The Lightning connector is necessary for charging an iPad and iPhone, but it can also be used to connect to microSD cards, flash drives, TVs, Ethernet networks, and more. We’ve compiled a list of the best accessories, add-ons, and adapters for Apple Lightning connector.
microSD Card Readers
The lack of a built-in memory card slot in Apple tablets and phones is seen as a significant flaw by many, but these people are probably not aware that a microSD card reader can be easily plugged in. These are available from a range of companies.
Each comes with its own file manager that enables users to fully access the contents of memory cards, as well as transfer files to and from an iPad or iPhone. Playing video or video stored on either is a snap.
The Apple Lightning to USB 3 Camera Adapter ($39.00) can be frustrating. It displays the images stored on a USB storage device, and can transfer them to iOS tablets and phones, but that’s it. No other types of files are accessible. (This adapter has other uses, though, so it will come back up in the Ethernet Adapters and USB Keyboards sections below.)
Fortunately, a number of companies make thumb drives that have both a regular USB Type-A connector as well as a Lightning connector, so these can be used with any iOS device, as well as a Windows or Android computer.
The SanDisk iXpand Flash Drive is small, supports USB 3.0, and is available in sizes from 16 GB ($39.99) to 256 GB ($199.99).
The Lexar JumpDrive C20i is both a flash drive and a short charging cable for Apple devices. Options range from 32 GB ($39.95) to 128 GB ($89.95). Lexar also makes the JumpDrive M20i, a more typical Lightning flash drive.
Like the microSD card readers, these flash drives have their own file managers, as iOS 10 doesn’t make one available to users.
HDMI/VGA Video Adapters
It’s quite possible to use an iPad or iPhone to give presentations. The Apple Digital AV Adapter ($49.00) allows an iOS device to connect to HDMI cables. The Apple Lightning to VGA Adapter ($49.00) is still around for those who must have this obsolete technology.
These can do screen mirroring, which is much more practical with an iPad than an iPhone, as the tablet screen is closer in shape to a TV or monitor. But no matter the device, videos played in Safari and many other applications will play full-screen through either of these adapters. However, they won’t play DRM-protected content, such as video streamed by Comcast’s software.
Both these adapters have Lightning ports, allowing the iPad or iPhone to charge while connected to the monitor to TV. Beyond that, the adapter itself needs power, so a charging cable must be plugged into this port for them to function.
A search for Lightning-enabled Ethernet adapters will turn up nothing, but there’s a combination that makes it possible to connect an iOS tablet or phone into a wired network: a standard USB Ethernet adapter can be plugged into the Apple Lightning to USB 3 Camera Adapter ($39.00), whose name does a poor job of describing all its functions.
TabletPCReview confirmed that this configuration works by testing it with an Apple USB Ethernet Adapter ($29.00) designed for Macs, but online reports indicate that many Ethernet adapters function equally well. No additional software or configuration is necessary to get a connection that’s faster and more secure than WiFi.
Apple’s USB 3.0 adapter has a Lightning port, so the tablet or phone is charging while connected to Ethernet. As with the AV Adapter, a charging cable must be plugged in for this USB 3.0 adapter to function.
iPad clip-on keyboards are very popular, but it’s sometimes convenient to be able to use any USB keyboard. This can be done with the poorly-named Apple Lightning to USB 3 Camera Adapter ($39.00). All that’s necessary is to plug the keyboard into Apple’s USB adapter to begin typing.
Again, a Lightning charge cable must be plugged into the USB adapter, which will also charge the iOS device.
Final Thoughts on the Lightning Port
Apple is often criticized for not including USB ports in its tablets and phones, but there were reasons for this decision beyond just collecting a licensing fee from accessory makers.
iOS is a simplified operating system, so there are many USB peripherals that couldn’t be controlled by an iPad or iPhone even if it had a USB port, such as mice and monitors. There would inevitably be confusion and complaints from users as to why they couldn’t use these accessories with their tablet or phone. As it is, any add-on that has a Lightning port can be used with any iOS device.
Plus, the reversible design of the Apple’s connector is superior to the micro-USB connector that was most commonly in use when Apple introduced Lightning in 2012.
USB-C is now in the process of adoption in the computer market, and it’s possible Apple will build this into future iPads and iPhones. There’s no guarantee, however, as this goes way beyond just switching out a piece of hardware. As discussed, it would require Apple’s tablets and phones to support a wider range of peripherals than they do now.