According to Brockerhoff, the ‘adaptive’ nature of the connector enables it to sense the kind of devices that are connected to the handset and using the embedded chips, it can assign pin functionalities depending upon requirement. Brockerhoff has explained the working of the lightning connector in detail on his blog.
Brockerhoff notes, “The device watches for a momentary short on all pins (by the leading edge of the plug) to detect plug insertion/removal. The pins on the plug are deactivated until after the plug is fully inserted, when a wake-up signal on one of the pins cues the chip inside the plug. This avoids any shorting hazard while the plug isn’t inside the connector.”
The developer further explains, “The controller/driver chip tells the device what type it is, and for cases like the Lightning-to-USB cable whether a charger (that sends power) or a device (that needs power) is on the other end. The device can then switch the other pins between the SoC’s data lines or the power circuitry, as needed in each case. Once everything is properly set up, the controller/driver chip gets digital signals from the SoC and converts them – via serial/parallel, ADC/DAC, differential drivers or whatever – to whatever is needed by the interface on the other end of the adapter or cable. It could even re-encode these signals to some other format to use fewer wires, gain noise-immunity or whatever, and re-decode them on the other end; it’s all flexible. It could even convert to optical.”
According to Peter Bradstock from Double Helix Cables, the lightning connector, “features an adaptive interface that uses only the signals that each accessory requires.” Bradstock noted in his email to Apple Insider that Apple has ensured that the connector can also be used in a reversible manner and can be plugged into the iPhone 5 in either orientation.