Bluetooth has been a big part of CES for the past few years. And now with the Near-Field Communications (NFC) standard becoming more popular, it's even more prevalent. But this year, it also seems as though Bluetooth has become somewhat of a big middle finger to Apple and its latest power connector change.
Last year, Apple surprised (perhaps annoyed is a more accurate term) the industry by switching to a new connector called Lightning for its latest iPhone and other "i" products. While the 8-pin connector is more compact than the previous 30-pin design, and includes advantages like the ability to plug in the device facing either way, this switch also effectively made every previous dock, charger, and other power-based accessories incompatible with the latest Apple devices.
Of course Apple offers an adapter that can be used between the old connector and the new device. But this adapter is 1) only sold by Apple for about $30; and 2) won't fit on some docks where the dock is recessed too far in.
Naturally, many manufacturers ended up with product that quickly became outdated. Some likely hadn't even had the chance to hit the market when Apple threw the companies for a loop by revealing the latest pin design. Partnering back up with Apple for the new 8-pin design, even for companies with existing relationships with the firm, requires a whole new certification process. Any Apple accessory, after all, has to be Apple-certified.
Could this be, in large part, why most audio companies we visited today were pushing portable speakers with Bluetooth capability versus ones that docked the iPad, iPhone, or iPod right on the units, an advantage that also allows for simultaneous charging? Is wireless just becoming a more sought after feature? Or perhaps NFC, which allows a user to touch a device to another to instantly pair, is encouraging consumers to move toward wireless for its convenience and cool factor, and thus leading to more wireless-based docks and portable speakers?
Regardless of the answer, Apple Lightning certainly isn't helping third-party manufacturers feel confident about developing Apple partner products. And while Bluetooth connectivity works just as easily, if not more easily, with the iPhone, iPad, and iTouch then docks that physically connect to the devices, it also opens the door for more "universal" docks that work just as simply with Android, Windows, and even BlackBerry devices. In that respect, switching the physical connector may end up hurting Apple more than it does helping. Really, the docks of tomorrow will be cleanly-designed units without connectors of any kind. And the talks of 30-pin versus 8; at least in the audio accessory world; will be deemed irrelevant.