long enough to use for iPhones with cases.

Posted by Benjamin in East Amherst, NY, USA on June 27, 2013 at 7:16 PM (CDT)


This Griffin ‘thing’ is NOT what people want as a charging dock!

I don’t necessarily blame Griffin here, but it’s hardly a good solution, with wires coming out all over the place.

As a customer, I shouldn’t have to care about the politics, but as ever, seems like customers are subjected to more Apple dickhead licensing policy decisions!

And this IS Apple’s fault: THEY are creating a situation of complete chaos by presumably charging a fortune for each and every certified ‘lightning plughead’ they supply to manufacturers, regardless of the mass-idevice usage in many products wanting to be designed.

Does any of this strike others here as completely stupid: NO sales better than than some sales?

They sell a gazzillion Lightning iDevices every year, and they could be making more money – helping job creation in the process. A sickening waste of a customer income resource.

Even the amount of single-device docks has been few and far between.

Of course I expect to pay a reasonable amount, so all companies concerned (the brand AND Apple) get paid, but why do Apple set such stupid policies so that NOTHING CERTIFIED CAN BE MADE AND SOLD to service the millions of customers with more than one of their newer iDevices in circulation?

This gives customers they impression Apple’s hidden agenda is, “we don’t want users to use docks with out idevices (for inexplainable reasoning?!) so we don’t make a dock, and are also not going to allow anyone else to make any by having super-high lightning licensing costs.”

Market choice, anyone?

Posted by jimthing in East Amherst, NY, USA on July 1, 2013 at 10:39 AM (CDT)


I’ve always liked having my phone in a dock so that it was easy to read notifications or use it as my calendar next in the office.

I think the big problem isn’t hardware - it’s software. If the home screen and all apps would rotate to landscape and upside down portrait orientations then all you would need is a physical stand, not a dock, and the lighting connector (and headphone jack) could just stickout to the side or top.

Posted by Chris in East Amherst, NY, USA on July 12, 2013 at 10:02 AM (CDT)


This is extremely frustrating. Perhaps the company that will win is the company that provides various size male to male extension connectors. This way the consumer would be able to select a connector that fits their phone and case or the way it used to be.
I recall buying a multi device 30 pin charger for my iphones and ipod. In the box there were a good number of spacers to support a wide array of devices.
Hopefully there will be a common sense solution available to us very soon.

Posted by bruinsrme in East Amherst, NY, USA on August 18, 2013 at 9:44 AM (CDT)


The other issue here is that while there are 30-pin to Lightning converters to adapt older docks to the new connector, there is no way to do that in reverse. So if you buy a new Lightning-equipped accessory, your older iDevices are orphaned.

With all due respects to Bluetooth, wired connections still offer the best sound quality. Especially since Lightning allows for digital output that can be used by a speaker system with its own DAC.

Posted by Al Gordon in East Amherst, NY, USA on August 25, 2013 at 1:31 PM (CDT)


Here’s one solution… you could always make your own adapter!


Posted by me in East Amherst, NY, USA on September 17, 2013 at 5:07 PM (CDT)


I agree…but are there any docks that currently WILL fit an iphone 5S with the new Apple leather case?

Posted by Sean Walmsley in East Amherst, NY, USA on September 27, 2013 at 7:43 AM (CDT)


Sean W.: I’d say that OCDock w/ spring loaded base will work, but $80?! That’s just too much, especially with no audio out.

Posted by D9 in East Amherst, NY, USA on October 3, 2013 at 4:06 PM (CDT)


The accessories people don’t talk amongst themselves.  Obviously, the dock industrial designers were unaware that Apple was making cases for the new iPhones.  I guess the “customer experience” mantra does not hold true for Apple’s accessories.  The MFI program is thorough and detailed but only applies to third parties- not Apple.

Posted by Flyguy29 in East Amherst, NY, USA on October 6, 2013 at 2:00 PM (CDT)



Casemakers seem to assume, for the most part, that you won’t dock your lightning device and you will only use Apple lightning cables (The Amazon basic has a wider plastic fitting than the Apple version). They probably get this cue from the short Apple lighting to 30 pin adapter that doesn’t work if a case is used.

Posted by choiceweb in East Amherst, NY, USA on October 7, 2013 at 7:04 PM (CDT)


Thank you for covering this. 

I have a house full of 30 pin iPhones/iPods/iPads and convenient speaker docks.  Everything works well at the moment, mostly the iHome id37, which will dock any with or without a case.  I’m dreading a refresh next year with lightning devices, because I’ll have to replace everything and I’ve yet to see something that is the same price convenience and features.  I’d be okay with buying lightning adapters, but they won’t work with a case.

Posted by slob in East Amherst, NY, USA on October 30, 2013 at 9:12 AM (CDT)


I have four 4th generation iPods just so I can continue to use my television’s iPod dock and my B&W Zeppelin, both of which use the now defunct 30-pin connection. 

I’m delaying the inevitable, I know, but until then I’ll just keep hunkering down.

Posted by Downing in East Amherst, NY, USA on November 7, 2013 at 3:08 PM (CST)


Waiting for the first company to come out with lightning that works with iPhone with case.  Keeping track of this thread.

Posted by Ron in East Amherst, NY, USA on November 12, 2013 at 2:35 AM (CST)


iHome has the iDL100 that charges two lightning devices with additional charging capabilities through its rear USB option. I have 2 iPhones, a iPad air and mini, a Classic iPod for the car, and I use my old nano as a watch. There has never been a device that can adequately meet my changing needs, but the iDL100 is as close as it’ gets.

Posted by Tommy in East Amherst, NY, USA on January 26, 2014 at 10:47 AM (CST)


I agree, a stand is nice for desk/nightstand use where you aren’t in a position to look down upon the screen. Apple, fix this!

Posted by TheGooch in East Amherst, NY, USA on January 29, 2014 at 10:21 PM (CST)


I have the iPhone 5s, iPad and iPod all with the new lightning connector. Since I have accessories that work well, I chose to buy Apple’s adapters so I could still use them. Yes, they are expensive (some £30 each) but they are cheaper than trying to buy a replacement speaker or alarm clock for items that are still of good quality.

Posted by Stu Lloyd in East Amherst, NY, USA on April 12, 2014 at 12:48 PM (CDT)

iLounge Weekly

Recent News

Recent Reviews

Recent Articles

Sign up for the iLounge Weekly Newsletter

iLounge is an independent resource for all things iPod, iPhone, iPad, and beyond.
iPod, iPhone, iPad, iTunes, Apple TV, Mac, and the Apple logo are trademarks of Apple Inc.
iLounge is © 2001 - 2019 iLounge, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Terms of Use | Privacy Policy