Alongside the iPad Pro last November, Apple introduced a new connectivity option for users with the Smart Connector. Originally, Apple only touted the connection as being good for easily pairing things like keyboards to the iPad. We’ve since learned a little more about the capabilities of the three-pin connection, but overarching details are still vague.
Last month, I had the chance to try out the LOGI Base dock with Smart Connector support. Prior to using it, I was totally unaware that the Smart Connector was capable of charging the iPad Pro, albeit it at a slightly slower pace. Using the LOGI Base, however, intrigued me. What are the actual capabilities of Smart Connector?
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Using the LOGI Base I learned that Smart Connector is capable of charging the iPad Pro, freeing up the Lightning connector for other uses like charging the Apple Pencil. For a device that carries the “Pro” name, the ability to free up a connector is useful for people actually trying to use the device to its full potential.
In March, Apple unveiled a refreshed line of Lightning accessories, including a new USB Camera Adapter that allows users to connect things like microphones and supports USB 3.0, new Lightning SD Card Reader adapter. With power capable of passing through the Smart Connector, a true Pro user is able to charge their iPad Pro through the Smart Connector and have accessories connected via the Lightning port for things like podcasting.
The issue with the Smart Connector is that not many accessory companies are taking advantage of the new technology yet. In fact, Logitech is the only company to have released third-party Smart Connector-enabled accessories: its CREATE keyboard and LOGI Base charging dock. This begs the question of just what exactly the process is for third-party accessory makers to use the Smart Connector.
When Logitech announced its first Smart Connector accessory last year, the company said it had worked with Apple on implementing the capability. Does this mean that every accessory maker that wants to offer Smart Connector compatibility has to work with Apple closely on the process?
If that is the case, then there are a variety of issues. For one, Apple has the ability to play favorites. If Apple doesn’t want to work with a specific manufacturer, then the company doesn’t have to. And that may very well be the reason why the only Smart Connector accessories we’ve seen to date are from Apple itself and Logitech. Additionally, Apple working individually with every accessory maker means it will take longer than necessary to build up a strong Smart Connector accessory market.
Apple doesn’t list details about creating Smart Connector accessories on its MFi Program webpage either.
Apple is likely taking a cut of every Smart Connector accessory Logitech sells. Apple does the same for products with MFi branding, but there’s a difference. Accessory makers can choose to either be a part of the MFi Program or create unlicensed aftermarket accessories that may not work as reliably and aren’t sold in stores like Best Buy and Apple’s own retail locations. With Smart Connector, however, there are alternatives.
For instance, I’ve been trying out the ZAGG Folio keyboard case for iPad Pro for the last week. Like most iPad keyboard cases we’ve seen, it connects via Bluetooth, not Smart Connector. So, instead of working with Apple and giving the company a cut of sales, ZAGG took the traditional route and made a generic Bluetooth keyboard case for iPad Pro. And until Apple and accessory makers start to work together, that’s what we’re going to be looking at for a long time to come.
Apple needs to work to make Smart Connector accessories more prolific for its iPad Pro devices. While understandably the market for Smart Connector accessories is not as large as the market for traditional Lightning or Bluetooth accessories at this point, it’s a market that needs to be satisfied. The fact is, we’re seven months out from the initial iPad Pro launch and the accessory market is still stagnant.
Personally I have a feeling this could change if the iPhone 7 ‘Pro’ that has been rumored actually features Smart Connectivity support like reports have claimed. But the situation needs to change with the iPad Pro models, regardless.
In the time I’ve spent with Smart Connector accessories, I’ve been very impressed. It offers an incredibly seamless way to quickly pair accessories to the iPad Pro and keep them charged, unlike Bluetooth accessories. The ultimate issue, though, is that accessory makers and Apple aren’t working together well enough to create a thriving market of accessories like with other parts of the MFi Program.
Another benefit of the Smart Connector is that it can improve over time. A patent filed by Apple earlier this year hinted at what could be a second generation Smart Connector for iPad, iPhone, and Mac. The patent hinted that in addition to charging via the Smart Connector, there could also be an inductive charging component.
There’s no denying that Smart Connector accessories can be far more seamless than Bluetooth accessories and open up a wide variety of opportunities for users to get the most out of their devices. The issue, however, is that accessory makers and Apple aren’t working together well enough to create options for iPad Pro users. This is something that I hope changes sooner rather than later, but we’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime, let us know in the comments how you would like to see accessory makers take advantage of the Smart Connector.