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Questionable leaks raise hopes that Apple will release new Lightning cable with reversible USB connector

Photo via Sonny Dickson.

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Reversible male "Type-A" USB plugs are not new, but they also aren't compliant with the cable's official specifications, which means that newly leaked Lightning cables showing reversible USB connectors probably were not made by Apple.

Over the last week, a number of new cables showing reversible plugs on both ends —  Lightning and USB Type-A —  have surfaced online. These have been accompanied by claims that the cables were made by Apple and will be unveiled alongside the "iPhone 6."

Knock-off Lightning cables and unauthorized reversible USB Type-A plugs are not new. These "leaks" may be an example of both.

Of course, knock-off Apple cables are nothing new, and manufacturers were quick to reverse engineer the Lightning standard shortly after it launched in 2012. Unauthorized Lightning cables, many of which could easily be mistaken for Apple-made plugs, quickly flooded the market.

One of the key selling points of the switch from the legacy 30-pin connector to Apple's new Lightning standard was reversible plugs. While 30-pin needed to be inserted in a specific direction, Lightning works from either side, making it easier for users to quickly plug in to charge and sync their iPhone, iPad or otherwise.

But while the Lightning connector is reversible, the USB connector on the other side of the cable is not. This is the legacy "Type-A" connector approved by the USB Compliance Committee, the group that sets the official standards for USB-authorized cables and accessories.

The fact that the committee has not authorized reversible Type-A USB plugs hasn't stopped cable makers from selling such products for years. For example, Tripp-Lite sells an entire range of accessories with reversible USB Type-A plugs, featuring connections to micro USB, mini USB, and even another reversible USB Type-A plug.

Last week, a number of leaks online showed a new Lightning cable with a reversible USB Type-A port. Most notably, Sonny Dickson posted pictures and video to his Twitter account showing what appear to be functioning Lightning cables with USB Type-A plugs that can be inserted into a computer or wall charging adapter in either direction.

However, there's been no indication that the USB Compliance Committee has given the greenlight to reversible USB Type-A plugs. That would mean that if Apple were to make such plugs, it might not be able to certify them as compliant with the USB standard.

The USB Compliance Committee does have a new forthcoming connector that is, in fact, reversible: USB Type-C. But the new, smaller connector features an entirely new form factor, unlike the reversible Type-A plugs shown by Dickson and others.

The specifications for USB Type-C are noteworthy because they do not specify which type of plug must be on each end of a cable. That means that authorized Type-C to Type-C cables, or even Type-C to Lightning connectors, could become a reality, setting the stage for the USB Type-A plug to begin to fade away.

Of course, that would require entirely new laptops and wall adapters with USB Type-C female capability, and that kind of transition will take time. In the interim, Apple fans are excited about the possibility of a reversible version of the traditional USB Type-A plug.

Whether the recently pictured parts are knock-off Lightning accessories made by unauthorized third-party cable makers, or if Apple really is planning to redefine the USB Type-A spec, the mystery should be settled soon enough: The company is expected to hold a media event on Sept. 9 to unveil its next-generation iPhone, and any potential changes to its Lightning-to-USB cables would likely be unveiled at that event.