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Apple’s Smart Connector: What it is & what it means if it heads to the iPhone

Apple’s Smart Connector arrived with the 12.9-inch iPad Pro in September 2015 and although this is currently only applied to the iPad (including its newer 9.7-inch Pro model), rumors about its eventual appearance on the iPhone are gaining speed. In that regard, it’s time to get all iOS users up to speed on a piece of tech that could revolutionize Apple’s whole product line.

Like the MacBook’s Force Touch and the iPhone’s 3D Touch technology it very much feels like the Smart Connector’s potential is untapped on those devices so it’s likely we’ll see it roll out further at some point.

The Smart Connector has a simple but effective design

Hang on, what is it exactly?

It’s a new port that can transfer both data and power and it’s how the iPad Pro’s Smart Keyboard accessory connects to the iPad. Most device accessories connect via Bluetooth and not only can connections be spotty, but they require pairing, which, when multiple devices connect to multiple accessories, and especially when accessories connect to multiple devices, can be unreliable.

And in reality, if accessories like a keyboard are designed to be attached to a device during its use, what’s the purpose of wireless connectivity? Of course, a wired connection isn’t ideal either. The Smart Connector occupies this space. In the same way that USB ports connect accessories and devices, as well as powering them, so does the Smart Connector. However, the Connector magnetically attaches rather than being tethered to a device as it would be with USB.


Why is it so darn special?

This should make connecting accessories to devices far more reliable. While USB and Bluetooth are relatively prevalent technologies, neither were designed for an iPhone or iPad, or any of Apple’s products. Smart Connector has been designed by Apple, and accessory manufacturers will have to work with Apple’s tech which should ensure a vastly improved experience for users looking to extend the usefulness of their devices.

Most importantly, it means these accessories never need to be charged. Ensuring an iPad or iPhone (if the Smart Connector eventually arrives) has enough juice is a tricky enough task in itself, but making sure a third-party keyboard does too? Well, we’ve only got so many plugs in our house.

And you’re saying it will come to the iPhone?

It’s entirely possible. A couple of months back an image was leaked that purported to show a next-gen iPhone with a Smart Connector on the rear of the device. While we’ve since seen other leaked cases and rumors that don’t feature or mention Smart Connectors, it’s likely Apple has been thinking about it.

Could this be the next iPhone, complete with Smart Connector at the bottom?

Could this be the next iPhone, complete with Smart Connector at the bottom?

Also, Apple has an aversion to ports – particularly ones that it deems are lagging behind in their technical usefulness, for example, it removed the USB ports on the 12-inch MacBooks, or the likely removal of the headphone jack on the iPhone 7. Why would it add this new port to the iPad if its plans only extended to attached Smart Keyboards?

Based on the idea above that the technology has far from reached its full potential, and its availability to third-party developers, it’s likely we’ll see some huge innovations coming – especially if it hits the iPhone where the market is far bigger.

What might we see, then?

Waterproofing. We’ve heard a lot about waterproof and dustproof iPhones over the last couple of years. Many expected this would come in as part of a design overhaul for the forthcoming iPhone 7. However, it’s now more likely the next device will retain largely the same design, with the focus on waterproofing shifting back to the 2017 iPhone. As this is the tenth anniversary of the device Apple is clearly thinking this is the best time to completely overhaul the device. When it comes to waterproofing or dustproofing and iPhone one of the first things that’ll have to be overhauled is the Lightning port. The Smart Connector sure does ingress into the iPad far less and it transfers data and power too – just like the Lightning port. It doesn’t appear quite as powerful yet, but could the iPad be the testing ground before Apple rolls out the Smart Connector in a fully water and dust proof iPhone next year?

Would the Smart Connector help to waterproof the iPhone?

Would the Smart Connector help to waterproof the iPhone?

Docking stations. Speaking of charging, devices can connect to the Smart Connector while also charging the device, which means docking stations could make a return as a must-have accessory. But we’re not talking a simple charging or speaker-based system here. If Apple was trying to replace the laptop with the iPad Pro, might it also be enabling the iPhone as a go to device for all computing needs? A proper docking station that can keep the device powered, with a built in keyboard, perhaps even a larger screen, or other features like better speakers could utilize the Smart Connector to provide an all in one workstation dock for the iPhone.

Solving the headphone jack issue. The removal of the headphone jack on the next iPhone 7 has been well reported, but it hasn’t gone over well with users. It’s likely Apple would ship headphones with a new headphone jack-less device that have a Lightning connector too – of course, this would prevent users from simultaneously listening to music on their device and charging. But not if the Smart Connector became the focal charging method. This kind of magnetic charging would also be similar to how Apple charges its Apple Watch. While not quite wireless charging, it seems more intuitive than plugging in cables.

Would a Smart Connector solve the issue of simultaneous audio listening and charging if the headphone jack is removed?

Would a Smart Connector solve the issue of simultaneous audio listening and charging if the headphone jack is removed?

Magnetic cases. Not quite as exciting or progressive as the above, and the desire to use an iPhone-sized physical keyboard might not have a huge market, but a magnetic case for the iPhone would be welcomed by many users. Cases aren’t exactly easy to get on and off an iPhone, particularly charging cases. Considering the Smart Connector transfers power too, we could potentially see a new range of magnetic cases that are far sleeker, less bulky and more useful than any of their predecessors.

Well, all that sounds pretty cool

Doesn’t it just? The key thing here is that if this comes to the iPhone it has plenty of potential uses, which is important if the tech is to grow outside of the iPad, because currently, it doesn’t have a lot of functionality. Employing some of the purposes listed above would truly put the ‘Smart’ in Smart Connector.