Will iPhones become a little more standard?
USB-C ports and connectors – the standard for charging smartphones and using them with various accessories – are used by all but one major handset manufacturer: Apple. The company has long used a proprietary solution called Lightning, specific for iPhones and not compatible with the systems used by others. This difference, which has cost Apple numerous criticisms over the years, may soon change: according to sources consulted by Bloomberg and some technology sites, the company has started experimenting with the introduction of a USB-C port on the next iPhone models, which may be present on new devices starting next year.
In addition to having started the tests on the replacement with the USB-C system, Apple would also have started working on an adapter, in order to make future iPhones compatible with the accessories produced so far and equipped with a Lightning connector, which is destined to disappear. As is always the case in these cases, the company has neither confirmed nor denied the fact, but Bloomberg usually has good sources inside the company.
In fact, in recent years, Apple had already started the transition to USB-C. Its best-selling models of computers and iPads are already equipped with ports for the standard one, which has established itself in recent years thanks to massive membership from other electronic device manufacturers. USB-C ports and connectors are smaller and more practical than previous systems with the same standard and, above all, allow you to insert the connector in a port both in one direction and the other, unlike what happens with classic USB ports that can only be inserted on one side.
The USB-C system can also be used to charge devices and is already used by Apple for its computers and some iPad models. This means that their owners cannot directly use the same chargers to charge their iPhones as well, because the connector is different. The transition to USB-C would be a simplification in this sense, not to mention that iPhone owners could charge their devices using also the chargers for Android smartphones, and vice versa.
However, there are several Apple accessories currently equipped only with the Lightning system, and some of these are very popular such as AirPods wireless earphones, covers with a battery inside, the Magic Mouse, wireless keyboards and remote control. Apple TV.
Over the years, thousands of accessories with Lightning connectors have been marketed to be compatible with iPhones, which would stop working when the new models had a different port. Hundreds of manufacturers should redesign their products and above all they should have a transition period to move from the proprietary system to the USB-C standard. Many users may also be forced to repurchase some of their accessories in order to continue using them with their new iPhones.
By switching to USB-C, Apple would also lose some of the control it traditionally manages to exercise over the aftermarket, precisely by licensing the use of a system to which it holds the rights. Manufacturers pay for the license and go through a fairly strict authorization process in case they want to get Apple certified.
This system does not appeal to the control authorities of the European Union, which on several occasions have shown their intention to introduce laws that require manufacturers of electronic devices to use standards such as USB-C, not only for practical and competitive reasons, but also environmental. A single standard makes it possible to use accessories on different devices, starting with the chargers and cables to connect them, favoring their reuse and reducing the need to produce new ones.
Last April, the European Parliament passed a law requiring the use of the USB-C standard on mobile phones, tablets, cameras, headsets, video game consoles and other rechargeable devices “regardless of manufacturer”. The proposal will have to be examined by member states, but it could force manufacturers who still employ proprietary solutions like Apple to change their approach. The company had criticized MEPs' proposal, arguing that it could: “Harm consumers by slowing down the introduction of useful innovations in battery charging standards, including those related to safety and energy efficiency”.
At the moment, however, it seems unlikely that Apple will decide to sell its iPhones with a USB-C port in the European Union while keeping Lightning in the rest of the world. Such a choice would cause numerous complications for individual iPhone owners, accessory manufacturers and Apple itself, which would have to differentiate the production cycle of its smartphones.
Apple could reduce compatibility issues by introducing an adapter, which could make iPhones still work with Lightning with new accessories produced for iPhones with USB-C. The company had already done something similar a decade ago, when it first introduced Lightning on the iPhone 5, abandoning the previous much larger and cumbersome connector. Even at the time there were protests and not only for the switch to the new system, but also for Apple's decision to charge 29 euros for an adapter sold separately to make the new models compatible with the old accessories.