Apple could make a major change to iPhone charging ports next year. If the internet rumour mill is to be believed, the California tech company could be phasing out Lightning ports in favour of modern USB-C charging ports used by most rival phone makers.
As well as Android smartphones, USB-C is already in use on all new MacBook and MacBook Pro devices, intensifying speculation about whether a change is coming on iOS devices.
Apple has never shied away from bold technological improvements, but will it happen? In this blog post, we look at some of the arguments for and against USB-C before assessing how likely it is that Apple will make the switch.
What’s the difference between USB-C and Lightning?
In short, there isn’t that much difference between the two chargers.
They are both reversible, they’re similar sizes, they’re robust and they can carry all types of data.
Technically, USB-C is faster than the Lighting Cable because it can support USB 3.1 technology. But this speed may not be realised in smartphones.
The USB-C ports on the new MacBook Pro are supported by Thunderbolt 3. This means that it can achieve a data transfer rate of 40gbps – four times faster than the USB 3.1.
USB-C ports on the new MacBook Pro models are powered by Thunderbolt 3, so they actually have a maximum data transfer rate of 40gbps, which is four times that of standard USB 3.1.
Apple has not released too much information about the Lightning ports, but tests reveal that it supports charging speeds equivalent to USB 2.0, which is a bit slower.
iPhones will probably never achieve the same charging or data transfer speeds as MacBooks, but with a smaller battery to fill, there isn’t any need to.
And although USB-C can support fast USB 3.1 charging technology, it does not necessarily mean that it will be used. One of the first Android phones to use USB-C, the OnePlus 3, was discovered to only use USB 2.0.
The key advantage of USB-C over the Lightning cable is that it is appearing on more and more technology.
Ever been at a friend’s house and needed to charge your phone? If they have a Samsung and you have an iPhone it leaves you stumped quickly.
We’ve already seen USB-C adopted in the newest generation of MacBooks and Android smartphones, but the ports are also finding their way onto more and more accessories, including external hard drives, headphones and more.
Just as the DVD came and conquered VHS and Betamax as the universal multimedia storage format, the USB-C port has the best chance in a technological generation of uniting the electronic world under one common standard.
Will it be more expensive?
Changing chargers always annoys people, especially if they have forked out for a lot of cables and accessories in the Lightning format.
When Apple made the change from their 30-pronged connector to the Lightning cable in 2012, there was a good amount of uproar from people arguing that there was no need to change.
Those doubters have now ben proved wrong, but in some ways, the new charging format could work out cheaper for iPhone users.
The Lightning charger was a proprietary format, meaning it was only used on Apple devices. The USB-C cable, meanwhile, is used on lots of different devices.
You can save money by just using one charger for all your devices.
There will also be a greater supply of USB-C products compared with products they are compatible with the Lightning ports, so this should also bring down costs.
How likely is the switch?
There are always rumours about new Apple products and while occasionally there are elements of truth in them, most don’t become reality.
Last year for example, the Wall Street Journal reported a similar rumour that the iPhone X would use a USB-C port instead of the company’s Lightning connector. Like other rumours (like the iPhone X having a curved screen) this turned out to be false.
This time round, the rumour appears to have started on a news website in Taipei, possibly from a source at one of the three Taiwanese companies that manufacture Apple products in China.
This prompted a lot of discussion on various Apple news websites with several commentators (here, here and here) swearing that Apple’s belief in proprietary formats means that they will never adopt USB-C for iPhones.
Leaked photos which purport to show Apple’s newest wall charger could shed some light on the story. The photos published on Techcrunch show the wall charger with a USB-C port rather than the old style USB port that has been on Apple wall chargers for several years.
This prompted some to question whether the original story got it wrong (or perhaps whether something got lost in translation). New Apple chargers may indeed have a USB-C port, but it would plug into the wall charger instead of the phone – which would still be serviced by a Lightning cable.
It would make some sense for Apple to do this because it would mean that new iPhones could be plugged directly into a new MacBook without the need for an adapter.
With Apple’s track record of getting a jump on technology, it also wouldn’t be a surprise if the company leapfrogged USB-C and put their efforts into improving wireless charging.
Most modern phones can be charged wirelessly, but the technology has not been widely adopted yet. Wired chargers still have their place, especially when people are out and about and don’t want to take wireless charging mats with them.
But these charging mats are improving all the time and it’s easy to see how Apple would prefer to concentrate on this technology rather than something that their closest rivals have already adopted.