September 29, 2023

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The iPhone 15 may be getting a USB-C port, but wireless connectivity is the next step

The iPhone 15 may be getting a USB-C port, but wireless connectivity is the next step

The Lightning connector only had two jobs: to be small and secure. Apple developed the new port for the iPhone 5, which at the time was the largest, thinnest, and lightest iPhone the company had ever made. This makes every millimeter of space and milligram of weight count. For nearly a decade, the connector Apple used was the 30-pin Dock Connector, which was positively bulky — about four times the size of a standard Micro USB plug. The Dock Connector was also a bit finicky and finicky. You had to splice the cable this way so you could eventually attach the little hooks to the port. After a decade of creating the Dock Connector, Apple needed something better.

When Apple introduced Lightning at its annual fall event in 2012, company executives talked a lot about how small it was. “Given the dimensions of the new phone and all the capabilities we wanted to add, we needed to manage the space inside the phone very carefully,” Bob Mansfield, the company’s then head of hardware engineering, said in a pre-produced video detailing every aspect of the phone. Phil Schiller, the company’s marketing director, showed off a slide claiming that Lightning is 80 percent smaller than the Dock Connector.

But while Apple may have needed the connector for its modest dimensions, the company clearly understood why everyday users would love it. “It’s more durable and easier to use, because now you can plug it in either direction; it’s more durable and easier to use,” Schiller said with a laugh. It doesn’t matter.” As he said all this, he twisted his hands back and forth, imitating plugging in a cable. Everyone knows that you never plug a USB cable right the first time; with Lightning, you can’t go wrong.

This week, 11 years after that launch event, it seems almost certain that Apple will remove the Lightning connector from the iPhone. A new EU law stipulates that all phones sold in member states must use USB-C for physical charging, and Apple has acknowledged it will have to follow the rules. “Obviously we’re going to have to comply,” Greg Joswiak, Apple’s current marketing chief, said last year. “We have no choice.” Although this requirement won’t go into effect until next year, a steady stream of rumors and reports indicate that Apple will make the change now.

To some extent, this is a natural transition. Apple played a big role in developing the USB-C standard, which was first introduced in 2014. Apple immediately jumped on the new connector: the following year, it released a new 12-inch MacBook that used USB-C and USB-C. Just. “The team decided that if we had a port here, let’s make the most versatile connector we’d ever put in a laptop,” Schiller said of the USB-C port. “And they sure did.” He explained two specific reasons why users love it: it’s small, and it’s reversible.

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The 12-inch MacBook only has one port, and it’s the only one you need. It was USB-C.

Over the next couple of years, most Macs and iPads swapped out as well. The iPhone could have easily had a USB-C port years ago. Apple didn’t make the switch for a number of reasons, not least financial: using a proprietary connector gave Apple control of the vast accessories market and revenue from everyone who made Lightning gear. Overall, it seems like Apple doesn’t appreciate being asked to switch to USB-C but shouldn’t have much of a problem doing so.

However, make no mistake: This switch will be complicated. For one thing, a large number of iPhone owners are going to have to replace all their cables, or at least buy a bunch of ugly dongles to keep their stuff working. There are also a lot of standards within the USB-C standard, and don’t be surprised if Apple introduces one of its own just to make things more confusing.

The iPhone could easily have had a USB-C port years ago

But when everything changes, practically the entire tech industry will be able to use the same cables, the same docks, the same everything for the first time ever. They’ll be young, and they’ll be guaranteed. Just like lightning. Except this time, it will be available to everyone.

Just plug it in

Oliver Seal, head of design at accessories giant Belkin, has almost all nice things to say about the Lightning connector. “I look at the overall curve of technology evolution, and I think it’s shifting from cumbersome — where humans have to change to accommodate technology — to the opposite, where technology serves humans better,” he says. Lightning has taken the minor inconvenience of moving a charger into place and made it easy. This is very important, especially with your most used device.

Even early Lightning connectors were robust and secure, and while Apple was heavy-handed in how it handled accessory licensing in the early days, it eventually spawned a huge ecosystem of great gear. “It goes from wobbly and big and annoying to very elegant and small and two-way,” says Sell. This seems obvious now – how annoying would it be to take out a Micro USB cable and then struggle to connect it properly? – But at that time there was an unexpected breath of fresh air.

