Have you ever heard the term “lightning cable,” but you are not sure what it is used for? Well, for starters, it’s got nothing to do with naturally occurring weather conditions. Lightning cables are simply USB 2.0 cables that connect your iPhone, iPad or iPod to your computer’s USB port or outlet adapter for syncing and charging.
Lightning cables replaced the 30-pin dock connectors used by older generations of Apple products, and instead have only eight signal pins. This decrease in size helps to support Apple’s preference in developing super-slim devices such as the iPhone 5 and iPhone 6. It’s only slightly bigger than a standard micro-USB connector.
Despite the fact that it’s 80% smaller than the older model, it’s sturdier and more durable. One of the other great aspects is that unlike the older cables, lightning cables are reversible. There’s no right or wrong way to plug it into your device (upside down or downside up). According to Apple, it’s an all-digital, eight-signal design that adapts to what the signals need to be for the accessory you’re connected to.
Presumably for cost reasons, lightning is based on USB 2.0, not the faster 3.0 or Thunderbolt cables. However, it wouldn’t require much extra engineering to get USB 3.0 down there, and Apple also has promised Lightning-to-HDMI and Lightning-to-VGA cables for the future.
While you won’t be able to plug it directly into anything that requires a 30-pin connector, there are adapters available that convert a 30-pin connector to a Lightning connector. The adapter supplies the user with support for analog audio output, USB audio, as well as syncing and charging.
However, the adapter doesn’t support video output, and not all 30-pin devices will be supported. New accessories may still have to be purchased to use with the iPhone 5 and 2012 iPods or later models.
Finally, the iPod Out feature, which gives certain devices such as car stereos iPod-like navigation of your music collection, is not supported. The adapter is fairly large as well, so any accessories that fit around the device likely won’t work.