Is it really time to ring the death knell for Apple’s Lightning connector, just five years after the plug was released? The Wall Street Journal seems to think so, but is it really a good idea? Despite the outcry many of you will join in against eliminating this jack too soon, there are some possible benefits to be reaped in switching from the Lightning port to a USB-C connector.
Is Apple Really Going to Do This?
Bear in mind, this is all speculation for the time being. The Wall Street Journal released what seemed to be a rather hastily-written paragraph hinting at the change from Lightning to USB-C, as Bryan Wolfe reported on Feb. 28, 2017.
Why Wouldn’t Apple Ditch the Lightning Port?
Let’s look first at the reasons Apple might keep the Lightning port around. Cupertino maintained the 30-pin Dock Connector on its portable devices for nine years, beginning with the third-generation iPod in 2003. Five years ago, we were introduced to the Lightning port, a narrower and thinner connection that was reversible, so you couldn’t accidentally plug it in the wrong way. This shift took some getting used to, many people whined and cried about their accessories and chargers not working anymore, and hotels around the world still have clock radios with Dock Connectors.
When the Lightning port was released, Apple maintained the proprietary connection to its portable devices that the company prefers. If you want to make an accessory that physically plugs into an iOS device, and do it legally, you have to license your creation under the Made for iPhone (MFi) program. While Cupertino could still maintain the MFi licensing model under USB-C, they couldn’t force manufacturers to use it.
The Lightning port certainly seems to have some momentum, too. With the recent dismissal of the headphone jack from the iPhone 7, more outcry ensued. For its part, Apple came out with AirPods, Bluetooth earbuds that charge with a Lightning plug. We also have keyboards, mice, and trackpads that charge with Lightning. Does it really make sense for Apple to do away with that connection type so quickly?
The Case for the USB-C Cable
With the USB-C connection, Apple would still get many of the same priorities it had in creating the Lightning port. USB-C connectors are reversible and very small. It’s also standardized, with broad industry support. Apple’s already embraced the USB-C standard for the Mac, even getting rid of its proprietary Thunderbolt ports in favor of the new connection type. Wouldn’t it be nice if every device Apple made used the same connector, a reversible USB-C cable? Accessories made for Macs, like external hard drives and card readers, could theoretically work on iOS devices, too, without any extra hardware or dongles.
USB-C may or may not support faster data transfers. That’s hard to say, since Apple hasn’t divulged the maximum throughput of the Lightning connector. What I do know is that the iPhone only supports USB 2 data speeds, and the iPad Pro can handle USB 3. USB-C is presumably exponentially faster, but our mobile devices don’t take advantage of it, yet.
One of the biggest benefits to USB-C to many iPhone users would be its capabilities. With a USB-C charger, you’d see your device fully juiced up in minutes, not hours. That would certainly do wonders for the battery woes we often see with our iOS devices. Remember, we’re always trying to find tips and tricks to maximize our battery life, as I’ve written on in the past. With USB-C, that would be a thing of the past.
Will Apple Shift Connectors So Soon?
Some Apple fans will say that Cupertino would never ditch the Lightning port so soon after releasing accessories that rely upon it. Critics will say that Cupertino will maliciously shift to USB-C just to grab at more of our hard-earned money. I think the truth is actually somewhere in the middle.
For the vast majority of iOS users, the Lightning port is just a way to charge their device and, in the case of the iPhone 7, plug in a set of headphones. Most iPhone and iPad users don’t collect huge numbers of accessories, they just charge their devices. Those of us that buy lots of accessories are the exception, not the rule. Most of us will begrudgingly go ahead and buy those new accessories, just to stay on the forefront of technology.
Should Apple Change to USB-C
Despite the investment I already have in Lightning accessories, I would welcome a shift to USB-C. The universal nature of the connector would open up other accessories to my use, for one thing. It would also eliminate a lot of confusion when I’m rummaging through a cable drawer trying to find a cable for my iPhone. The rapid charging time of USB-C, the increased data throughput, and the ability to interchange adapters between my Mac and my iOS devices would make the additional investment well worth the money. Go ahead, Cupertino, put USB-C in the iPhone 8. I think that’s where the future is heading anyways.