Winter Is Coming: The Great iPhone Cable Shortage Of 2012

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How many iOS charger cables do you own? You know, the 30-pin connector that’s been packaged alongside every iPod, iPhone and iPad for as long as I can remember. Personally, I own seven. Each of my friends and colleagues has (at the very least) more than one of these wires. Essentially, if you’ve owned an iThing for more than a few months, especially an iPhone, you probably own more than one cable, too.

But the next-gen iPhone, and its 8-pin mini port, will change more than the iThing accessories industry. Sure, there are millions of docks, charging cases, etc. that will have trouble with this transition. But Apple will no doubt sell a connector for backwards compatibility, probably for around $30. This will cause some confusion with people less well-versed in technology, and it will probably take a couple years to get back to cable/dock ubiquity.

Remember the shift from serial ports to USB ports in computers? That mess took more than a decade to get settled, and PCs shipped with serial ports for a few years after USB was implemented as an industry standard. It’ll be a long road ahead.

But the real issue isn’t the accessories ecosystem, it’s the ubiquity of the current iCable model.

Think of it this way. Last we heard, Apple had sold 167 million iDevices in the U.S., including the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch. For the record, that’s about half of the U.S. population. Globally, the company has sold over 365 million iThings. And those are just devices. Now consider the fact that most of those iDevice owners have multiple cables, and that many of them are repeat customers, meaning they have one for each iThing they’ve purchased.

That is a lot of charging cables. And the kicker is that we’ve grown accustomed to this lifestyle. Forgot your charger? No worries. Your friend has one at his house, or your mom has one in her car. Hell, the waitress at the restaurant probably has one.

The other night, I was at dinner with a few friends. One of them reached for his phone, held it out to the waitress, and asked that she plug it in. It wasn’t attached to a charger, but it was an iPhone. To my surprise, she took the phone and plugged it in near the kitchen — an iPhone charger was already ready and waiting for a device to charge.

When the new iPhone launches, there will probably be millions of new iPhone owners in the U.S. within the first few weeks. But for each owner, there will be only one cable. Granted, that little white block that plugs into the wall with a USB port will still work with your new cable, but all your old cables instantly become useless with the new iPhone.

Losing your new 8-pin cable is out of the question, unless you’re clever enough to stock up on iPhone day. Proud fanbois will need to undergo a pretty major adjustment in their mindset, being ever-mindful of their bat-life situation, and remembering to bring a charger with them everywhere.

Remember, the iPhone 4S had some pretty nasty battery life issues, so it’s just plain foolish to think the next iPhone will be any better. In fact, we’ve learned that the iPhone 5 will only get a 10mAh boost from the iPhone 4S battery, at 1440mAh. That’s less than half of the 3300mAh battery in the Droid Razr Maxx, the current heavyweight champion of smartphone batteries.

Then let’s weigh in new Siri capabilities — hopefully the personal assistant will actually be useful, and thus used, this time around. Add to that a 4G LTE radio, which will most certainly be present in the next iPhone, along with more energy efficient tech like NFC and Bluetooth 4, and what are you left with? Really shitty battery life.

But when you’re out in the world, having dinner at a friend’s house, that familiar little white wire probably won’t be there for you anymore. You didn’t think to bring your own cable because you rarely ever had to. And while all your friends are tweeting, Instagramming, and being generally merry, you’ll be staring into your brand new iPhone watching that spinning wheel of death expel the final breaths from your precious.

It sounds like a first world problem. And it is. But I can assure you of this: A month after the iPhone launches, once battery life really begins to wear on people, the number of new iPhone owners will be far greater than one percent.