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Why Apple’s Lightning Connector May Not Go Away Anytime Soon 2021

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Key Takeaways

Apple may not be switching to USB-C for charging anytime soon, according to a new report. Experts say that wireless charging that recent iPhone models support is a good alternative to USB-C. Some European Parliament members want all phone-makers to adopt a universal port in a bid to reduce the environmental impact of so many cables. FG Trade / Getty Images

Although Apple seems to be moving to USB-C for some of its devices, iPhone owners shouldn't throw away their Lightning chargers just yet.

Apple may not be switching to the increasingly popular USB-C standard for charging, according to a recent report by Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo. That's bad news for those who want to cut down on the different types of chargers cluttering their lives. But experts say wireless charging supported by recent iPhone models is a good alternative. 

"Wireless charging known as Qi Wireless charging has been a standard and a popular feature in flagship smartphones for a few years now," Jamshed Tamoor, a telecommunications expert for New York City's Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said in an email interview.

"New strides have been made by Apple to introduce wireless charging with magnetic hold under the popular name 'MagSafe.' This technology charges the new Apple iPhone 12 series at 12w-15w depending on the model."

An Old Friend Here to Stay?

Apple has used the Lightning connector on iPhones since 2012. However, the company now uses USB-C on many of its devices. Kuo said that Apple would more likely switch to a portless model, rather than first change to USB-C. 

Apple makes money on regulating the quality of Lightning cables and accessories through its Made for ‌iPhone‌ (MFi) program. Manufacturers have to pay a commission to make Lightning cables or accessories.

“Apple should move away from the Lightning port as the technology is becoming outdated.”

A certified Lightning cable usually costs more than most other charging cables. "The chip inside every Lightning cable is the identifier that tells us whether the cable is certified or not," writes accessory manufacturer Pitaka on its website.

"And the chip is not free, of course. If you find some very cheap Lightning cables, the chances are that they are not certified."

Since it's been on the market so long, the Lightning connector has many third-party accessories available, Tamoor said. Another point in the Lightning connector's favor is that it's got a small-form plug that is symmetrical for entry, which can be inserted top or bottom, he added. 

"Longtime iPhone users also have to purchase an adapter to connect Lightning to any 30-pin accessories they might want to hang on to," tech writer Jesse Lingard said in an email interview.

"There's also a Lightning-to-USB cable to buy. And one more thing: The new adapters do not support video output."

Lightning is Expensive and Slow

Lightning has its cons, as well. Since it is a proprietary connection, only Apple devices use the port, making for higher costs and proliferation of cables for those who don't exclusively use Apple products.

Lightning also has relatively slow transfer speeds for moving files between devices and computers, compared to USB-C. 

"Apple should move away from the Lightning port as the technology is becoming outdated," Tamoor said. "Apple is already showing signs of moving away from Lightning now that MacBooks and even the higher-end iPads are USB C," he added. 

Klaus Vedfelt / Getty Images

But USB C has its negatives, as well. "If a USB C-supported device is not configured properly, it could lead to reverse charging paths," Tamoor said. "For example, a phone connected to a laptop would lead to the phone charging the laptop and not vice versa."

For those who have a choice of connectors, the best overall charging connector is a USB C cable with a GaN charging brick, Tamoor said. "GaN is Gallium Nitride which leads to better energy efficiency," he added.

One issue with Apple staying with Lightning connectors is that they create waste, European lawmakers contend. Some European Parliament members want all phone-makers to adopt a universal port in a bid to reduce the environmental impact of so many cables. 

"We are drowning in an ocean of electronic waste," Roza Thun und Hohenstein, a European lawmaker, recently told the European Parliament. "We cannot continue this way."

Apple claims the legislation would create more waste by making Lightning-compatible accessories obsolete.

"Regulations that would drive conformity across the type of connector built into all smartphones freeze innovation rather than encourage it," Apple said in a feedback form last year. "Such proposals are bad for the environment and unnecessarily disruptive for customers."