iPhone 3 and iPod HiFi

Q: Jeremy,

The iPhone 3G does not work with the iPod Hi-Fi. It plays music, but does not charge.

Are they going to somehow fix the issue or are we out of luck?

This product is too new for Apple to drop support.

Apple’s not acknowledging it and no sites even mention it.

Please help and get Apple to fix this.

– Privateshares

A: Hi Privateshares,

We originally mentioned this issue in our coverage of the iPhone 3G, but you’re right, it’s not getting much attention elsewhere.

Without telling buyers of iPods, iPhones, or accessories beforehand, Apple has been making subtle electrical changes to its hardware that create unexpected incompatibilities, effectively “breaking” the ability of past accessories to work with new Apple hardware. The problem you are experiencing is just the latest such change, but it is particularly unwelcome since it affects buyers of the iPod Hi-Fi and the Bose SoundDock, two expensive speaker systems that were pushed heavily in Apple Stores, as well as a number of other popular products.

Specifically, this change affects “FireWire charging,” and was discussed in our review of the iPhone 3G. FireWire was the original iPod electrical interface, which supplied a certain amount of power to the iPod’s battery, but has since been replaced by the lower-powered USB charging standard. For years, Apple allowed devices to send either the higher FireWire-level power or the lower USB-level power to most iPods or the iPhone, but with the iPhone 3G, Apple cut off the more powerful charging standard. It had previously warned developers that it would do this, initially discontinuing the iPod’s ability to synchronize using a computer’s FireWire port, and then telling developers that future devices would not use FireWire charging.

However, it did not warn consumers of the change, and apparently kept on selling products—including iPod Hi-Fi—that used the old FireWire standard.

The simple answer to your question is that, absent spending some additional money, buyers of past accessories that use FireWire charging will be out of luck. They can choose to spend $40-45 for a third-party adapter such as this one, or purchase a different accessory that is compatible with the iPhone 3G. This sort of disappointing forced obsolescence unfortunately works against consumers’ interests but in Apple’s short-term favor, driving the sale of more accessories as replacements for otherwise functional and in many cases expensive past ones. An obvious solution, and one that we think users have been gravitating towards, is to stop buying expensive accessories because of the high risk that they will not work with future Apple products. It’s unfortunate that this is a concern, but it is.