Lightning has struck -- the JBL OnBeat Micro is the first speaker dock that fits the new generation of iPhone, iPad, iPad mini and iPod. JBL dropped by CNET Towers to not only show us the OnBeat in action but also give an insight into how Lightning works, and what it's like working with Apple.
The latest models of Apple kit sport a new 19-pin connector codenamed Lightning to charge your phone and play your music. Lightning replaces the larger 30-pin connector seen on all previous versions of the iPhone and iPad.
The reason it's taken so long for Lightning docks to arrive is that the changes are bigger than just making things smaller. Unlike the previous connector, Lightning doesn't carry an analogue signal, so when the signal comes out of your iPhone or MP3 player, it has to be converted in order to be played -- which means Lightning docks must contain a digital audio converter, or DAC. Many existing docks don't contain DACs, so it's more than simply a question of changing the plug on an existing design.
Apple's extreme secrecy makes it tough for accessory builders to get an early look at new kit. JBL first met the new Lightning dock 90 days before the iPhone 5 was announced, which is a relatively short time to produce a new product -- and sees the OnBeat cutting it very fine in terms of getting into stores for Christmas, given the fact that major shops decide their Christmas catalogues in summer.
The OnBeat Micro is a solid but compact little speaker pumping out 4W of tuneage. It comes with an app for volume control and mixing tunes, and boasts a flexible connector so there's less risk of snapping off the sticky-out bit if you wrench your phone as you dock or undock it.
As well as showing off a Lightning connector, the OnBeat Micro also works with older Apple devices -- and Android and other phones -- by plugging them into a USB connection hidden away at the back. OnBeat docks can also connect to other devices via Bluetooth.
JBL hasn't forgotten older devices, and will continue to make 30-pin docks "for years to come". But there are no plans for an adaptor to connect 30-pin to 19-pin: Apple's accessory licensing fees are just too steep to make them economically viable.
The OnBeat Micro is on sale on Monday and costs £80. It'll be followed by the larger OnBeat Venue LT, which fits the iPad.