In September 2012, Apple introduced the iPhone 5 – it was bigger, faster and more powerful than its predecessor, but perhaps the most revolutionary change was how you charged it. Taking the stage to introduce the new phone, Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller announced that the company was switching from the 30-pin connector that’s been on every iPhone until now, to a tiny new port called Lightning. Lightning seemed to be everything its predecessor and competitors were not: reversible, compact and robust. Schiller called it “a modern connector for the next decade.”
Fast forward to 2022, and the connector has lasted the decade Schiller promised. Every iPhone still comes with a Lightning cable, and the cable remains a reliable method for charging devices, connecting accessories and cars. But as Lightning approaches its 10th anniversary, I, and many others, are ready for Apple to close the book on this connector and introduce a sea change in the way we charge our phones. It’s not because Lightning is technically outdated; it’s because another port has outdone it in one important area – ubiquity.
To be clear, Lightning was – and still is – a very good connector. The port was revolutionary compared to anything else on the market at the time. The 30-pin connector was large and micro USB ports were finicky and difficult to connect. By contrast, the Lightning port was both tiny and impossible to mess up, a formula so obvious it’s a miracle it took anyone so long to get there. Apple’s competitors suddenly found themselves at a disadvantage when it came to charging, data sync, and overall phone convenience.
The Lightning connector was also technically adept. Even today, the port remains fully adequate for how most of us use our phones — it can charge modern iPhones from a dead to 50 percent battery in about half an hour; with the right cable you can connect headphones to it; and it even carries a 1080p video signal. It can also reach USB 3.0 speeds, even if that’s not widely supported. I can’t really think of anything to do with my phone that Lightning can’t. That’s usually not the case for connector standards that have been around for a decade – sure, standards like XLR and the 3.5mm headphone jack (which is dead may never die) already exist way longer, but they also don’t do nearly as much as Lightning.
But for all its strengths, there’s one thing Apple’s connector isn’t: universal. By 2022, most of our devices will use a reversible, versatile port to charge and connect — and it’s not Lightning. USB-C is on almost every Android phone and it is increasingly becoming the default port for various gadgets such as GoPros and game consoles. Even Apple uses it as the premiere connector for all of its MacBooks and almost all of its iPads.
Today, very few devices actually use Lightning. You’ll find it on the iPhone, one model iPad (for now), and a handful of accessories, such as Apple’s Magic Mouse, Magic Keyboard, and AirPods. That means if you have an iPad Air and an iPhone, or a MacBook and a Magic Mouse, or a Windows laptop and a pair of AirPods, you’ll need at least two separate chargers to power them.
Is that the biggest hassle in the world? Of course not. But it creates a lot of minor inconveniences when you’re traveling or around friends with USB-C phones or even just sitting on the part of the couch where only your laptop charger reaches. (Okay, that last one might be a problem for me.)
Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that Apple plans to introduce USB-C into the iPhone lineup with the upcoming iPhone 14. But regulators could eventually force Apple’s hand to remove Lightning from the phones sooner rather than later. The EU is in the process of making USB-C the legally required charging standard for phones. Apple could always sell a USB-C phone in Europe and a Lightning phone everywhere else, but it’s hard to imagine Apple’s continued decline in third-party Lightning accessories sales to add to the cost and complexity of selling the iPhone with two different ports.
Recent rumors have suggested that Apple’s 2023 iPhones will include USB-C in response to EU legislation. That would put Apple about a year ahead of its proposed fall 2024 deadline, which makes sense — if the company wants to continue its standard procedure of continuing to sell the previous year’s phones, those should also have USB-C. By adding the connector to the iPhone 15, Apple should be able to keep selling it without any problems after it launches the iPhone 16, probably around the fall of 2024.
However, I’m sorry to say that Apple might be able to get around EU laws by completely ditching a physical port and going all-in on MagSafe wireless charging, as ever-present rumors suggest. That, in my opinion, would be a much worse option than just switching to USB-C – it has many of the same drawbacks, such as forcing people to upgrade old equipment and cables, potentially leading to a spike in e-waste and very few consumer benefits. Anyway, it looks like Lightning’s reign is nearing its end.
If the iPhone was literally the only gadget I used, I wouldn’t be in a rush to see the Lightning connector out — I plug in my phone several times a day to charge, listen to music, or sync with my car. , and it will probably do a great job at those tasks for another decade. But I, like many people, use many other devices, all of which rely on USB-C. My iPhone, AirPods, trackpad and Apple TV remote have become minor inconveniences to charge in a sea of devices aimed at making my life as a consumer easier.
It’s not that Apple should be ashamed of Lighting; it took forever in the smartphone market, influencing other manufacturers to move to a standard that is both competitive and convenient. Apple can be proud of the work it’s done and realize it’s time to move on — and when someone spends over $86,000 just for the novelty of owning an iPhone modified to have USB-C, it’s definitely time to move on.