10 years ago, Apple was still about to introduce the iPhone 5, so every iPhone and iPad at the time still relied on the old 30-pin iPod connector. In September 2012, Apple announced the Lightning connector with the promise that it would be a “modern connector for the next decade”. A decade later, it looks like Lightning won’t survive the iPhone 15.
Era before lightning
Before the iPhone, the iPod was Apple’s only portable device, and it had its own 30-pin connector that was first introduced with the 2003 iPod (the first two generations had a FireWire connector that was only compatible with Macs).
Naturally, the iPhone was announced with the same 30-pin connector as the iPod, so it could take advantage of the ecosystem of accessories already on the market. At first, this was not a problem for most users, especially since the iPhone was a niche. If you have an iPod, you are already familiar with this connector.
But then the iPhone evolved while the iPod was slowly dying out. And as smartphones got thinner and companies started improving cameras and batteries, some things had to change. That’s when Lightning comes along.
Mosul for the next decade
The Lightning connector was unveiled onstage by Phil Schiller, who was Apple’s chief marketing officer at the time. Unlike the 30-pin connector, Lightning is more compact and reversible, which makes it more accessible than its predecessor. To make the transition smoother, Apple even introduced a 30-pin to Lightning adapter.
Because the Lightning is 80% smaller than the 30-pin connector, this freed up more internal space in the hardware for other components — an excuse Apple also used to ditch the headphone jack after years.
Lightning was quickly added to other Apple products. A month after the iPhone 5 was introduced, Apple also announced the iPad 4 and the first iPad mini, both with a Lightning connector. The seventh and final generation of the iPod nano also featured a Lightning connector, as well as the fifth generation of the iPod touch. After that, none of the other Apple products shipped with the 30-pin connector. It was a quick transition.
Personally, I was very excited about the Lightning connector when I got my hands on the iPhone 5. It felt much better than the old iPod connector. It was also clearly better than the Micro-USB connector, which was the standard for other portable devices at the time. But time passed, and the industry began to change again. But this time, not for iPhone users.
Just as smartphones were getting thinner and getting older, tech companies were also trying to do the same with computers – especially laptops. Then, in 2014, the consortium responsible for the USB standard (of which Apple is a part) introduced USB-C. A new, more modern version of the USB standard with an all-new, faster, smaller, and reversible connector.
It didn’t take long for Apple to introduce its first product with USB-C: the 2015 MacBook. It was Apple’s thinnest laptop, and it only had a single USB-C port. Even though the MacBook is discontinued, its legacy lives on in many other Apple products. And part of that legacy is USB-C.
Apple praised the USB-C port for its versatility because it supported previous USB standards, DisplayPort, HDMI, VGA, Ethernet, and even power transmission in a single cable. Apple proudly said on its website that it helped develop a “new global connectivity standard”. But unlike Lightning, Apple has taken longer to bring USB-C to its other products, despite it being sold as the connector of the future.
In 2016, it’s time for the MacBook Pro to get USB-C. In 2018, Apple brought the connector to the MacBook Air and iPad Pro. USB-C is now in the entire Mac family of devices. For the iPad, the entry model is still the only one based on the Lightning connector, although our sources say that’s about to change.
Apple has also replaced Lightning to USB-A cables with Lightning to USB-C cables. However, its accessories and all iPhone models still use the Lightning connector. On the other hand, since USB-C is an open standard, there are now a large variety of devices that use USB-C on the market. It has become a new standard for computers, tablets, smartphones and accessories.
Having a dedicated iPhone connector was not an issue at all 10 years ago. However, today Lightning appears to be more dated than ever. For folks who already have a Mac and iPad with USB-C, not to mention other devices like headphones and game controllers, the need to keep a Lightning cable for one product in your home feels completely outdated.
Meanwhile, Lightning is now facing technology limitations. The connector used in the iPhone is still based on the USB 2.0 standard, which is much slower than USB 3.0. In the age of 4K ProRes video that produces huge files, Lightning has become a nightmare for Pro users. It also lacks the fast charging speeds that USB-C supports.
But will the iPhone get USB-C? Why is Apple reluctant to get rid of the Lightning connector?
Well, only the company has the answers to this question, but one can easily assume that Apple is still making a lot of money with Lightning. This is because, since it is a proprietary connector, third-party manufacturers have to pay a license fee to Apple. And Apple’s Lightning accessories aren’t exactly cheap.
While the iPhone 14 should still retain Lightning, Apple’s connector may not survive the iPhone 15. Earlier this year, the European Union decided to make it mandatory for every smartphone and tablet sold in European countries to have a USB-connector. C. Other countries like Brazil, India and even the United States are studying the same thing.
At the end of the day, Phil Schiller may have been right. Lightning has been the conductor for the past 10 years. Because in the next 10, Apple may have to put an end to its connector.
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