I’ve never been the biggest Apple fan, as anyone who knows me and most of my articles will attest. As such, when I first heard of Apple’s switch to the the Lighting connector for its devices, I dismissed it as more of Apple’s proprietary nonsense. Reading Andreas’s great comparison article with microUSB cleared up some of Apple’s design choices, but I was still a bit perplexed by the idea that a reversible connector was that big of a deal. However, when my 32GB replacement Nexus 7 came in, I finally realized the actual significance of such a seemingly trivial thing, and am ready to admit that in at least one way Apple’s new connector is superior to Google’s standards-based setup.
The above image is a picture of my Nexus 4 and Nexus 7 stacked on top of each other, both with the displays facing up. As you can tell, the microUSB connectors are facing in opposite directions. Big deal, right? Well, while certainly not a deal breaker, this is quite annoying. I often try to plug in these devices without looking, and am actually used to turning the microUSB cable a certain direction for my Nexus 4. When trying to plug in the Nexus 7, I often get mixed up and try unsuccessfully to plug the connector in. This alone wouldn’t be a big deal either, as it is mere seconds of delay.
However, what really bothers me is that the backwards attempts can actually scratch up the area around the ports quite a bit, and sometimes do slight damage to the actual microUSB port on the phone. I’ve only had it happen once with my OG HTC EVO 4G, but microUSB ports do break. Ever since the EVO, I’ve learned to be extremely careful with plugging and unplugging devices, which makes the mismatched ports more time consuming and annoying.
In addition, the fact that the connectors face different directions on two of Google’s own devices makes it much harder to make universal accessories like desktop docks, a car dock, or really anything else that requires a cable to be plugged in. I’ve made several simple docks with a microUSB cable simply hot glued to a flat back, with an additional base to provide support. Back when I had lots of PMPs, it was actually a setup I used quite a lot. Unfortunately, although a setup like this would normally be universal because many devices use microUSB, the backwards facing connectors on the Nexus 4 and 7 mean that a dock for one will be useless for the other because it will face backwards.
I wouldn’t be as surprised if the discrepancy in port orientation came from two different manufacturers, but the two devices I have are the latest of the same family from Google. While it may seem very petty to complain about the orientation of a smartphone charger, I wanted to take this rare occasion to point out a time when I actually understand and support (at least partially) Apple’s choice in something. I would actually be quite happy if Lightning was in fact the standard instead of microUSB, but despite Lightning being “what microUSB should have been,” that will never happen. Instead, I’ll just have to wait and hope that with their next set of devices, Google can make something as simple as port orientation consistent. Unless there is a legitimate design reason why they physically can’t orient the ports a certain way, I don’t see why they should be different.