Mobile

Apple Still Has A Problem With Lightning Cables

The launch of the “iPhone 5S” and “iPhone 5C” is apparently imminent. It’s extremely unlikely that Apple will shift away from its lightning cable connection method — and that’s something of a problem.

When Apple launched the iPhone 5 and introduced the Lightning Connector, it did so with a great deal of fanfare, and not a small amount of wailing and gnashing of teeth from those who’d invested heavily in 30-pin cables and docks. That was just under a year ago, and since then Lightning has become a part of the iPad and iPod Touch range as well. It’s fair to assume that Lightning will be part of Apple’s iOS connection strategy on an ongoing basis for some time to come.

The arguments have already been had about whether or not Apple should have switched away from 30 pin, or to MicroUSB, and I don’t care to rehash those per se.

So what’s the problem? The problem is price and quality.

In those twelve months, I estimate that I’ve been through around half a dozen Lightning cables, largely because I’ve been reluctant to pay the frankly silly $25 that Apple charges locally for a cable. Sure, you get one in the box with each device, but that doesn’t cover office or mobile charging.

The alternative over the past year has been to buy knock-off cables, and while the early models were only fractionally cheaper, it’s now quite feasible to pick up a third party Lightning cable for only a dollar or two.

The problem there is that way too many third party Lightning cables suck. I’ve had cables arrive DOA. I’ve had cables that only work when plugged in one way, which removes one of Lightning’s biggest attraction points. I had one cable that plugged in and worked, but when I removed it, the lightning connector itself tore free from the cable, instantly killing it. That was a major pain, given that the device I wanted to charge was very nearly flat at the time.

So cheap and cheerful is a bit of a route towards a low quality experience — but the gulf is massive. When Apple launched Lightning cables, they sold for $25.

Today, they sell for $25. It’s rather telling that you can get a 50cm Lightning cable for $25, or a 1m Lightning cable for the exact same $25. That’s the sign of a healthy profit margin, right there.

I really don’t get why Apple has priced Lightning this way for an entire year. Yes, when they’re brand new you can recoup some of the R&D costs in higher priced cables, but now Lightning sits across the entire iOS ecosystem. Lightning is very much Apple’s own baby, and it’s not as though buying a Lightning cable is going to enable you to rush out and plug it into a Galaxy S4 or Lumia 925.

Buying a Lightning cable is an implicit buy into Apple’s ecosystem. Buying a Lightning cable states that you’re interested in staying within Apple’s ecosystem. It’s essentially saying that you’re interested in giving Apple money for a wide range of products and services — so why slug the user upfront for the cost of the cable?

Yes, Apple’s own Lightning cables are better made than the knockoff versions. But when I can buy up to a dozen of the knockoffs for the price of a single official cable, there’s an incredibly strong incentive to do so, or to look at other alternatives that use less costly cables. Neither scenario is ideal for Apple; in the former I get annoyed because the cheap cables break, and in the latter, I look into Android, Windows Phone 8, Firefox or Blackberry.

It’s probably wildly optimistic to hope that if there is a launch of a “cheaper” iPhone in September that we’ll also see a drop in Lightning cable prices, isn’t it?