What if the next iPhone isn't designed to dock?

Updated 2012-08-29

Based on this rumor, it looks like my theory now has a name; "AirPlay Direct".

Original Post

Please note that the following is wildly speculative and almost certainly inaccurate.

Rumours of a resized 19-pin dock connector in the next iPhone have been flowing freely in recent months.

It has been suggested that this connection will break compatibility with the older 30-pin port, sending shocks through the iPhone accessory ecosystem and offering a form factor that I see as distinctly less dock-friendly.

So I pose this question; what if the next iPhone has not been designed with docking in mind?



The 30-pin Dock Connector made its first appearance on the 3rd generation iPod classic in 28 April 2003, over 9 year ago.

At the time it wasn’t viewed as particular revolutionary but a move from the ailing Firewire standard to USB 2.0, which at that point had reached mass-market adoption.

Reliable Wi-Fi networking had only just begun its rise into the general consumer market; however it was still seen as a premium feature. At the time wireless simply wasn't an option for an iPod-level device.

The ability of the standard 30-pin dock connector to drive the 3rd party Apple eco-system unfolded over the following years as Apple included it in successive generations of iDevices.


2012: Anywhere, any time and on any device

This brings us to 2012. With the creation of iCloud, iTunes Match and the proliferation of AirPlay Apple have created an eco-system where content is available "anywhere, any time and on any device".

In this new cloud-centric environment I propose that the concept of physically tethering devices together in order to create a connection feels nothing short of archaic.

So what if the next iPhone has not been designed with docking in mind? What if it has been designed to be a "wireless first" device?

That is, if you want to play music or video on a 3rd party speaker or screen, instead of physically docking your device you would AirPlay it.

How would it work?

Every device would need to be an Airplay target. Every speaker and every screen.

A number of wireless technologies could be behind the actual connection (e.g. local Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi direct or Bluetooth) with the iPhone automatically deciding on which technology best suites the situation, perhaps by using NFC to determine proximity.

What about charging?

Apple has a patent for an inductive charging dock. Inductive charging has its issues; however by layering the technology directly into the battery it’s possible to fit this capability into the iPhone chassis.

I would expect that some 3rd party docks would support an inductive charging bay as well as AirPlay capabilities. When you pick the phone up charging will stop but the music or video would continue to play.


The physical connection

There are instances where it’s desirable to play to a device and the overhead of setting up a local Wi-Fi isn’t preferable (e.g. playing a playlist from your device to a friend’s speakers).

This issue can be solved with NFC-enabling the AirPlay target (in a similar way to the Nokia Play 360 speakers).

A simple tap on the device automatically creates a Bluetooth connection between the devices and the currently playing content on the phone is outputted to the device.


Legacy compatibility

So what about the millions of legacy 3rd party docks that support the 30-pin dock connector?

I believe that Apple could release an inexpensive (i.e. <$99), Wi-Fi and NFC enabled device (think 6th gen iPod Nano) that turns any 3rd party 30-pin docking station into an AirPlay target, effectively kick-starting the next 10 years of Apple's 3rd party accessory eco-system.


But I still want to dock!

Well I still think it will be possible, to some extent. I just don’t believe physically docking is the experience that Apple will be designing for anymore.

It’s about business too

Although this move would obviously been a boon for Apple customers there is also a good business case for Apple to make this drastic move

With industry support solidifying behind Airplay alternatives (i.e. UPnP/DLNA) it’s not hard to imagine Apple’s 30-pin dock connector becoming obsolete as Wi-Fi chip prices decrease and more 3rd party accessories begin to support these alternative standards.

By removing the 30-pin dock connector Apple can aggressively push AirPlay into the market, guaranteeing Apple-centric 3rd party accessory support before competitive industry standards are able to take off