The writing has been on the wall for Apple’s Lightning port for some time, but now that European lawmakers have struck a deal on a common USB-C charger for phones, laptops, and other computer devices, it appears as though time is finally running out for Apple’s proprietary connector.
Introduced in September 2012 with the iPhone 5, the 8-pin Lightning connector replaced the 30-pin connector previously used on iPhones and iPods. There’s a lot to like about Lightning — it’s a solid, well-made connector that has stood the test of time — but at almost ten years old, it’s had a good run, even if European Union lawmakers hadn’t set their sights on its eradication.
So where does this leave Apple?
Let’s forget the unrealistic option where Apple refuses to sell its product in European territories, which I’ve seen suggested, as this is just ridiculous. As far as I can see, Apple has two options:
- Switch to USB-C: Apple already uses USB-C on some of its devices and switching Lightning for USB-C would be pretty painless for Apple and its customers. This could allow the iPhone to retain backward compatibility with the massive ecosystem of devices and accessories out there by offering a dongle for those who need it.
- Remove the port completely: Go fully wireless. Remove the Lightning port and replace it with wireless charging.
My prediction is that Apple drops the port completely and goes all-in with wireless charging. Apple likes to simplify, and if it can’t generate revenue from licensing the Lightning connector, I think it’ll drop the port completely.
The problem with this is what happens to all many, many tons of accessories out there that rely on a connector (everything from small accessories to CarPlay-enabled cars). I don’t see Apple drawing a line under all these devices and consigning them to the dump.
A wireless dongle that connects to Lightning could be the solution here.
Yes, a dongle.
Something else to buy.
Something else to carry.
Something else for Apple to make money from.
It’s hardly the best solution, but if Apple has to now move away from Lightning, it’s a solution. And it’s a better one in many ways if Apple is serious about eventually going port-free because creating a new iPhone ecosystem around USB-C doesn’t make sense if that has a limited lifespan.
Best to make the switch to wireless now. It’ll be less painful for consumers in the long run, even if it does mean the intermediate pain of having to buy more dongles.
The interesting thing about the European ruling is its scope. It covers all rechargeable mobile phones, tablets, e-readers, earbuds, digital cameras, headphones and headsets, handheld videogame consoles, and portable speakers.
Oddly missing from that listing are smartwatches.
This means Apple, along with other manufacturers, will still be able to ship proprietary chargers with its smartwatch. Since this is a rapidly-growing market, this seems like quite an oversight by the lawmakers.