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 you charged it. Onstage to introduce the new phone, Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller announced that the company was switching from the 30-pin connector that had been on every iPhone to date over to a small new port called Lightning. Lightning seemed to be everything its predecessor and competitors were not: reversible, compact, and robust. Schiller called it “a modern connector for the next decade.”
Fast forward to 2022, and the connector has lasted the decade Schiller promised. Every iPhone still comes with a Lightning cable, and the cable remains a reliable method for charging devices and connecting 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 introduce a sea change in how we charge our phones. It’s not because Lightning’s technically outdated; it’s because another port has outdone it in one key area — ubiquity.
To be clear, Lightning was — and still is — a very good connector. The port was revolutionary compared to everything else on the market at the time. The 30-pin connector was large, and Micro USB ports were finicky and hard to plug in. By contrast, the Lightning port was both small and impossible to mess up, a formula so obvious it’s a wonder it took so long for anyone to get there. Apple’s competitors suddenly had a disadvantage when it came to charging, data syncing, and overall phone convenience.
The Lightning connector was technically adept, too. Even today, the port remains completely capable for how most of us use our phones — it can charge modern iPhones from dead to 50 percent battery in around half an hour; with the right cable, you can plug a set of headphones into it; and it’ll even carry a 1080p video signal. It’s able to achieve USB 3.0 speeds, too, even if that hasn’t been widely supported. I can’t actually think of anything I need to do with my phone that Lightning can’t do. That’s not usually the case for connector standards that have been around for a decade — sure, standards like XLR and the 3.5mm headphone jack (what is dead may never die) have been around for way longer, but they also don’t do nearly as much as Lightning.
But for all its strengths, there’s one thing Apple’s connector isn’t: universal. In 2022, most of our devices use a reversible, versatile port to charge and connect — and it’s not Lightning. USB-C is on basically every Android phone, and it’s 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 nearly all of its iPads.
These days, vanishingly few devices actually use Lightning. You’ll find it on the iPhone, one model of iPad (for now), and a handful of accessories, such as Apple’s Magic Mouse, Magic Keyboard, and AirPods. That means if you own an iPad Air and an iPhone, or 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 that the biggest hassle in the world? Of course not. But it creates a bunch of little inconvenience when you’re traveling or around friends with USB-C-equipped phones or even just sitting on the part of the couch where only your laptop charger reaches. (Okay, that last one may just be a problem for me.)
Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like Apple is planning on introducing USB-C to the iPhone lineup with the upcoming iPhone 14. But regulators could end up forcing Apple’s hand into getting rid of Lightning on the phones sooner rather than later. The EU is in the process of making USB-C the legally mandated charging standard for phones. Apple could always sell a USB-C phone in Europe and a Lightning one everywhere else, but it’s tough to imagine that Apple’s continued revenue cut from third-party Lightning accessories would make up for the extra cost and complexity of selling the iPhone with two different harbors.
Recent rumors have suggested that Apple’s 2023 iPhones will include USB-C as a response to the EU’s legislation. That would put Apple about a year ahead of the proposed fall 2024 deadline, which makes sense — if the company wants to continue its standard operating procedure of continuing to sell the previous year’s phones, those would also have to have USB-C. Adding the connector to the iPhone 15 would let Apple continue to sell it without any issues after it launches the iPhone 16, likely around fall 2024.
I do regret to tell you, though, that Apple may be able to skirt around the EU’s laws by saying a physical port entirely and going all in on MagSafe wireless charging, as ever-present rumors suggest it may. That would be, in my opinion, a way worse option than just switching to USB-C — it has a lot of the same downsides, like forcing people to upgrade old equipment and cables, potentially leading to a spike in e-waste and very few upsides for consumers. But either way, it seems Lightning’s reign is approaching its end.
If the iPhone was literally the only gadget I used, I wouldn’t be in any hurry to see the Lightning connector off — I plug my phone in to charge, listen to music, or sync to my car multiple times a day, and it ‘ll likely do a great job at those tasks for another decade to come. But I, like many other people, use many other devices, all of which rely on USB-C. My iPhone, AirPods, trackpad, and Apple TV remote have become mild inconveniences to charge in a sea of devices that focus on making my life as a consumer easier.
It’s not like Apple should be ashamed of Lighting; it’s lasted for what counts as an eternity in the smartphone market and influenced other manufacturers to move to a standard that is both competitive and convenient. Apple can both be proud of the work it’s done and realize it’s time to move on — and when someone spends over $86,000 just for the novelty of owning an iPhone modified to have USB-C, it’s definitely time to move on.