April 19, 2014

Apple’s Lightning to Micro USB Adapter is Tiny But Useful

I know some people were upset when Apple moved from the old 30 pin dock to the new Lightning connector with the iPhone 5, but such is the price of progress. Early adopters like me, however, found it difficult to make the switch with Lightning cables in short supply. That’s why I was thrilled to have a friend of mine bring over a couple of Apple’s newest adapters from the UK: The Lightning to Micro USB adapter is unimaginably small yet incredibly useful!

That tiny white thing enables Micro USB cables to connect to an Apple iPhone 5

The Apple Lightning to Micro USB Adapter

Every iPhone 5 buyer gets a Lightning to USB (full-size, USB 2.0) cable, but there are very few other peripherals for the new port. Apple announced a dock connector extension and Lightning-to-dock connector adapter, but these have only just started shipping. And third-party cables and peripherals are nonexistent at this point.

The Lightning to Micro USB adapter allows you to connect your new iPhone to any existing Micro USB cable for charging and syncing. It doesn’t support line-level audio or video applications, but no USB cable does. In my experience, a Micro USB cable connected to this adapter is able to perform just as much (and as little) as the Lightning to USB cable included with the iPhone 5.

Obviously, this means that you can’t use this adapter for VGA or HDMI video. But it does pass data perfectly, so it works with systems like Ford/Microsoft Sync that use USB to connect to an iPhone for music playback. (Well, as well as anything works with Sync!) Combine the Lightning adapter and a short Micro USB cable (or a retractable one) and you’ve got a great “just in case” travel accessory for the iPhone 5!

I can’t stress enough just how small this adapter is. It’s easily half the size of the MagSafe-to-MagSafe 2 adapter I bought for my Retina MacBook Pro. It’s as thin as a nickel and smaller than a dime. It comes in a box smaller than the iPhone, but this box could probably contain 100 such adapters. It’s that small.

Not Available in the USA

The biggest drawback of Apple’s Lightning to Micro USB adapter is the fact that it’s only available for sale in Europe, and even then only from select sources. Apple sells it in their online store, but I never saw one in a physical Apple Store, never mind Currys, Media Markt, Saturn, or Elgiganten!

The back story is somewhat interesting: In 2009, at the behest of the European Commission, mobile phone manufacturers doing business Europe agreed to standardize on Micro USB for charging “data-enabled phones.” Apple agreed to go along with this but didn’t actually include a Micro USB connector on any product. Instead, they offered an adapter, first for the 30-pin dock connector and now for Lightning.

Note that the European agreement only specifies that phones support charging via Micro USB, not that they standardize on it or use this connector alone for all functions. The manufacturers were very clear on this in the original agreement. Though pundits and Internet denizens love to vent at Apple for their use of proprietary connectors, they are complying with the agreement by making these adapters available. There is no requirement for Apple or anyone else to use Micro USB for syncing or A/V connection or that the connector be part of the phone or included free of charge!

Outsiders wishing to procure an Apple Micro USB adapter must get help from someone in Europe. I had a friend order a few and bring them to me when he came for Tech Field Day. Travelers could probably order them for delivery to a hotel in advance of a trip. And there’s always eBay though the auctions there are ridiculously expensive currently!

Stephen’s Stance

I’m pleased to have a couple of Apple Lightning to Micro USB connectors in my bag. They’re handy when a Lightning cable isn’t available and are fairly cheap at £15. It’s disappointing that these adapters are not more widely available, but third-party Lightning cables ought to begin appearing soon to fill the void.

  • http://twitter.com/snookasnoo Idon’t Know

    It won’t charge an ipad fyi. Not enough juice.

  • fuzzer

    Fairly cheap at $25 for 25c worth of plastic – another great apple rip off!

  • http://twitter.com/steve Steve Rossen

    Well look what just showed up in the US Apple store: http://store.apple.com/us/product/MD820ZM/A/lightning-to-micro-usb-adapter

  • http://twitter.com/handleym99 Maynard Handley

    “But it does pass data perfectly, so it works with systems like Ford/Microsoft Sync that use USB to connect to an iPhone for music playback. ”

    Am I missing something? Why is this necessary?
    My (cheapo, after market) car audio system has a standard USB in port (the sort of thing you’d plug a flash drive into, and in fact you CAN plug a flash drive full of MP3s into it).
    It has iPod/iPhone support, and you connect the iDevice by plugging the appropriate cable — the charging cable that comes with the device — into the iDevice (either old 30 pin or new 8 pin slot), and plugging the USB end of the cable into the car stereo system.

    Point is — there is nothing in this process that requires this particular Lighting-to-USB dongle . All that’s required is the “charging” cable that came with the phone/iPod. How is Sync different?

  • http://twitter.com/handleym99 Maynard Handley

    Let’s see: Samsung’s equivalent device

    http://www.samsung.com/us/mobile/galaxy-tab-accessories/EPL-1PLRBEGSTA

    costs $29.99

    Feel free to rant about how evil Samsung also is.