10 years ago, Apple was still about to introduce the iPhone 5, so virtually all iPhones and iPads at the 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 looks like Lightning won’t survive the iPhone 15.
The pre-lightning era
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 didn’t). 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 one. If you had an iPod, you were already quite familiar with this connector.
But then the iPhone evolved while the iPod slowly met its end. And as smartphones got thinner and companies worked on better cameras and batteries, some things had to change. And that’s where Lightning comes in.
The connector for the next decade
The Lightning connector was unveiled on stage by Phil Schiller, then Apple’s marketing manager. 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 freed up more internal space in the devices for other components – an excuse Apple also used to get rid of the headphone jack years ago. later.
Lightning was quickly added to other Apple products. A month after the launch of the iPhone 5, Apple also announced the iPad 4 and the first iPad mini, both with a Lightning connector. The seventh and final generation iPod nano also featured the Lightning connector, as well as the fifth generation iPod touch. After that, no other Apple product 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 way better than the old iPod connector. It was also significantly better than the Micro-USB connector, which was standard for other mobile devices at the time. But time passed and the industry started to change again. But this time not for iPhone users.
Just as smartphones evolved and got 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 take on the USB standard with an all-new, faster, smaller, and reversible connector.
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 has 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 claimed to have contributed to the development of a “new standard for universal connectivity”. But unlike Lightning, it took Apple longer to integrate USB-C into its other products, even though it was being touted as the connector of the future.
In 2016, it was time for the MacBook Pro to get USB-C. In 2018, Apple introduced the connector on the MacBook Air and iPad Pro. USB-C is now present across the Mac lineup. As for the iPad, the entry-level model is still the only one to rely on the Lightning connector, although our sources suggest that’s 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 are now a wide variety of devices using USB-C in the market. It has become a new standard for computers, tablets, smartphones and accessories.
Having a dedicated connector for the iPhone never seemed like a problem 10 years ago. However, Lightning now looks more dated than ever. For people who already have Macs and iPads with USB-C, not to mention other devices like headphones and game controllers, having to keep a Lightning cable for just one product in your home seems totally antiquated.
At the same time, Lightning now faces the limits of 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 the era of 4K ProRes video that generates large files, Lightning has become a nightmare for Pro users. It also lacks the ultra-fast charging speeds supported by USB-C.
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 that, but one can easily assume that Apple is still making a lot of money with Lightning. Indeed, since it is a proprietary connector, third-party manufacturers are required to pay license fees to Apple. And Apple’s own Lightning accessories aren’t exactly cheap.
While the iPhone 14 should still retain Lightning, Apple’s connector might not survive the iPhone 15. Earlier this year, the European Union decided to make it mandatory that every smartphone and tablet sold in European countries have a USB-C connector. Other countries like Brazil, India and even the United States have considered the same.
In the end, maybe Phil Schiller was right. Lightning was the connector for the last 10 years. Because in the next 10, Apple could be forced to put an end to its proprietary connector.
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