The future of the Lightning port in the iPhone has long been discussed. Will Apple stick to it, replace it with USB-C, or switch directly to a fully wireless iPhone – one with no ports?
There’s a new discussion today that is sparked by the claim that Apple won’t do any of these things and will instead use a Smart Connector on the iPhone 13.
This claim comes from a Twitter account on no track recordSo there is no reason to give it weight. But is it a reasonable guess at all? I do not think so.
If the iPhone kept a cable connection for a few years, the company would have a big dilemma.
Switching to USB-C would make sense for a number of reasons. Apple has already standardized USB-C for portable Macs and the iPad Pro. If you do this for the iPhone as well, the set will be completed. The ability to use the same chargers on all three devices is extremely convenient. The ability to connect any Apple device to any other Apple device using the same USB-C to USB-C charger offers obvious advantages, especially when traveling.
At the same time, there are many accessories that use the Lightning socket – from simple charging stations to wired CarPlay to high-end audio and video devices. As a amount of a lot. Switching the connector type would cause exactly the same problems and screams of fear as switching from the 30-pin connector to Lightning.
In 2017, it was time for Apple to switch to USB-C for both the iPhone and the iPad.
While the Lightning connector is a clever standard, USB-C is even smarter and more powerful. Using a single connector for Mac and iOS devices would greatly simplify the cable and connector ecosystem. With the high-speed data transfer capabilities provided by USB-C, Apple devices can work together better than ever.
But three years later, I feel it’s too late now. Whether Kuo is right or not that we will get a fully wireless iPhone in 2021, I think Apple will go there in the next few years. This would result in cleaner aesthetics and higher reliability through improved water and dust resistance.
So if Apple is on its way soon, does it really want to go through the Lightning to USB-C switch’s PR nightmare just to repeat it with a switch from USB-C to portless just a year or two later? I do not believe that. It could just as easily clear all the black for the company – and the pain for its customers – in one fell swoop.
The same argument applies to the Smart Connector. Sure, it’s a neater port than Lightning or USB-C. It does not let in dust or water, as is the case with a conventional connection. But again, there is no point in having an intermediate stage that doubles the pain.
As is so often the case with changes introduced by Apple, professionals are likely to be particularly badly affected by switching to a fully wireless iPhone. Audiovisual Devices face two challenges: powering the iPhone and addressing the reliability and latency issues that can result from switching to wireless connectivity. Developers also know that wireless debugging with Xcode can be a frustratingly unreliable experience.
This is far less of a problem for consumers in the mass market. Most existing owners of some reasonably modern iPhones already use most or most of the time wireless chargers. Charging stations are increasingly used in coffee shops, airports and other public areas.
However, there are still times when wired charging can be more convenient, with travel being an obvious example. If you want to make sure that a device is fully charged for a long flight, pre-charging at the airport using a cable is much more convenient than using a wireless charger. And if you’re traveling with a Mac, it can easily serve as a charging station for all of your Apple devices.
Apple could potentially solve the developer and professional problem with a hidden port, just as it does with the Apple Watch. This could be hidden in the SIM slot, for example.
However, Apple appeared to be completely uninterested in this approach. Developers have expressed their surprise at Apple not spending their money on a development cable for the Apple Watch, and it may be that the company is no longer interested in offering this for the iPhone.
So that’s my bet: a single switch from Lightning to a fully wireless iPhone within the next one to three years, with no intermediate stages of USB-C or Smart Connector. What do you think? Please take our survey and share your thoughts in the comments.