Apple tweaks Lightning spec following Kickstarter project gone awry

Apple is changing its Lightning specification license to allow both the aged 30-pin adapter and the Lightning connector in a single accessory.

Josh Lowensohn Former Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
Josh Lowensohn
3 min read
Apple's Lightning cable, up close. Unlike with USB, there's no up or down to the plug.
Apple's Lightning cable, up close. Apple

Apple has changed course on a technical specification that recently put a third-party charging accessory out of luck.

The company today said it's now allowing its newer Lightning adapter specification to coexist with the older (yet still quite popular) 30-pin adapter in the same accessory.

"Our technical specifications provide clear guidelines for developing accessories and they are available to MFi licensees for free," Apple spokesman Tom Neumayr told CNET. "We support accessories that integrate USB and Lightning connectors, but there were technical issues that prevented accessories from integrating 30-pin and Lightning connectors so our guidelines did not allow this."

The company added that the guidelines have since been updated to allow accessories to work with both types of connectors to charge devices.

The change comes on the heels of controversy involving a Kickstarter project called POP, an accessory designed to charge multiple devices -- including ones that used both of Apple's charging specifications. Despite getting $139,170 in funding to go ahead with the project, its creator ran into an issue once it came time to build the device due to Apple's MFi license, which would not allow both charging specifications to be included without added hardware expense. That resulted in POP creator Jamie Siminoff announcing plans to refund money to the project's backers, at what he said would be a considerable expense.

"It's great news. It's crazy," Siminoff told CNET about the change. "If you had asked me yesterday morning 'what did we think was going to come out of this?' I wouldn't have even thought anybody -- not even a line-level employee -- would have seen this at Apple."

Siminoff said he plans to put the green light back on the POP, including reopening sales of the device, which were halted following the decision to issue refunds.

As to some of the considerable feedback about the ordeal being sidestepped by using USB and having customers use their own cables instead, Siminoff said that would defeat the main purpose of the product.

"There are lots of batteries and chargers out there that you can plug USB cables into, and I don't want to be another one of those. I wanted to do something different that was what we believed in," Siminoff said. "We're trying to create something that's a charging station that charges multiple devices, that is clean, that has retractable cord reels ... so the fact that people were just saying 'bring a Lightning adapter to it so I can plug it in,' sort of junks that up. It wasn't the vision."

Lightning is Apple's new plug technology, which replaces the 30-pin adapters that date back to early iPods. Its key benefit is the plug, which is 80 percent smaller than the previous connector. Users can also plug it in with either side up. The technology was first introduced in Apple's iPhone 5 and new iPods, and has since spread to the iPad and iPad Mini.

Updated at 3:15 p.m. PT with added comment from POP's creator.