9to5Mac today reported, and The Verge has independently verified, that Apple is planning to adopt a new Ultra Accessory Connector (UAC) for its Made for iPhone accessories program â€” though itâ€™s actually just a new application for an old plug, and its goal isnâ€™t to compete with Lightning or USB-C, but to make them work better together.
The new-old connector is the same 8-pin plug you might have seen (and probably ignored) with your Nikon camera. People familiar with Appleâ€™s plans tell us that the company has no intention to replace Lightning or install this as a new jack on iPhones or iPads. Instead, UAC will be used as an intermediary in headphone cables.
At present, a pair of Lightning headphones canâ€™t be made cross-compatible with USB-C devices, and equally, USB-C headphones only work with USB-C audio sources. But if you insert UAC in the middle, youâ€™ll be able to swap between Lightning-to-UAC and USB-C-to-UAC cables with the same pair of headphones, allowing you (admittedly with the help of a couple more dongles) to switch between the various connectors on the fly. UAC will make it possible for your headphonesâ€™ firmware to adjust on the fly, recognizing whether itâ€™s receiving audio from a Lightning or USB-C connection and playing it back appropriately.
If this sounds like an incredibly laborious way to recreate the convenience of the old and familiar analog headphone jack, thatâ€™s because it is. But given the fragmented, dongle-rich situation we now find ourselves in (more and more Android flagship phones are expected to start shipping without a 3.5mm jack), itâ€™s a solution to a real problem.
For headphone manufacturers, the Made for iPhone standardization means they have a fixed and certain spec to work with (which has been available for all MFi program licensees for a couple of months), and it should be trivial to adapt the existing 8-pin technology to their purposes. At least one headphone company is already planning UAC products for this summer. Thereâ€™s no reason why this should be tied down to just headphone cables, but its most immediate and useful application is indeed in making them work better across a wider variety of devices. You know, the way things used to be.