What's happened to FireWire?

Like many others, the purchase of a new iPhone 3g has rendered many of the iPod accessories obsolete.  The biggest surprise for me is that Apple’s own iPod dock, which was purchased with my 4g iPod, won’t charge my new iPhone.  There was talk of Apple changing the charging mechanism, but I refused to believe they would make one of their own accessories, albeit an old one, obsolete.

Firewire, last seen 2007

The technical reason for the dock not charging my shiny new iPhone is that Apple decided to change the method of charging to USB only.  Previously, charging could take place via either USB or FireWire.  Effectively, this means that instead of accepting a charge through either of two pins on the dock connector, it will not only accept a charge through one.  There are some more technical (read:  boring) explanations that go on about voltages and such like, but that’s not really important.  What is important is that Apple seems to be abandoning FireWire, a technology it’s championed for a number of years, in its consumer products.

Firewire was a key part of the original iPod launch

Let’s step back a few years, 7 in fact, all the way back to 2001 and the introduction of the original iPod.  Steve Jobs, in the presentation he gave to the media stated that there were 3 breakthroughs that enabled the first iPod to exist.  Miniature, high capacity hard drives, FireWire and a 10 hour battery life.  You can watch the original iPod launch here.  If you watch that original presentation, you’ll note that FireWire was a massive part of of Apple’s initial iPod strategy.

So what does this mean to you?  Frankly, you’re missing out on a very capable bit of technology.  Apple hasn’t bundled FireWire cables with its iPods for some time now, but then they did, it was a selling point.  Consider that the theoretical maximum transfer speed of USB 2.0 is 480MB/sec while the maximum speed of FireWire is “only” 400MB/sec, you may be wondering why.  Yet a conversation with anyone who’s done any sort of serious data transfer will tell you that FireWire is far faster than USB, and tends to be more stable.  There’s also the faster FireWire 800, widens the gap even further.  using FireWire could drastically cut down the amount of time it takes to sync your device with your iTunes library (ignore the figures in the linked video, Steve Jobs is referring to the much slower USB 1).

So where has FireWire gone?  It’s still to be found on all Macs, and many multimedia focused devices, and storage solutions tout it as a selling point.  So it’s still being used.  It may just be that it’s going in the same direction as Unix, it’s becoming a tool you use for a specific purpose, a purpose you’re unlikely to want to fulfill in the home.  It’s also possible that Apple omitted FireWire from the iPhone 3g because they needed to shave a few millimeters off the size, or couldn’t find a suitable mobile chip that supported it, after all, I can’t think of any other mobile phones that support FireWire, maybe there simply isn’t a market.

I just find it remarkable that a technology that helped to sell the original iPod has now been completely removed from it’s latest incarnation (assuming Steve Jobs’s line about iPhone being the best iPod ever).

Photo by Jimmyroq.