- The EU is pushing for the adoption of a common charging cable that would work across all types of smartphones, a measure that would likely require Apple to switch from its proprietary Lightning charging method to USB-C.
- Apple has pushed back against such regulation, saying that it would stifle innovation and pose an inconvenience to consumers.
- There are several reasons why Apple isn’t likely to ditch the more than 7-years-old Lightning cable unless it has to.
- For example, doing so would cause a headache for iPhone accessory makers. It’s also uncharacteristic for Apple to adopt a technology just because the rest of the industry is – without making some improvements or changes to it.
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Apple is facing pressure to ditch the Lightning port on its iPhones as the European Union pushes for smartphone makers to adopt a universal charging standard that works across all devices. Such a move would signal the first major update to the technology Apple uses for powering its line of smartphones since it introduced Lightning in 2012.
The European Union has been pressing for binding measures that would require chargers to accommodate all types of mobile devices, with the goal being to reduce electronic waste and make the lives of consumers easier. That would probably mean Apple would be required to ditch the Lightning port in favour of USB-C if such regulation ever passes.
The EU’s efforts took a step forward on January 30 when the European Parliament voted in favour of introducing a “common charger for mobile radio equipment.”
It’s the latest development in the EU’s initiative. Back in 2018, companies including Apple, Samsung, Google, and others signed a voluntary EU agreement to introduce smartphone models to the European market that are chargeable through a USB-C cable or accessory. Cables that terminate in USB-C on one side and have a vendor specific connector on the other – like Apple’s USB-C to Lightning cables – were acceptable under this agreement.
But earlier in January, Maroš Šefčovič, vice president of Interinstitutional Relations and Foresight for European Commission, is saying those measures didn’t go far enough. While he didn’t mention Apple by name during his opening statements before the European Parliament on January 13, he did cite the proprietary solutions proposed by the industry as a reason for the 2018 plan falling short.
Apple previously responded to the EU’s proposal in a statement saying that the proposed regulation would stifle innovation and harm consumers.
Aside from the EU’s concerns, there has been plenty of speculation that Apple may be preparing to switch from Lightning to USB C. For example, a Bloomberg report from last year said that Apple had tested a version of its 2019 iPhones with USB C, which suggested that it may eventually ditch the Lightning port.
But there are several reasons why it probably won’t anytime soon.
It would upend the whole iPhone accessory business.
Switching to USB-C would mean most iPhone accessories – from the wired EarPods that come with your iPhone to third-party car mounts and charging stands – would be rendered obsolete. That’s presumably why Apple doesn’t change the charging technology for its iPhones very often – the last time it did so was when it made the jump from the old-fashioned 30-pin connector to the Lightning plug with the iPhone 5 in 2012.
Apple cites this rationale in its official statement in response to the EU’s push for a universal smartphone charger.
“More than 1 billion Apple devices have shipped using a Lightning connector in addition to an entire ecosystem of accessory and device manufacturers who use Lightning to serve our collective customers,” the company said in its statement. “The legislation would have a direct negative impact by disrupting the hundreds of millions of active devices and accessories used by our European customers and even more Apple customers worldwide, creating an unprecedented volume of electronic waste and greatly inconveniencing users.”
Look no further than Apple’s decision to remove the headphone jack from the iPhone in 2016 as evidence that people aren’t fond of these types of changes.
Apple doesn’t typically make changes to its products to fit with the rest of the industry, unless it has a strong reason.
It’s uncharacteristic for Apple to make a change to a major product like the iPhone just for convenience’s sake, or simply because everyone else in the industry is doing so.
There are several examples that illustrate Apple has no issue with foregoing technologies adopted by competitors, even if it does make it look like the company is falling behind. Android devices, for example, offered features like near field communication (NFC) for wirelessly transferring information and wireless charging long before the iPhone.
Unless it has a way to meaningfully improve the charging experience by adding USB-C, it makes sense that the company would push back on regulation that would require it to re-think how the iPhone and its accompanying accessories are designed.
The Lightning cable, for example, offered a few noticeable benefits over the 30-pin connector: it enabled Apple to create thinner smartphones, as Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing, told All Things D back in 2012. Plus, the Lightning cable was more durable than the older 30-pin connector and reversible, making it easier to plug in quickly with less fiddling.
One could argue that convenience alone is a worthwhile benefit for switching from Lightning to USB C. After all, who wouldn’t want to use the same cable to charge both their laptop and their iPhone? But that’s not usually Apple’s style either, as proven by its decision to remove the headphone jack from the iPhone 7.
But even then, it did argue that the change would benefit iPhone owners by making the device more durable, since the iPhone 7 was the first one to offer water resistance.
It would give Apple less control over the iPhone experience.
Having its own proprietary charging cable also means Apple has more control over the standards that need to be met in order for accessory makers to create chargers, cables, and other add-ons that work safely with the iPhone.
Expanding the iPhone’s compatibility to all USB-C accessories could make it more difficult for Apple to establish guidelines for helping consumers spot counterfeit products. Apple’s support page, for instance, even shows how the etchings in the edge of the connector differ on certified Lightning chargers compared to knock-offs.
We’ll probably see an iPhone with no ports before a USB-C iPhone.
If there’s anything we’ve learned from Apple’s decision to cut the headphone jack from the iPhone more than three years ago, it’s that it’s probably working toward a completely wireless iPhone that doesn’t even have a charging port.
“It makes no sense to tether ourselves with cables to our mobile devices,” Schiller said on stage during the iPhone 7 unveil shortly before revealing AirPods.
Apple is rumoured to be heading in a completely wireless direction. TF International Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, whose Apple product predictions have been accurate in the past, reported in December that the company could launch a cable-free iPhone by 2021.
If that’s indeed the case, it seems plausible that Apple wouldn’t want to shake up the charging standard it uses just before it’s planning to cut the cord completely. Schiller also said back in 2012 that the Lightning cable would be around “for many years to come.”