Like everyone that backed the Elevation Dock and then received their unit right before getting the new iPhone 5, I’ve been looking forward to a solution for the new Lightning connector. Now, I’m not one of those who were particularly miffed by the new connector. In fact, I think the connector is a big enough improvement to warrant the pain of transition. Even better is the fact that it doesn’t have an orientation—a lovely thing indeed compared to Micro-USB which I’ve tried and almost succeeded in connecting the wrong way on many an occasion. No, the only frustration for me is that I really wanted to use my new dock with my new iPhone instead of relegating it to simply being a paper weight.
Enter Mike Hellers who worked out an adapter design which can be printed with a 3D printer. He made it available on Thingaverse. If you don’t have a 3D printer—I don’t (yet)—you can get it printed by Shapeways for less than $5. Of course, you’ll pay another $10 in shipping and handling to get it delivered to you, but for less than $15 bucks, I figured I’d take the plunge and order one up to see how well it worked.
Between when I ordered it and it’s arrival, Matt Haughey and Michael Buffington cooked up a few improvements of their own—Michael has a Makerbot and didn’t have to wait for a print to ship. Looking at their improvements yesterday, I was a bit skeptical that the part I had on the way would be a good solution. It turns out that my worry was unfounded. The part arrived via UPS this morning and, after a few minutes of experimentation, I had everything working just fine.
The biggest thing I noted is that the part is obviously designed to be inserted into the Elevation dock from the bottom. You can see this in Mike Heller’s blog post about it. However, I found that orientation didn’t give quite enough exposure for the Lightning connector in my dock and forced a bend in the cable that was a lot more severe than I liked. So, after checking all the possible orientations, I put in the adapter in from the top of the dock. Here’s a close up view:
The result works quite nicely. There’s a nice surface for the phone to sit against and the orientation of the adapter gives the cable just a bit more room to make the tight bend needed inside the dock. It’s still a bit tighter than I’d like, but it works. The only real downside is that since the Lightning connector isn’t zero-friction, you need to put your hand on the base when removing the iPhone. If you have an Elevation dock with the audio out hardware, you’ll also loose out on that as well. Not much that can be done about right now, however.
On a side note, I’m actually a bit surprised that Apple seems to have walked away from docks. I like using them at home both with my iPhone and iPad—despite the fact that the iPad dock doesn’t let go of the iPad at all well. I find it much nicer to have my devices charging in a dock than to have them scattered willy-nilly across the table next to my bed. But, like cases, what Apple ignores becomes a third-party opportunity.
So, if you have an Elevation dock, should you run right out and buy this adapter from Shapeways? That’s up to you. Casey Hopkins—the dock’s designer—has posted a photo of his clamping metal mount and has said on Facebook that they’ll be available in the next two weeks for less than $15. Given that a clamped connection will almost certainly be more secure, it might be a better solution in the long term. On the other hand, this solution seems to work pretty well. I’m definitely happy with it.