Apple’s Lightning cable is 10 years old, but time is up

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 it was charged. On stage to introduce the new phone, Apple’s chief marketing officer, Phil Schiller, announced that the company was switching from the 30-pin connector that’s been on every iPhone so far to a new, tiny port called Lightning. Lightning seemed to be everything its predecessor and rivals were not: reversible, compact and powerful. Schiller called it “the modern conductor of the next decade.”

Fast forward to 2022, and the conductor continued the contract Schiller promised. Every iPhone still comes with a Lightning cable, and the cable remains a reliable way to charge devices and connect to accessories and cars. But as Lightning approaches its 10th birthday, I, and many others, are ready for Apple to close the book on this connector and fundamentally change how we charge our phones. Not because Lightning is technically outdated; That’s because another outlet has outdone it in one key area – being ubiquitous.

To be clear, Lightning was – and still is – a very good conductor. The port was revolutionary compared to everything else on the market at the time. The 30-pin connector was large, and the Micro USB ports were fine and difficult to plug in. In contrast, the Lightning port was tiny and impossible to mess with, a formula so straightforward that it surprisingly took so long for anyone to get it there. Apple’s competitors suddenly had a flaw when it came to charging, data syncing, and overall phone convenience.

The Lightning connector was also technically savvy. Even today, the port is still perfectly capable of how most of us use our phones — it can charge modern iPhones from a dead battery to 50 percent in about half an hour; With the appropriate cable, you can connect a set of headphones to it; And it will even carry a 1080p video signal. It’s able to achieve USB 3.0 speeds as well, even if this isn’t widely supported. I can’t actually think of anything I need to do with my phone that Lightning can’t do. This isn’t usually the case for connector standards that have been around for a decade – sure, standards like XLR and a 3.5mm headphone jack (may not die what’s dead) have been around ever since. road longer, but it also doesn’t do nearly as lightning.

Apple’s Lightning connector powers old and new iPhones — but the other end of this cable uses USB-C so it can actually connect to other Apple products.
Photo: Mitchell Clark/The Verge

But for all its strengths, there is one thing that Apple’s connector is not: universal. In 2022, most of our devices use a versatile, reverse port for charging and connecting – which isn’t Lightning. Available on basically every Android phone, USB-C is increasingly the default port for various gadgets like GoPros and game consoles. Even Apple uses it as the premiere connector for all of its MacBooks and almost all of its iPads.

These days, few vanishing devices actually use lightning. You’ll find it on an iPhone, one model of iPad (for now), and a bunch of accessories, like Apple’s Magic Mouse, Magic Keyboard, and AirPods. This means that if you own an iPad Air and iPhone, 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 this the biggest trouble in the world? of course not. But it does create a bunch of little inconveniences when you’re traveling, with friends with phones with USB-C port, or even just sitting on the part of the sofa where only your laptop charger comes in. (Okay, that last one might be a problem for me).

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like Apple is planning to bring USB-C to the iPhone lineup with the upcoming iPhone 14. But regulators may force Apple’s hand to get rid of Lightning on phones sooner rather than later. The European Union is working to make USB-C the legally mandated charging standard for phones. Apple could always sell a USB-C phone in Europe and a Lightning phone elsewhere, but it’s hard to imagine that continuing to cut Apple’s revenue from third-party Lightning accessories would offset the added cost and complexity of selling an iPhone with two different ports.

Recent rumors have indicated that Apple’s 2023 iPhones will include USB-C in response to EU legislation. This would put Apple about a year ahead of the proposed fall 2024 deadline, which makes sense — if the company wants to continue standard operating procedures to continue selling the previous year’s phones, it will also have to acquire USB-C. The addition of the connector to the iPhone 15 will allow Apple to continue selling it without any problems after the launch of the iPhone 16, most likely in the fall of 2024.

I’m sorry to tell you, though, that Apple may be able to get around EU laws by forgoing a physical outlet altogether and starting MagSafe wireless charging, persistent rumors suggest. This would, in my opinion, be a much worse option than simply switching to USB-C – it has many of the same downsides, such as forcing people to upgrade old equipment and cables, which could lead to a spike in electronic waste. Some gains for consumers. But either way, the Lightning era appears to be coming to an end.

If my iPhone was literally the only gadget I used, I wouldn’t be in a hurry to see the Lightning connector turned off — plugging my phone into charging, listening to music, or syncing to my car a few times a day, I’d probably do a great job at those tasks for another decade to come. But I, like many others, use many other devices, all based on USB-C. My iPhone, AirPods, trackpad, and Apple remote have become simple inconveniences to charge in a sea of ​​devices focused on making my life as a consumer easier.

It’s not as if Apple should be shy about lighting; It persisted for what was never considered in the smartphone market and influenced other manufacturers to move to a competitive and convenient standard. Apple can be proud of the work you’ve done and realize that it’s time to move on — and when someone spends more than $86,000 just to have an iPhone modified to have a USB-C port, it’s definitely time to move on.

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