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The rumor mill is hard at work trying to convince people that a USB-C iPhone is coming. A recent decision by the European Union could force Apple.
The EU has agreed on new rules requiring companies to use USB-C as a common charging mechanism. Apple may be forced to make a USB-C iPhone by the end of 2024.
The aim of the agreement is to reduce electronic waste in the system, as smartphone owners can use one cable to charge multiple devices. New garbage would appear in the form of no longer needed Lightning cables and docks.
Apple would save on making Lightning cables, since the iPhone is the only device with such a port. Its sole purpose would be to keep Lightning cables around to support older iPhones.
Switching to a new port sounds easy at first, but it will change the way components fit together in an iPhone. Removing ports completely from the device also remains an option.
In addition to regulatory requirements, there are pros and cons to each connector type.
Lightning is an 8-pin connector that Apple released in 2012 to replace the older 30-pin cable. The 6.7mm by 1.5mm plug can be installed face up or face down. It is a male connector, meaning the pins are on the cable rather than in the port.
A downside of the Lightning system is the slow data transfer. Lightning transfer speeds are in most cases comparable to USB 2.0 at 480 Mbps, but can reach USB 3 speeds.
USB 3 transfer speeds can be found under the right circumstances, such as a 12.9-inch iPad Pro with a Lightning to USB 3 Camera Adapter.
USB 3.0, also known as SuperSpeed USB, can reach speeds of up to 5 Gbps. The latest version, USB 3.2, offers speeds of up to 20 Gbps.
Lightning is a good protocol for charging, with the iPhone 13 Pro Max being able to temporarily support up to 27 watts of power with the right adapter.
The protocol is exclusive to Apple and that nature is positive from the company’s perspective. The Made for iPhone program ensures manufacturers adhere to standards in components.
This proves to be a benefit to consumers as they don’t have to worry about a drifter loader as long as they find one that is certified.
During our testing, we found that the strength of each type of connector is comparable. Lightning cables handle tip breakage better than their USB-C counterparts.
The male connector should be removed from the iPhone port and after that it is good to go. When a USB-C tip breaks, there is a 57 percent chance that the inner connectors will be damaged before the outer metal tip. In that case, it cannot connect to a port.
Lightning pros and cons
- MFi Certification Program
- One specification:
- Handles breakage better than USB-C
- Slow data transfer
- Standard only for Apple
USB-C by itself says nothing about the charging capacity or data transfer of the cable. It only refers to the type of connector and port used in the standard. It is a female connector, which means that the inside of the plug contains the pins.
The latest and fastest specification that USB-C can use is USB4. These cables can support data transfer rates of up to 40 Gbps. It can be used in Thunderbolt 3 and Thunderbolt 4 ports in Apple devices such as a MacBook Pro or iMac.
We compared the charging speeds of USB-C with Qi, USB-A and MagSafe. The USB-C cable charges the iPhone 12 Pro fastest with a full battery in one hour and 55 minutes.
Another positive of USB-C is its backwards compatibility with USB 2.0, DVI, VGA and HDMI with the right adapters. It also supports DisplayPort A/V up to 8K resolutions at 60Hz.
Variable USB-C “standards” are also the demise of the technology, with varying speeds and names resulting in confused consumers. USB 2.0, USB 3.0, USB 3.1, USB4 and USB Power Delivery are all factors to learn and consider.
Like Lightning, USB-C devices can be certified to meet security standards. The USB Implementers Forum tests and certifies all USB-C cables, chargers and other devices.
Advantages and disadvantages of USB-C
- Fast data transfer speeds of up to 40 Gbps with USB4
- Faster device charging
- Backwards compatibility with other specifications
- The host device is more likely to be damaged than the cable
- Multiple, confusing specs
This is unwinnable for Apple. They switch to USB-C and the Lightning devout complain. And more than a decade of accessories are obsolete without an adapter.
With a USB-C iPhone, a customer could use at least one cable to charge their smartphone, laptop and other accessories. Many customers would also need to buy new accessories to replace their lighting equipment.
If they stay with Lightning, they are in violation of the EU’s upcoming mandate. It turns out that the law doesn’t allow Apple to disable charging of a connector if it exists, so they can’t just have a software patch for EU customers.
And if they go completely wireless, that still destroys the Lightning peripherals and cuts off one troubleshooting method until MagSafe supports data.
Wireless charging is inefficient compared to cables. MagSafe requires a power adapter that supports a minimum of 25 W, but only supplies a maximum of 15 W to charge an iPhone.
In our test, we found that MagSafe finished in third place and charged the iPhone 12 Pro in two hours and ten minutes. The 5W power brick with USB-A Lightning only beat MagSafe in the first seven minutes.
That wireless future is likely where Apple is headed. On the face of it, just looking at Apple’s position, it makes more sense for Apple to stick with Lightning or replace it with MagSafe than to switch to USB-C.
The only question left is Apple’s ability to appease the EU. The decision could force Apple to speed up its timeline to introduce a portless iPhone.
The law is clear that a MagSafe-only iPhone meets the requirements of the new upcoming requirement.
MagSafe is also compatible with the open Qi standard. It supports up to 15W of power and 7.5W for Qi. People don’t have to buy separate Qi and MagSafe chargers and that fulfills the EU ideal of universal charging.
The Apple Watch’s relationship with Qi charging is complicated. Apple may need to iron this out to have a universal wireless standard, as the device is far too small to have the existing MagSafe.
The Apple Watch charger may meet the Qi specification. in 2015 AppleInsider reader Albert C. Lee shared a video of him using the Apple Watch charger with his Moto 360 smartwatch.
In 2015, John Perzow, VP of market development at the Wireless Power Consortium, claimed that Apple used a modified form of Qi for the Apple Watch’s charging system. Teardowns from iFixit show that the Apple Watch charging system is similar to Qi.
In 2017, the Apple Watch Series 3 was found to support some Qi chargers. Belkin, Mophie and Sharllen devices were tested.
So, assuming a MagSafe-only iPhone is compatible, so is the Apple Watch.
What works for a particular consumer is an open question – but none of us get a vote.