But there was one thing about Lightning that Seil always thought was a bit silly. “You remember the first pencil, don’t you?” Asked. “It was an exceptional product, but it had to be charged with Lightning.” But you didn’t charge it by plugging something into the pencil; You had to plug in the pencil inside something. Pencils sticking out of iPads have become a meme. This is not how charging should work. Seil’s broader point is that Lightning cables still have another connector on the other side. “I’m just starting to have these issues where it’s not the same on both sides.” Like everything else, this is what makes USB-C great. Not only is the connector reversible so you can’t connect it wrong, but so are the sides of the cable itself.

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All USB-C cables may look the same, but they can be a tangle of confusing standards.
Photography by Amelia Holowaty Kralis/The Verge

Of course, even as he explains the beauty of the system, Ciel laughs. If only it actually worked that way! “Right now, you can literally take a USB-C charger with two USB ports, plug one cable into your device and the other into the wall, and nothing will happen.” USB-C is a universal standard in theory, but in reality it is not. They differ mainly in data transfer speed and power, and Sell’s theory is that users will have to get used to saving their own power and searching for it in Best Buy boxes. One persistent rumor about the iPhone 15 is that it will have a Thunderbolt port instead of the standard USB-C port, which uses the same shape but is a more expensive connector and is more adaptable to different speeds and USB versions. This can help alleviate some of the confusion, at least for your iPhone.

Let’s be optimistic here for a minute, though. Fast forward a bit to the moment where charging protocols have become truly global; Maybe Thunderbolt wins, and maybe we all know the wattage of our devices by heart, but no matter how far we get there, all of our cables and accessories work with all of our devices, based on a standard that’s not going away. Seale believes this may be the best thing to ever happen in the accessories business. “The first concern for most ordinary people is, If I go to buy this charger, will it work with my device??” he says. “If I go to a store and tell me it’s compatible with most smartphones, I don’t know what that means to me.” Not only will people have more accessories to choose from once the market is no longer segmented by device, but they may Willing to buy more and better stuff, knowing that their equipment will still work even if they upgrade or switch.

Just put it aside

Let’s go back to 2012 for a moment, to the iPhone 5 launch event. As he began to explain the idea behind the Lightning connector, Schiller said that the biggest change is actually that we no longer need cables like we used to. “A lot of the things we used to do over wires, we now do wirelessly,” he said. Bluetooth audio has replaced the AUX cord for many; People have been syncing their devices and files over Wi-Fi instead of connecting their phones to iTunes. However, Schiller then announced a new cable system.

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At the time, Schiller scoffed at the idea of ​​wireless charging. “Having to create another device that you have to plug into the wall is actually more complicated in most cases,” he said. In an interview with All things digital When asked why the iPhone 5 doesn’t have NFC or wireless charging. It wasn’t until the iPhone 8 in 2017 that Apple smartphones got wireless charging for the first time, and by then, Schiller had largely changed his tune. “Words cannot describe how nice it is to put it down and pick it up when you want to charge it, without having to connect a cable again.” He said you might have a wireless charger in your bedroom; Your local coffee shop might have one built in for every table, he said.

With features like StandBy, Apple is trying harder than ever to achieve wireless charging.
Image: Apple

In practice ever since, rumors have circulated that Apple’s ultimate plan is to build an iPhone completely devoid of ports. It’s actually not that far off, now that you’ve ditched the headphone jack and SIM tray. In recent years, Apple has heavily marketed MagSafe as a charging system, and it’s clear that one of iOS 17’s key features — standby mode — is partly designed to get people used to the idea of ​​putting their phone on a charging dock.

In some ways, Lightning was a temporary connector until we got to USB-C. USB-C, at least on our smartphones, is probably just a corresponding stop on the way to really great wireless charging. What if next wireless charging is really about to take off? In recent weeks, we’ve seen a slew of devices adopting the new Qi2 standard, which aims to charge devices faster and more reliably wirelessly. Accessory makers, big and small, have begun selling pads, stands and other gadgets that wirelessly charge multiple devices at once. And of course, Apple, which practically had to install a USB-C port on its iPhones, has plenty of reasons to promote MagSafe as the way of the future.

An iPhone without a port is a bad idea, at least for now. But, as Sell says, the arc of technology is moving away from making humans work and toward making technology capable It just worksWireless charging seems like a clear step in this direction. All of this won’t happen the moment the iPhone has a USB-C port. But this is the next stage: global systems that produce less waste, cause fewer headaches, and simply work the way they are supposed to work. Lightning has helped make connectivity easier. And now Apple — and the rest of the industry — may be close to pulling the plug entirely.