The Lightning Port isn’t all about convenience; it’s about control
The European Commission shook the iPhone world to its roots this week, announcing a new policy that would require all smartphones to adopt USB-C ports for physical charging in an effort to reduce e-waste.
Apple, of course, does not offer a USB-C iPhone, which in the past argued to the European Commission that “the law has a direct negative impact by disrupting the millions of active devices and accessories used by our European customers.” and even more Apple customers around the world, creating an unprecedented amount of electronic waste and causing great distress to users.”
Apple explicitly supports USB-C . prefers lighting instead
Switching to USB-C, Apple says, will actually be more wasteful than sticking with Lightning, as customers will need new cables and adapters — despite the fact that Apple already has a lot of power on its iPads and MacBooks. USB-C port and has managed to switch on those popular products without major issues or customer revolts.
Notably absent from Apple’s argument, however, is the fact that cutting the Lightning port on the iPhone would not only create more e-waste (if you buy Apple’s argument) or inconvenience its customers. It also means that Apple will lose revenue from every Lightning cable and accessory that works with an iPhone, Apple-made or not — along with controls over what type of hardware it receives. What (or doesn’t) get for the iPhone exist and what companies get to make them.
Apple’s MFi program means that if you want to plug anything into an iPhone, whether it’s a charger or an adapter or an accessory, you’ll have to go through Apple. And Apple also takes a cut of every single one of those devices.
Want to connect an external display? You will need an adapter approved by Apple. Import photos and videos from SD card or flash drive? An Apple-approved adapter. Want to use the DAC to take advantage of Apple Music’s new high-res lossless audio? Again, you’ll need either an MFi device or an Apple-approved USB dongle.
The same, of course, is not true of Apple’s USB-C-based devices, which have a strong ecosystem that can be broadly defined as nearly every product that uses USB-C. Is. With a USB-C iPad, you can just add flash drives and keyboards and displays and the useful extras that make those devices better. Apple even made a point of this fact in its latest keynote when announcing the new iPad mini. And of course, the USB-C iPad can be charged by any standard USB-C cable capable of putting out enough wattage.
The European Commission rule could theoretically do the same by bringing into existence the USB-C for iPhones that Apple has so far refused to make. But the new change could mean that Apple may instead shift toward a completely portless iPhone (or accelerate its plans for it). Instead of giving in to USB-C ports, the company may skip the ports entirely for customers to move to using its proprietary charging methods.
It’s the kind of solution that seems obvious — it’s practically a deliberate loophole in EU policy — until you consider how little sense a portless iPhone makes, absent Apple’s own subsidiary. Willingness to protect fees and ecosystem controls.
Switching to USB-C, a standard used by nearly every other major tech product (including many like Apple’s own recent MacBook and iPad lineups), makes sense. The iPhone is probably the most popular device in the world that uses a proprietary charger, and switching to USB-C will simplify charging setup for millions of iPhone owners around the world. And USB-C will still allow for similar waterproofing, data transfer and charging speeds compared to Lightning (as evidenced by any Android phone or Apple’s iPad.) There’s a reason the European Commission wants to institute the new change. , Finally .
If the EU allows Apple to stick with Lightning, keeping that standard around also makes a certain amount of sense, even if it’s frustrating for those (like me) who want more integrated charging. Would love the standard. Lightning is an established ecosystem for which millions of customers already have cables, with fast data transfer and charging speeds. Like USB-C, it offers waterproofing capability, and it gets Apple both its licensing fees and ecosystem controls.
But a portless iPhone that relies on MagSafe (or any other wireless standard) is a staggering proposition. This will force millions of customers to switch to new chargers, generating tons of e-waste in the process. The result of all that cost and effort will be a charging and data transfer system that compares to wired cables in every way.
Apple is a $2.4 trillion company; It’ll be fine without the revenue from Lightning cable fees, should it switch entirely to USB-C. After all, there are plenty of proprietary Apple chargers and technologies still up for license, like the MagSafe, AirPlay, Find My, or the rumored new magnetic laptop charger that could be in the works later this year.
But benefits aside, switching to USB-C will mean giving up a further amount of control over what iPhone owners can do with their devices outside of Apple’s carefully curated garden. And, as we’ve seen time and time again, this is something that Apple shied away from allowing.