10 years ago, Apple was still about to introduce the iPhone 5, so basically every iPhone and iPad of that time still relied on the old 30-pin iPod connector. In September 2012, Apple announced the Lightning connector with the promise of being a “modern connector for the next decade.” A decade later, it seems that Lightning won’t survive the iPhone 15.
Before the iPhone, the iPod was Apple’s only portable device, and it had a proprietary 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 that it could take advantage of the ecosystem of accessories already available on the market. At first, this was never a problem for most users, especially since the iPhone was a niche. If you had an iPod, you were already quite familiar with that connector.
But then the iPhone evolved while the iPod slowly met its end. And as smartphones were getting thinner and companies were working on better cameras and batteries, some things had to change. And that’s when Lightning comes in.
The connector for the next decade
The Lightning connector was unveiled on stage by Phil Schiller, who was Apple’s head of marketing at the time. Unlike the 30-pin connector, Lightning is much more compact and reversible, which makes it much more intuitive than its predecessor. To make the transition more seamless, Apple even introduced a 30-pin to Lightning adapter.
Since Lightning is 80% smaller than the 30-pin connector, this has freed up more internal space in the devices for other components – an excuse Apple also used to get rid of the headphone jack years later.
Lightning was quickly added to other Apple products. A month after the introduction of the iPhone 5, Apple also announced the iPad 4 and the first iPad mini, both with Lightning connector. The seventh- and last-generation iPod nano also featured the Lightning connector, as well as the fifth-generation iPod touch. After that, no other Apple products were shipped with the 30-pin connector. It was a quick transition.
Personally, I was super excited about the Lightning connector when I got my hands on the iPhone 5. And it felt far better than the old iPod connector. It was also clearly better than the Micro-USB connector, which was the standard for other mobile devices back then. But time passed, and the industry once again started to change. But this time, not for iPhone users.
Just as smartphones were evolving and getting thinner, 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 a brand new connector that is faster, smaller, and reversible.
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 had a single USB-C port. Although the MacBook has been discontinued, its legacy is still present in several other Apple products. And part of that legacy is USB-C.
Apple praised USB-C for its versatility as it supports previous USB standards, DisplayPort, HDMI, VGA, Ethernet, and even power transmission in a single cable. On its website, Apple proudly said it contributed to the development of a “new universal connectivity standard.” But unlike Lightning, it took Apple longer to bring USB-C to its other products, even though it was sold as the connector of the future.
In 2016, it was time for the MacBook Pro to get USB-C. In 2018, Apple brought the connector to the MacBook Air and the iPad Pro. USB-C is now present in the entire lineup of Macs. As for the iPad, the entry-level model is still the only one to rely on the Lightning connector, although our sources suggest that this is 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 is now a huge variety of devices using USB-C on the market. It has become a new standard for computers, tablets, smartphones, and accessories.
Having a dedicated connector for the iPhone never seemed to be a problem 10 years ago. However, Lightning today seems more dated than ever. For people who already have a Mac and an iPad with USB-C, not to mention other devices like headphones and game controllers, having to keep a Lightning cable for a single product in your home seems totally antiquated.
At the same time, Lightning now faces the limitations of the technology. The connector used in the iPhone is still based on the USB 2.0 standard, which is much slower than USB 3.0. In an era of 4K ProRes video that results in huge files, Lightning has become a nightmare for Pro users. It also lacks the super fast charging speeds that USB-C supports.
But will the iPhone ever get USB-C? Why is Apple reluctant to ditch the Lightning connector?
Well, only the company has the answers to this, but one can easily assume that Apple still makes a lot of money with Lightning. This is because, since it is a proprietary connector, third-party manufacturers are required to pay a license fee to Apple. And Apple’s own Lightning accessories are not exactly cheap.
While iPhone 14 should still keep Lightning, Apple’s connector may not survive iPhone 15. Earlier this year, the The European Union decided to make it mandatory that every smartphone and tablet sold in European countries must have a USB-C connector. Other countries like BrazilIndia, and even the United States have been considering the same.
At the end of the day, maybe Phil Schiller was right. Lightning was the connector of the last 10 years. Because in the next 10, Apple may be forced to put an end to its proprietary connector.
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