From Lightning to USB-C: The Long Way and the Way to Go

From Lightning to USB-C: The Long Way and the Way to Go

Lightning and USB-C cables

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Apple, an early adopter of USB-A and USB-C connectors, will likely be forced to phase out Lightning within the next couple of years. Here’s why, and what’s likely to happen down the road.

For decades, Apple has embraced niche connectors or gone its own way with a cable that you just use. But just as often, it has adopted connectors invented elsewhere.

This is perhaps the biggest cable change Apple has ever made. Soon, Apple will move away from its own Lightning because the EU says shouldto the USB-C standard he helped design.

What will this mean for the popular but increasingly outdated Lightning connector?


Lightning was introduced in late 2012, debuting on the iPhone 5 and related iPods, and a month later for the iPad Y ipad-mini. Compared to its predecessor, the 30-pin Dock Connector, the 8-pin Lightning Connector was much smaller, noticeably faster, and most importantly, reversible. The latter may have been a strong user-friendly consideration compared to the 2007 USB Micro-B standard that Android and a host of other portable devices adopted due to its small connector.

Although Apple introduced a “USB 3.0 host mode” on some Lightning-based devices in 2015the only Apple accessory it works with is the lightning camera adapter. Most Lightning connections use about the same speed as USB 2.0 (480 Mbps), which makes using it to transfer 4K HDR video files to recent iPhones annoyingly slow.

Apple USB3 to Lightning Camera Card Adapter for $39

Apple USB3 to Lightning Camera Card Adapter for $39

Also in 2015, Apple began adopting the USB-C connector to slowly replace the USB-A, Firewire, Thunderbolt 2, and MiniDisplayPort connectors that had been the standard on Macs. Because Apple created its Thunderbolt technology in collaboration with Intel, Apple is partly responsible for the path that USB and its connector types have taken, at least from USB 3.1 onwards.

The first specification called “USB-C” was introduced in 2012, and Apple was the first company to use a USB-C port on a laptop, with its 2015 MacBook. Today, most recent PCs have at least one port. USB-C, and it seems to be slowly gaining ground among mainstream computer users for its wide-ranging versatility, power delivery, and speed.

The term “USB-C” generally refers to the form factor of the connector rather than the data or power technology behind it, which is part of the USB 3 and USB4 protocols. The actual speed achieved when plugging something into a USB-C port varies by driver, starting with USB 3.1 and later.

Both USB 3.1 and the standardized form factor went mainstream in mid-2016, and the following year saw even greater adoption with the release of USB 3.2, which pushed transfer speeds to 10Gbps or 20Gbps, and power delivery. charge for charging devices, which varies by device, cable used, and other factors. Apple has used the USB-C connector for Thunderbolt 3 since its introduction, which also supports USB 3.x protocols.

Newer Macs have upgraded to Thunderbolt3/USB4, which is backwards compatible with USB 3.1 but continues to use the USB-C type connector. However, users of recent and new iPhones are still limited to using Lightning or Wi-Fi based technologies like AirDrop to transfer files.

The present

The current iPhone 14 the family still only supports Lightning USB 2.0 speed for data. This can be a drawback compared to most current Android phones, which have widely adopted the USB-C connector and USB 3.x speeds, which vary by device.

Even a frustrated engineer He did the job to adapt a working USB-C connector and controller to your iPhone.

Since the switch to USB-C as a physical connector for iPhones didn’t happen with the iPhone 14, it’s widely assumed that it will arrive alongside the iPhone 14. iPhone 15 line up in 2023, giving Lightning at least an active lifespan of 11 years. That said, the fact that Apple also stuck with Lightning as the physical connector for the new AirPods Pro 2 the charging case could leave the door ajar for future devices that don’t require USB 3 speeds or high levels of power delivery, such as future Airplay headphones, which could use a Lightning charging case very similar to the current one AirPods cases.

Such use would also help prevent Lightning cables from becoming electronic waste in the short term. Currently sold Apple devices that use the Lightning connector include the entire 2022 iPhone lineup, the 9th generation iPad, all EarPods, all AirPod charging cases, the AirPods Maxand all current magic keyboard and deals on Magic Mouse or Magic Trackpad for Mac, either included with the iMac or purchased separately.

Apple doesn’t necessarily need to update that Magic Mouse and Magic Trackpad with USB-C, although we hope they will at some point. EU law does not require manufacturers to discontinue devices released before the mandate with other ports.

because the recent ipad airthe 10th generation iPad and iPad mini use the USB-C connector and the USB 3.2 standard, while the iPadPro With models that support the even faster Thunderbolt 3/USB4 standard, it would seem logical that Apple would move to using the USB-C port across its entire iPhone lineup to catch up and beat the USB 3-era transfer speeds of its competitors. . Most modern non-Apple devices with USB-C ports support 10Gbps speeds with the rare exception of 20Gbps and even rarer 40Gbps.

Apple devices with Thunderbolt 3/USB4 can support up to 40 Gbps, although this varies depending on the cable and connected devices. That mess of cables is a whole different story.

Today, all iMac and Mac laptop lines are based on the physical USB-C connector. Newer ones have extra connectors: All MacBooks have analog headphone jacks, and some offer camera card slots and HDMI ports.

Today’s iMac can be configured to include Gigabit Ethernet as part of the power delivery block. And of course the mini mac, mac studio Y macpro they offer a wide variety of ports… even USB-A.

The future

Given the large number of Lightning devices that will likely remain in active use for many years to come, Apple will no doubt continue to make its Lightning and Lightning-to-USB-A or USB-C adapters available for the foreseeable future. The new tenth generation iPad includes a small Lightning to USB-C Adapter if users also ask for a first generation apple pencil at the same time, but otherwise the USB-C port on the latest iPad means Pencil owners will need to buy the adapter separately, for $9.

Third-party manufacturers are also going to address this need, as Apple devices tend to have a relatively long “in service” lifespan. Because USB-C as a connector port has shown remarkable versatility, with additional speeds and improvements to come, it’s likely to remain a standard longer than any of Apple’s own efforts.

Thunderbolt 5, when it ships sometime in the next couple of years, will use the same USB-C connector. But it offers twice the current maximum speeds of Thunderbolt. at 80Gbpsensuring that the cable port and connector likely won’t be replaced for years to come.

Of course, wireless charging technologies like Qi that Apple MagSafe basic uses, it will also remain popular in the short and perhaps long term, leaving room for various current and new options.

But even though the Qi standard is exactly that, a standard, the EU also promises to investigate it. It is not known what will come out of that exam.

The next Thunderbolt 5 will continue to use the USB-C connector.

The next Thunderbolt 5 will continue to use the USB-C connector.

Assuming Apple continues to expand the use of the USB-C connector across its range over the next two years, consumers should be prepared for the slow demise of “legacy” ports to accelerate. However, as Apple’s latest MacBooks indicate, the transition to USB C as the ubiquitous do-anything port may be delayed as peripheral manufacturers adapt.

As these older standards fade, and as we’ve said for years, it’s better to adopt USB-C than fight. And this despite the fact that Lightning is a connector designed to fail at the end of the cable, compared to USB-C, which has a male connector integral to the device that is encased by the cable.

Regardless of whether it’s a better port for mobile devices in theory, Lightning, which laid the groundwork for USB-C, has become another casualty of progress due to its limits in data transfer, power capabilities, and speed. speed, just like so many others. connector “standards” have.

And, government bodies that mandate USB-C need to put their money where their mouth is and actually be nimble when something new and better comes along instead of just talking about the possibility.

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