Apple's Lightning connector was introduced 10 years ago, and it may not survive the iPhone 15

Will Apple’s Lightning connector survive the iPhone 15?

10 years ago, Apple was on the verge of launching the iPhone 5, so the iPhone and iPad of that era basically still relied on the old 30-pin iPod connector. In September 2012, Apple announced the Lightning connector, promising to be “the modern connector for the next decade.” A decade later, Lightning doesn’t seem to survive the iPhone 15.

Pre-Lightning Age

Before the iPhone, the iPod was Apple’s only portable device, and it had a proprietary 30-pin connector first introduced with the iPod in 2003 (the previous two generations had a Mac-only FireWire connector) .

Of course, the iPhone was released with the same 30-pin connector as the iPod, so that it could take advantage of the accessory ecosystem already on the market. At first, this was never a problem for most users, especially since the iPhone is a niche market. If you have an iPod, you are already very familiar with this connector.

But then the iPhone evolved, and the iPod slowly came to an end. As smartphones get thinner and companies are developing better cameras and batteries, some things have to change. This is when the lightning comes in.

Connectors for the next decade

The Lightning connector was unveiled on stage by then-Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller. Unlike the 30-pin connector, Lightning is more compact and reversible, which makes it more intuitive than its predecessor. To make the transition even more seamless, Apple even introduced a 30-pin to Lightning adapter.

Since Lightning is 80 percent smaller than a 30-pin connector, this frees up more internal space for other components in the device — and it’s an excuse for Apple to get rid of the headphone jack years later.

Lightning was soon added to other Apple products. A month after the iPhone 5, Apple also released the iPad 4 and the first iPad mini, both with Lightning ports. The seventh-generation and previous-generation iPod nano also feature a Lightning connector, as well as the fifth-generation iPod touch. No other Apple product has shipped with a 30-pin connector since then. It’s a quick transition.

Personally, when I got the iPhone 5, I was very excited about the Lightning connector. And it feels much better than the old iPod interface. It was also significantly better than the standard Micro-USB connector of other mobile devices of the time. But time passed and the industry began to change again. But this time, not for iPhone users.

Apple's Lightning connector was introduced 10 years ago, and it may not survive the iPhone 15

USB-C

Just as smartphones continue to evolve and get thinner, tech companies are 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 version of the USB standard with a new connector that is faster, smaller and reversible.

It didn’t take long for Apple to introduce its first USB-C-equipped product: the 2015 MacBook. It’s Apple’s thinnest laptop, with only one USB-C port. Although the MacBook has been discontinued, its legacy lives on in several other Apple products. And part of that legacy is USB-C.

Apple praises the versatility of USB-C because it supports previous USB standards, DisplayPort, HDMI, VGA, Ethernet, and even transfers power in a single cable. Apple proudly states on its website that it has contributed to the development of “a new Universal Connectivity Standard.” But unlike Lightning, it took Apple longer to bring USB-C to its other products, even if it’s sold as a future connector.

Apple's Lightning connector was introduced 10 years ago, and it may not survive the iPhone 15

In 2016, it’s time for the MacBook Pro to get USB-C. In 2018, Apple brought the connector to the MacBook Air and iPad Pro. USB-C is now present across the entire Mac lineup. As for the iPad, entry-level models are still the only ones that rely on the Lightning connector, although our sources suggest that’s about to change.

Apple also replaced the Lightning to USB-A cable with a Lightning to USB-C cable. 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 a wide variety of devices on the market that use USB-C. It has become the new standard for computers, tablets, smartphones and accessories.

What’s next?

10 years ago, having a dedicated connector for an iPhone never seemed to be a problem. Today, however, lightning seems more outdated than ever. For someone who already owns a Mac and an iPad with USB-C, not to mention other devices like headsets and game controllers, keeping a Lightning cable at home for a single product seems completely outdated.

At the same time, Lightning now faces the limitations of the technology. The connector used by the iPhone is still based on the USB 2.0 standard, which is much slower than USB 3.0. In an age where 4K ProRes video produces huge files, Lightning has become a nightmare for Pro users. It also lacks the super-fast charging speeds supported by USB-C.

But will the iPhone get USB-C? Why is Apple reluctant to ditch the Lightning connector?

Well, only the company has an answer to this, but one could easily assume that Apple still makes a lot of money with Lightning. That’s because, since it’s a proprietary connector, third-party manufacturers pay Apple a license fee. And Apple’s own Lightning accessories aren’t cheap.

Apple's Lightning connector was introduced 10 years ago, and it may not survive the iPhone 15

While the iPhone 14 should still retain Lightning, Apple’s connector may not work in the iPhone 15. Earlier this year, the European Union decided to make it mandatory for every smartphone and tablet sold in European countries to have a USB-C connector. Other countries such as Brazil, India and even the US have been considering doing the same.

At the end of the day, maybe Phil Schiller was right. Lightning has been the connector of the past 10 years. Because in the next 10 years, Apple may be forced to stop using its proprietary connector.

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