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USB-C – is the BEST way forward for iPhone 15?

Much has been said about the port at the bottom of your iPhone – is change coming, though?

USB-C port to replace lightning port?
image courtesy of author

The interview

USB-C , iPhone and its port – the conversation has been had a thousand times.

Last week, there were a lot of clickbait headlines, shouting that next year’s iPhone will be ditching its 12-year-old lightning port in favour of the newer, and faster USB-C port.

As it turns out, though, those attention-grabbing headlines may not be quite as transparent as you may have thought.

Change is coming

That much is true. It all stems back to a legislation coming in to play late next year, from the EU.

They have decided, that, for all applicable devices sold in the EU, from the fall of 2023, must be sold, with one, common charging port. They have decided that it will be in the favour of the consumer to have only a USB-C port on all new devices, and as such, would create less e-waste. So far, so good.

But two plus two, does not always equal four. It clearly does spell the end of the lightning port on iPhones, at least those sold in the EU, but it doesn’t mean that Apple have to ship iPhones from next year with a USB-C port either.

Let me explain.

The interview

In an interview with Joanna Stern of The Wall Street Journal, Greg ‘Joz’ Joswiack was asked directly if iPhone would be shipping with a USB-C port from next year. You can watch that interview in full here.

Bearing in mind, how many interviews he has carried out over the years, and how highly trained he is in these situations, his answer was, well, guarded. ‘Joz’ made it abundantly clear that he does not concur with the idea of governments interfering with company design decisions, but concluded by saying that “sure, we’ll have to comply to local laws.” From that, a slew of column inches were born stating, with certainty, that iPhone will ship with USB-C from next year. But…that is not what Joswiack actually said. He said, they’ll comply – that’s all.

To comply, means that new devices will have to meet the following criteria;

In so far as they are capable of being recharged via wired charging, the categories or classes of radio equipment referred to in point 1 letters a) to m) shall:
a) be equipped with the USB Type-C receptacle, as described in the standard EN IEC 62680-1-3:2021 Universal serial bus interfaces for data and power – Part 1-3: Common components – USB Type-C® Cable and Connector Specification’, which should remain accessible and operational at all times;’

and…

By the end of 2024, all mobile phones, tablets, and cameras sold in the EU will have to be equipped with a USB Type-C charging port. From spring 2026, the obligation will extend to laptops. The new law, adopted by plenary on Tuesday with 602 votes in favour, 13 against and 8 abstentions, is part of a broader EU effort to reduce e-waste and to empower consumers to make more sustainable choices.’

You can read the full document here.

But, clearly, what it does not state, and neither could it, is that iPhones in particular have to ship with a USB-C port. That was just the easiest, and quickest conclusion to reach. No, Apple has another option, and that is to ship a portless phone, which may well be their take on the latest ruling.

Ports age

If Apple is going to make a change, then they will clearly want to future-proof it as much as possible. And USB-C is not the answer.

As a rule, we don’t like change, and tend to be resistant to it. When the 30-pin adapter was dropped in favour of lightning, it was not a popular choice. I recall everyone moaning, myself included. We all had loads of the old cables knocking about, so why force this change on us? A valid enough question.

The answer offered up by Apple, at the time, was that it was smaller, more powerful and allowed more space inside the phone for batteries etc. And, of course, fairly soon, we adapted, and it became an accepted norm. What I didn’t realise until recently, though, was that this switch, was a very canny business move by Apple.

In the background, they had patented the lightning connector, meaning that if a company wanted to make a cable, or charger with a lightning adapter on it, you’d have to get it certified by Apple first. In what is called MFI (Made For iPhone), it means that companies would have to hand over 10% of all sales revenue to Apple, for use of their proprietary connector. Clever, huh – exactly what you’d expect, I guess. That program will have made them millions over the past, nigh on, decade, so no wonder they are sad to see its demise.

So, if you had ever wondered why a company, such as Apple, who pride themselves on being at the cutting edge of design and technology, fought so hard to continue with this old connector for so long, now you know.

It was fast in its time, but by today’s standards, it is not. To give you the numbers on transfer speeds today;

  • Lightning – 0.48 Gbs
  • USB-C (gen 1) – 5 Gbs
  • USB-C (gen 2) – 10 Gbs
  • Thunderbolt 4 /USB4 – 40 Gbs

And this is precisely what I meant, about ports dating quickly. Why would Apple bother with replacing the lightning port, with a USB-C port, which itself, is already dated? Surely, if they were to replace the incumbent port with anything, it would be the similarly sized Thunderbolt connector, right? As a sidebar, this is also why Greg Joswiack was right in his condemnation of governments telling tech companies what they have to do. If the EU wanted to make change for the better, and save e-waste, then they should have insisted on the Thunderbolt connector, moving forward. Or, told the tech space, you need a common charger, and let them figure it out.

So, what is the future, then?

Portless is the way forward

Subtly, over the past few years, Apple have been pushing us toward the idea of MagSafe charging. Take the latest AirPod Pro 2 for example. The only port is still lightning, but, you can now also charge via MagSafe. Of course, the same is true for iPhone as well.

Although the take-up of MagSafe may not have been as quick as Apple would have liked, they are in a good spot now to get it over the line. It is not hard to imagine that Apple will simply stop the inclusion of the lightning cable, in favour of a MagSafe one instead. And, this would absolutely follow the EU mandate, as they are not using a cable to charge at all. It’s quick enough as a charger, is universal across numerous devices, and, would also leave more space inside the phone too.

As an added sweet point, Apple could once again, beat the law, and happily thumb their nose at the EU. Apple 1 – The EU 0.

The switch will be slow

Even if Apple do follow this route, the switch can’t and won’t be quick. It is not only iPhone that is affected by this change. They still sell the magic mouse, keyboard, and AirPods Max with a lightning port. Somehow, they will have to start to engineer in MagSafe in to those devices as well.

Wrapping up

So, as I mentioned, change is coming, and at this point, that is all we know. Historically, Apple dislike to being boxed in to a corner and told what to do. They like to call the shots, and be in control.

Something tells me, that oddly, that against all odds, they will win this battle too.

Time will tell, I guess. What’s your thoughts?

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