A powerful yet sometimes overlooked feature of the iPhone is its Universal Serial Bus (USB) connectivity port. These days, most smartphones and many other mobile devices incorporate USB connectivity. But its utilization by Apple—a company known for its proprietary connectors—shows that they recognize the importance of this standard interface in modern mobile computing.
Apple’s decision to incorporate a USB interface on the iPhone (and iPod touch) makes it easier for third-party manufacturers and Apple to create accessories that enhance audio, video, power, data synchronization, and more. We haven’t yet seen an external keyboard for the iPhone, but it’s only a matter of time before one hits the market. And when it does, it will no doubt use a USB connection.
This article will give you a feel for the two major types of USB-enabled accessories available for the iPhone today.
USB connectivity accessories
Connectivity accessories allow you to transfer data to, or retrieve it from your iPhone via a cabled connection. The theoretical maximum speed of data transfer using the USB 2.0 specification is 480 Mbps, but real-world data transfer rates are usually much slower. In most cases, these accessories offer easier to use and/or more efficient alternatives to the accessories bundled with the iPhone. However, the first product mentioned in this section adds a capability that is not included in the box.
Apple Component AV Cable
Many people think this one should have been in the iPhone’s box; it’s one of the first accessories I advise any iPhone user to obtain. The Component AV Cable connects the iPhone or iPod to the video inputs on your TV, allowing you to show your videos to family and friends on the larger display. A USB power adapter is also included. It doesn’t give you DVD quality video, but it’s good enough to show brief segments of movies, television shows, personal clips, YouTube video, photos, and more. It lets you connect to almost any TV and turns the iPhone into a portable media center that fits in your pocket.
USB power accessories
Another reason for USB’s success is its ability to deliver power as well as data over a cabled connection. The iPhone ships with a USB cable that can be used for syncing and for charging when connected to a USB port or the Apple AC power adapter, which also ships with the iPhone. Other third-party options are available, which can charge the iPhone and other mobile devices with USB connectors. Below are a couple of examples.
Kensington 4-Port USB Charger for Mobile Devices
This well-constructed, compact adapter plugs into a standard power outlet and provides 4 USB ports for charging the iPhone, iPod touch, digital cameras, portable batteries, and other mobile devices that can be charged via a USB connection. This adapter should work with any device adhering to the USB power specification. This power adapter worked perfectly with all my USB devices. It’s an effective, inexpensive solution that reduces the number of power adapters you have to carry around when traveling. It also reduces clutter on your power strip.
JustMobile Gum Pro Portable USB Power Pack
Power adapters like the Kensington 4-Port Charger work well when a power outlet is available. Unfortunately, it’s sometimes hard to find one of those when you’re traveling. A number of third party developers offer battery packs for the iPhone, but many of those packs attach directly to the iPhone via the proprietary dock connector; they cannot be used to power other mobile devices. As with power adapters, it’s easier to travel with one portable battery that will work with multiple mobile devices.
The JustMobile Gum Pro is an external battery pack designed to deliver reserve power for the iPhone and any other USB-based device. The Gum Pro’s lithium ion battery is charged by connecting it to a USB port on your desktop or laptop computer. When fully charged it delivers 4,400 mAh of power through a standard USB cable to any USB-enabled mobile device. It’s great when you need a little bit more power to make another few phone calls at the end of the day, or to watch the end of that movie you’re watching on the iPhone.
Faster data and more efficient power
USB has permanently altered the mobile device landscape by providing a smarter and more universal approach to connectivity and power needs. In the process, it has encouraged the development of increasingly innovative and functional third-party solutions for the iPhone and other USB-enabled mobile devices.
The current version of USB is 2.0, but the 3.0 specification is being developed. With it, USB will offer even faster data rates and more efficient power options, ensuring that these familiar rectangular ports and plugs will continue to dominate the mobile device landscape for years to come.