(Updated to include information from Ars Technica saying the “new port” has actually been around for awhile. Details at the bottom of the page.)
A report on Monday indicates Apple is working on a new “Ultra Accessory Connector” to be built into headphones and headsets for certification under its “Made for iPhone” certification program.
Measuring in at 2.05mm by 4.85mm at the tip, the 8-pin connector is slightly less thick than USB-C, and near half as wide as both USB-C and Lightning. The space-saving connector is similar in shape to ultra mini USB connectors on the market that are often bundled as proprietary cables with accessories (like the one pictured below).
Apple’s Made for iPhone specifications for the Ultra Accessory Connector (UAC) indicate it is for use with headphone cables. Accessory makers will be able to manufacture Lightning to UAC, USB-A to UAC, and 3.5mm jack to UAC cables, which will connect to a UAC port on an accessory for charging and audio uses.
Whether or not Apple will adopt the Ultra Accessory Connector beyond use with headset remains to be seen. The specs are currently being offered to manufacturers as part of a developer preview. Apple introduces MFi changes via the developer program in order to prepare manufacturers for the adoption of new specs and hardware prior to making the components widely available for use in products.
The decision to introduce the Ultra Accessory Connector for use one MFi-certified accessories instead of Lightning or USB-C connectors could be considered a somewhat odd move for a company that has faced criticism over the switch to USB-C ports on its most recent MacBook lineup.
UPDATE – 02/07/17 9:20 AM CT:
From an Ars Technica post:
A 9to5Mac report making the rounds today claims that Apple would be adding support for a new connector to its “Made For iPhone” accessory licensing program. Dubbed the “Ultra Accessory Connector” or “UAC” in Apple’s documentation, the report claims this is a new port, smaller than Lightning or USB-C, that could be used to charge devices or transfer data.
In reality, the UAC is just Apple’s name for a port that is already used in some digital cameras and other accessories—Apple has just given it a new moniker. Currently, it goes by a few different titles: Mitsumi calls it an “Ultra Mini Connector” and Nikon calls it a “UC-E6” cable. In any case, it appears to be just another connector for the regular-old USB spec. When contacted for comment, Apple told us that it was adding the port to the MFi program at the request of licensees, not because it’s trying to push licensees to support a new kind of connector.