When Apple decided to switch the cable needed to charge and sync your iPhone with the launch of the iPhone 5, it caused an uproar with customers. The controversial change, which was announced back in 2012, ditched the longstanding 30-pin charger that was found on all iPod and iPhone models until that moment with the sleek new Lightning connection.
Apple decided to make all existing iPhone accessories and cables redundant because Lightning was smaller and reversible, unlocked more functionality, and enabled faster charging for the first time. And now, rumours suggest that Apple is planning to cause a revolt amongst its loyal fanbase once again.
But this time, the decision to switch to a new port is driven by the European Union.
Apple is purportedly testing new iPhone models with USB-C in lieu of its Lighting port, according to Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman – who has an almost unmatched track record when it comes to unannounced product news from inside the secretive Californian technology company. Sources suggest the new charging cable won’t arrive with the iPhone 14 lineup, which looks set to be announced in September, but instead, the controversial switch take place in the second half of 2023. Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who has a number of reliable sources within the supply chain, has also forecasted that we’ll see Apple move away from the Lightning port next year.
A key reason for the switch – which will force iPhone owners to buy new charging cables and will make some accessories redundant – is to appease the European Union.
In April, the EU voted to adopt legislation to force all smartphone, tablet, and electronic device manufacturers to adopt USB-C as the new standard for charging. The cable, which shares a number of the best attributes with Lightning (it’s reversible, can be used for headphones as well as refilling the battery, and enables faster charging), was developed in collaboration with a number of technology companies, including Apple. USB-C is used by almost all Android smartphone makers, from Google and OnePlus, to Huawei and Samsung. Popular gadgets like the Nintendo Switch games console also relies on USB-C to connect to the TV and charge on-the-go.
“Mobile phones, tablets, digital cameras, headphones and headsets, handheld video-game consoles and portable speakers, rechargeable via a wired cable, would have to be equipped with a USB Type-C port, regardless of the manufacturer,” the EU legislation, which was approved by a majority vote, stipulates. European bureaucrats hope that USB-C will cut down on electronic waste as customers can reuse the same charging cable for multiple devices. When they buy a new smartphone, games console, Kindle, or tablet …they will not be forced to buy a range of new chargers and accessories either.
Apple – which already relies on USB-C for charging on a number of devices, including the iPad Air and iPad Pro, MacBook Air and MacBook Pro – has said the European law hurts its ability to innovate. Speaking before the legislation was passed, a spokesperson for the iPhone maker said: “We are concerned that regulation mandating just one type of connector for all devices on the market will harm European consumers by slowing down the introduction of beneficial innovations in charging standards, including those related to safety and energy efficiency.”
It’s possible that Apple will launch a new version of the iPhone with USB-C in Europe to appease regulators, keeping the Lightning port everywhere else. However, multiple versions of the same smartphone with different charging methods is likely to cause confusion among consumers – not to mention headaches in the supply chain.
It’s unclear whether Apple would ditch Lightning from its popular line of iPhone accessories, including the AirPods, AirPods Pro and AirPods Max, the remote for the Apple TV, the MagSafe external battery pack, and the Magic Mouse for Mac users. As it stands, customers can use the charging cable that ships with their iPhone to recharge all of these accessories. An adapter could solve the problem, but customers won’t be happy if they have to pay extra to travel with a single charging cable for their iPhone and AirPods wireless earbuds.
Finally, there is a thriving ecosystem of third-party accessories – from car adapters to external microphones – that all rely on the Lightning cable. A switch away from this port after a decade would force these firms to redesign their products.