iphone_4s

The iPhone 4S is unlike the iPhones that came after it. It features an all-glass casing instead of an aluminum- or plastic-dominated back. It’s incompatible with LTE networks. It’s the last iPhone to ship with a 3.5-inch display.

It’s also free with a two-year contract and, much to manufacturers’ chagrin, the only iPhone that still features a 30-pin dock connector. The “cheap iPhone” is here, and it’s going to wreak havoc on the accessory market for the next two years.

The 30-pin dock connector is a relic of a time when Apple products were compatible with practically any accessory on the market. Everything from late-model iPod Classics to the iPhone 4S used the dock connector, allowing accessory-makers to easily create new products.

And then Apple replaced the 30-pin dock connector with its Lightning connector with the iPhone 5. The decision was initially derided and then, because it allowed Apple to create a thinner and lighter device with a charging cable that owners wouldn’t have to fuss around with, grudgingly accepted.

The only problem was that all of the accessories designed to work with 30-pin dock connectors were now useless. Consumers were faced with two choices: They could either replace all of their accessories or purchase a new device that allowed Lightning-equipped products to work with accessories designed for the 30-pin dock connector. The ability to ship one product that would work with almost any Apple product was gone.

That could have changed earlier today. If Apple had announced that it would only sell the iPhone 5C and 5S — or, perhaps, kept the iPhone 5 around as well — every iPhone on the market would ship with a Lightning connector. Then, in a few years, most consumers would upgrade from the iPhone 4S and the 30-pin dock connector could be forgotten.

That didn’t happen. Now accessory-makers will either have to support two different connectors for at least another two years or abandon iPhone 4S owners. Neither option is likely to appeal to companies dependent on supporting a wide variety of devices.

[Image courtesy Wikimedia]