Will Apple ditch the Lightning port in favour of USB-C for the iPhone 14?

Company aims to address environmental concerns and cost reductions, as well as avoid legal troubles

Apple is considering using a USB-C port rather than Lightning to charge the iPhone 14, according to a report. It could be the biggest shift for the world's most valuable company's flagship product.

Apple tipster LeaksApplePro details three reasons why Apple is said to be considering the change — faster transfer speeds, environmental concerns and trying to avoid legal troubles, particularly with the European Union, which in September pushed for a common charger for technology devices.

“Much has been said about the iPhone 14, and its release is not even close, but I have received new information that Apple could bring something to the iPhone that many people, myself included, have wanted for years. I am talking about USB-C,” LeaksApplePro said, citing “several sources familiar with the matter".

Apple does not comment on rumours or speculation.

A shift to a USB-C port would once again upend the Apple user base, rendering all Lightning charging equipment for iPhones obsolete in an instant, and could be reminiscent of 2016's iPhone 7, in which Apple controversially removed the 3.5mm audio port in favour of headsets using its proprietary Lightning technology.

Quote
With more and more devices, more and more chargers are sold that are not interchangeable or not necessary. We're putting an end to that
Thierry Breton, European Commissioner for the Internal Market

On September 23, the EU said it wanted a single type of charging port to be used for all devices, with USB-C as its choice. It released draft rules, which were also aimed at reducing waste and simplifying life for those who own multiple devices.

“With more and more devices, more and more chargers are sold that are not interchangeable or not necessary,” Thierry Breton, European commissioner for the Internal Market, said at the time. “We are putting an end to that.”

Apple opposes a standard connector, arguing it risks hurting innovation that can bring more energy-efficient products to the market.

Apple said at the time that it is “concerned that strict regulation mandating just one type of connector stifles innovation rather than encouraging it”, and that it “deeply cares about the customer experience” and shares the commission’s “commitment to protecting the environment”.

Faster charging and transfer speeds

The Apple Inc. iPhone 8, Airpods, and Apple Watch sit on the AirPower charger during an event at the Steve Jobs Theater in Cupertino, California, U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017. Apple Inc. unveiled its most important new iPhone for years to take on growing competition from Samsung Electronics Co., Google and a host of Chinese smartphone makers. The device, coming a decade after the original model, is Apple's first major redesign since 2014 and represents a significant upgrade to the iPhone 7 line. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Apple's Lightning technology supports up to 12 watts of power, while USB-C can go up at 100W, bringing in more power in a shorter period of time to devices.

The bigger advantage would be when it comes to transferring data: Lightning ports are limited at only 480Mbps (60MBps), while USB-C is up to 10 times faster than that at 5Gbps (625MBps).

This makes sense for iPhones, which now have support for ProRes video, a format that enables multistream and real-time editing performance while delivering professional image quality. This naturally means bigger file sizes are expected.

“Let’s say I record two hours of raw 4K ProRes video. That’s a 720GB file. Imagine I want to transfer that file to my computer via a Lightning cable. I would have to wait three hours and 45 minutes. However, if my iPhone has USB-C with USB 4 technology, as found in the new iPad Pro, I would have to wait two minutes and 38 seconds to transfer that same file to my computer,” LeaksApplePro said.

The argument that comes into play here is if Apple truly wants to make its iPhone Pros really perform like “pros”, it should utilise USB-C ports to maximise its performance. USB-C-equipped iPads already have this advantage, so it makes sense to use this on iPhones and make the ecosystem more seamless.

Apple also added MagSafe charging from the iPhone 12 series — another option, albeit a slower one.

Legal ramifications

Apple and technology companies have been in the firing line of regulators who are seeking legislation to control the growing electronic waste mountain. The EU is leading the way with this and the US government is also expected to weigh in on the issue.

Non-compliance can potentially give companies a headache on two fronts: on the legal side, technology companies already facing antitrust probes won't need any more of these. On the financial side, it may be better to invest in shifting to USB-C ports instead of having to pay fines. Either way, a prolonged legal battle will not be in the best interest of Big Tech.

Environment and cost concerns

Last month, Recycling Magazine estimated that the world's waste electronic and electrical equipment will total 57.4 million tonnes in 2021 — more than the total weight of the Great Wall of China, considered the Earth’s heaviest artificial object.

Apple made a move to address this concern by removing charging blocks and EarPods headsets from iPhone 12 boxes last year. The company said at the time that “these changes will cut over 2 million metric tonnes of carbon emissions annually, equivalent to removing nearly 450,000 cars from the road per year".

This leads directly to another advantage Apple could be considering: saving on production costs. The removal of the charging blocks and EarPods allowed Apple to maintain its selling price for its iPhones. For context, a standard charging block and EarPods cost Dh79 each on Apple.

It's just convenient

Another important reason to make the case for USB-C ports is that they are so ubiquitous it just makes sense for Apple to shift gears and use them. Don't forget, the port's also reversible — no more having to guess which way you need to plug it in. It is arguably the de facto standard today, and could be the future of cable connectivity, at least for the foreseeable future.

The Lightning connector was introduced in 2012 on the iPhone 5, as well as on a couple of iPods and iPads, replacing the previous 30-pin dock connector. After that, Apple products relied on the port — until 2018's third-generation iPad Pro, which, for the first time, used a USB-C port.

The latest iPad Pro, iPad Air and iPad mini use the USB-C port, while the standard iPad model, now in its ninth generation, still uses Lightning.

Last week, a fully-functional iPhone X with a USB-C port, created by robotics engineering student Ken Pillonel, was sold for $86,001 on eBay.

Updated: November 21st 2021, 1:34 PM
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