In this way, Apple’s hand has been forced: if the company intends to continue selling iPhones in the EU, it must acquiesce. The company would be faced with the issue of multiple versions of the same iPhones with different connectors worldwide unless it makes a universal switch to USB-C. Since 2012, Apple has used its Lightning cable and protocol in iPhones, and as such, Lightning has become one of the most popular charging technologies on the market.
Bloomberg claimed last week that Apple is testing future iPhones with USB-C connectors instead of standard Lightning ports. The sheer performance improvements of USB-C over Lightning may be one reason Apple is considering this shift. Lightning was first introduced in 2012, and it hasn’t improved much since then. Apple may be able to deliver iPhones with higher charging and data transfer rates by embracing USB-C. However, beyond the performance benefits, a key reason for making the change is likely due to the European Union’s decision to make USB-C a universal standard in all electronic devices. Multiple charging types on the market have heightened the e-waste crisis—an issue the EU is committed to combatting.
From a power delivery standpoint, Lightning was originally designed for 2 A current delivery with a minimum power delivery of 12 W. At the time Lightning was released, this metric was a big improvement over competing MicroUSB cables that deliver 9 W (1.8 A at 5 V) of power. Today, when used in conjunction with USB-C power adapters, Lightning can reach a maximum of 9 V at 2.2 A with a special 20 W USB-C power adapter. USB-C is a relatively new standard in the USB family that has been widely adopted in almost all new consumer electronics on the market today. USB-C offers many advantages both in terms of data communication and power delivery.
Lightning is an 8-pin protocol (two reversible rows of 8 pins) that consists of power delivery, data transfer, and identification/control functionality. Looking at data transfer, Lightning can support transfer speeds up to 480 Mbps—a number that is comparable to transfer speeds on the USB 2.0 specification.
USB-C is also a major step up from its predecessors from a power perspective. Importantly, USB-C connectors were designed to support USB-C Power Delivery (PD), a power delivery protocol that is capable of supporting a maximum voltage of 20 V and 5 A for a total maximum power of 100 W. This far exceeds previous generations such as USB 2.0, which provides a maximum power of 2.5 W, or Lightning, which supports a maximum of 9 V and 2.2 A with a special 20 W USB-C power adapter. Bloomberg reports that in addition to testing new iPhones with USB-C, Apple is also developing an adapter that would make future iPhones function with accessories built for the current Lightning connector.
With respect to data transfer, USB-C offers the unique advantage of both flexibility and high speed. Depending on the version of USB-C, the protocol can deliver anywhere from 5 Gbps to 40 Gbps, a number that far exceeds Lightning’s 480 Mbps. Beyond that, the USB-C protocol is capable of supporting multiple other protocols including DisplayPort, PCIe, Thunderbolt, and HDMI. This makes USB-C an extremely versatile and high-performance choice for any smartphone or computer.
Apple’s switch to USB-C would benefit consumers by limiting the number of chargers needed for different devices—effectively reducing e-waste at the end of product lifecycles. USB-C also yields higher performance and reduces cost compared to Lightning. If the company does adopt USB-C in place of Lightning, this change will not occur until 2023 at the earliest.