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Finally, the Lightning Port is about to die


For the past few years, a stubborn rumor has circulated ahead of the release of the newest iPhone: that this will be the one without a Lightning port. Now, as the big iPhone event looms just days away, it looks virtually certain: the iPhone 15 will be the first iPhone to not use a proprietary Apple cable.

One indication is the wealth of rumors and leaks. For months, the drip-feed of info that has come out from various industry insiders has basically universally suggested that the switch to USB-C is coming, including late-breaking leaks that purport to have almost the entire presentation in advance.

But that's only part of the evidence. The switch to USB-C, and the resulting death of the Lightning port, was ultimately made inevitable by legislation in the European Union, mandating that all cable-rechargeable devices sold in the EU from 2024 need to have a USB-C port.

Apple's impending iPhone 15 switch will get the job done with time to spear.

Apple has been laying the groundwork to abandon Lightning for years...

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If you're looking for hints that Apple has been preparing to abandon the Lightning port, you will find no shortage of them. They come in two flavors.

The first is the steady advance of the USB-C port. When the iPad Pro was first launched in 2015, it unsurprisingly launched with a Lightning port, just like its contemporaries the iPad Air (Gen 2) and iPad Mini 4. In 2018, however, the 3rd generation iPad Pro came with a snazzy USB-C port. In 2020, the iPad Air lost its Lightning for a USB-C port as well. And just a few months ago, the iPad Mini's Lightning port also disappeared in a redesign.

Apple's MacBooks, meanwhile, have never sported the port, sticking to a 3.5mm jack for audio transitioned its iPhone EarPods to Lightning for the iPhone. As a result of this slow push, the number of devices which sport a Lightning port is smaller than ever, essentially relegated to the iPhone, AirPod cases, and the AirPods Max.

apple mag safe charger

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The second indicator is the growing support for wireless charging. In 2020, Apple announced its wireless MagSafe chargers for the iPhone (distinct from its old MagSafe chargers for the MacBook, and also its new MagSafe chargers for the MacBook). While official "MagSafe" certification confers some benefits, like a higher rate of charge for supported Apple devices, MagSafe chargers are built on the widespread "Qi" charging standard — which is, effectively, the USB-C of wireless charging.

With these two trends taken together, you can start to see a revealing pattern: almost every Lightning Port device Apple has made since 2020 supports wireless charging as well. To be sure, there are some outliers: the oddball AirPods Max (which also notably don't support Apple Music's Lossless tier), and some desktop accessories. But increasingly, the lion's share of Apple's products could charge just fine if Lightning were to suddenly disappear.

And it very well may.

And the European Union is forcing Apple's hand.

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Whatever Apple's ideal timeframe to phase out the Lightning port may have been, the European Union has now given the tech giant a hard deadline. An amendment to the EU's "Radio Equipment Directive" will soon require all devices sold in Europe to include a USB-C charging port if they include a charging port at all. The move is partly a measure to curb the production of e-waste in the form of various proprietary chargers and partly a consumer-friendly bid to enforce a universal charging port. And now it's finally happening.

The legislation has been working through European parliament for the better part of a few years, but now it's finalized and has an explicit deadline. All devices up for sale in the European Union as of December 28th, 2024, will have to have a USB-C port if they have ports at all. That is to say, the iPhone 16.

As the EU's official website elaborates:

Mobile phones, tablets, e-readers, earbuds, digital cameras, headphones and headsets, handheld videogame consoles and portable speakers that are rechargeable via a wired cable will have to be equipped with a USB Type-C port, regardless of their manufacturer. Laptops will also have to be adapted to the requirements by 40 months after the entry into force.
The charging speed is also harmonised for devices that support fast charging, allowing users to charge their devices at the same speed with any compatible charger.

This legislation leaves Apple with a few options of various palatability to Apple. One option would be to produce USB-C iPhone exclusively for sale in Europe. It would satisfy the provisions of the new legislation, and is definitely technically feasible. But it's also kind of embarrassing, and would create a whole host of new compatibility issues for the company as it would suddenly have two lines of non-interoperable smartphones and accessories.

Worse yet, it would complicate production and sale of the iPhone, which benefits greatly from economies of scale. Apple makes and sells hundreds of millions of iPhones each year. Production is simpler (and more profitable) if it doesn't have to make an additional USB-C port flavor of every model.

Apple has been known to alter its standard practices to stay on the good side of local law. In France, the iPhone continued to come with pack-in headphones long after Apple stopped the practice elsewhere, because French law required it (but no longer does). But that's a far cry from making a whole new type of iPhone.

Apple could also just switch to USB-C wholesale to avoid complications in production and compatibility, as has been rumored it might in the past. In fact, recent rumblings from Cupertino seem to suggest this is the plan. Apple has pretty much publicly confirmed that the USB-C iPhone is coming and, what's more, Bloomberg's reliably correct Apple oracle, Mark Gurman, is predicted last year that the USB-C port will show up on the iPhone 15 in all localities, a claim he doubled down on this week.

Why is the iPhone's switch to USB-C such a big deal?

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Anyone who is coming from the Android world has non-Apple tablets, or any somewhat modern device that charges primarily by USB-C will immediately see the appeal. Traveling with a single cable will become much easier, as will bumming a charge off friends and strangers, because you won't have to spend your time finding someone who has the exact same type of phone as you do.

But the biggest quality of life improvement may be for Apple's own customers, specifically MacBook users. When Apple switched many of its MacBooks over to USB-C charging, it allowed MacBook users to charge their phone with the same cable they charge their laptops... but only if they used an Android phone. Now, with a USB-C iPhone 15, MacBook-toting iPhone users can swap the same exact cable between their two devices to keep both topped up, a minor but massive convenience that has been a long, long time coming.

This state of affairs may not last all that long. All signs suggest that Apple still intends to evolve to a port-less, wireless-charging only future as its ultimate end goal, but because the "Qi" wireless charging technology that is used by Apple's MagSafe phone chargers is an open standard that virtually all the main gadget makers have adopted, that future won't be as restrictive as the Lightning cable days.

In the meantime, as long as you can purge all the microUSB devices from your life, you'll be free to enjoy a (probably, mostly) one-cable existence.

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