Last week at Apple’s yearly briefing for accessory makers in its Made-for-iPhone/iPad (MFi) licensing program, the company unveiled new Lightning connectors and specs for Lightning receptacles that will soon be available for implementation in MFi accessories. The new Lightning receptacle, scheduled to start shipping next year, will allow accessory makers to build new types of accessories that include a port for Apple’s proprietary Lightning connector previously reserved for its own iOS devices (pictured above).

The announcement was made during Apple’s MFi Summit in China that took place last week over the course of three days in Shenzhen, China. We previously reported that Apple planned to brief accessory manufacturers on HomeKit hardware, iBeacon, Apple’s new Lightning headphones spec, game controllers, and more.

Allowing accessory makers to build-in a Lightning port provides a number of benefits, according to manufacturers briefed during Apple’s MFi Summit. One of the biggest benefits is to reduce costs for manufacturers and simplify the product experience for users by using Lightning to provide power to both an accessory and the iOS device. Dock or battery case manufacturers, for example, would previously have to provide a separate USB cable and power supply to charge an accessory. Mophie’s battery pack iPhone case with integrated Lightning connector, for instance, currently comes with a micro USB cable for charging. With a built-in Lightning port, users could use an existing Lightning cable (the one that came with their iOS device) to charge the accessory.

Beats-lightningAnother area the Lightning port could come in handy is for Apple’s new Lightning headphone specs. We previously detailed the MFi specs that will allow accessory makers to build headphones using a Lightning connector opposed to the traditional 3.5mm headphone jack. In theory, a Lightning receptacle could allow for a pass through device for charging and listening with Lightning headphones simultaneously entirely over Lightning. It would also make for easy charging and cut down on costs for Bluetooth headphones rather than requiring USB and separate power supply.

The Lightning receptacle will arrive alongside a new Lightning connector (C68) that accessory makers say is a slimmed down, low profile version of previous implementations that can be used in a wide range of accessories from docks to form fitting cases. Apple has several variations of its Lightning connectors for use in accessories. The only one consumers ever see is the C48 connector (pictured right), which is only available for use in cables. For other accessories, however, Apple previously required a much bulkier solution than the C48 that paired with other components to provide more than just power to an accessory. The new connector will provide features other than just power in a much tighter package (around the same size as C48) than previous solutions. The result will be an easier implementation of Lightning connectors into accessories with a slimmer overall design, but no change for consumers in terms of compatibility since it’s just the housing and not the actual tip of the connector that is changing.

Apple plans to begin shipping the new Lightning connector and receptacle to accessory makers in early 2015. 

Back in September we reported that several accessory manufactures were meeting delays in the production of Lightning accessories due to a shortage of Lightning components coinciding with the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus launch.

Other news out of Apple’s MFi Summit last week in China: The company has now started accepting product plans for HomeKit, the new Siri-controlled home automation platform