Should Apple swap Lightning for USB-C? [Friday Night Fights]

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Which would you prefer?
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

A recent rumor claimed Apple could swap its Lightning port for USB-C connectivity with iPhone 8 later this year. That’s already been debunked by one reliable analyst, but is it a move Apple should consider making in the foreseeable future?

Friday Night Fights bugLightning and USB-C both have their pros and cons. One has been around since iPhone 5 and we’re all familiar with it; the other is an open standard that anyone can use, which makes accessories, cables, and peripherals more affordable.

Join us in this week’s Friday Night Fight as we battle it out over whether Apple should give Lightning the boot in 2017.

Killian Bell FNFKillian Bell: I don’t think iOS devices should use USB-C. The switch would disgruntle millions of users who have already invested in Lightning accessories in the five years since it was first introduced with iPhone 5, and it would bring no real benefit.

Sure, you’d be able to use the USB-C cables you’ve bought for your MacBook to charge your iPhone, but would that really make things significantly easier? Most people already own plenty of Lightning cables by now.

Just like USB-C, Lightning is a reversible and multipurpose standard that handles everything iOS needs. There’s no real advantage to switching, and it would only open up the iPhone and iPad to accessories and peripherals that weren’t designed to be used with iOS.

Don’t you agree?

Luke Dormehl FNFLuke Dormehl: Well, according to recent reports, Lightning isn’t going anywhere, so you’re in luck. If that’s the decision Apple makes, I don’t think it’s a bad one. Ditching Lightning would cause a repeat of the 3.5mm headphone jack backlash, just as it did when Apple ditched the 30-pin connector to go with Lightning. It also means that Apple wouldn’t be able to license out Lightning technology any more, since it would be jumping to a non-proprietary standard with the USB-C.

Furthermore, Apple seems pretty keen on its vision of a wireless future, so maybe we’re not that far from a completely port-less iPhone without need for either Lightning or USB-C.

With that said, I wouldn’t be opposed to a USB-C iPhone, even if it sounds like it’s not in Apple’s future. Apple’s all about building an ecosystem of products, and it would be great to be able to switch between charging my iPhone to charging my MacBook without having to switch cables. No-one likes dongles, and it just makes sense to make the jump. Doesn’t it?

Killian Bell FNFKillian: Well, wireless charging certainly isn’t far away if you believe the rumors surrounding iPhone 8, but I think it will be a while before we’re syncing all of our data over the air. It just takes too long when you’re making big transfers.

I don’t think switching does make sense, no. As I’ve mentioned, Lightning is just as good as USB-C, so Apple would be making a change just for the sake of it. You get a free Lightning cable with your iOS device anyway, so it’s not like it’s a major issue to have a different connector.

Fans complained when Apple ditched the 30-pin connector, but it did so for a good reason. That connector was outdated and far too big; Apple had to reduce its size to make iOS devices thinner. What significant advantage would there be to switching to USB-C?

Luke Dormehl FNFLuke: I’ll be honest: I’m far from the most knowledgeable person when it comes to the technical differences between these two connectors. USB-C is admittedly bulkier, which would stop Jony Ive continuing his quest to make iPhones supermodel skinny. As I’ve mentioned, the fact that it moves us away from a dongle-heavy world with different chargers for different devices is also a positive.

What about the ability to offer more charge power than Lightning? USB-C can support a current of up to 100 watts, opening up the possibility of charging a phone significantly faster. With Apple seemingly not willing to embrace larger batteries, that could be a nice compromise, surely?

Aside from Apple making money, what benefit do we as consumers get from Lightning that we wouldn’t from USB-C?

Killian Bell FNFKillian: Apple already has plenty of power to play with with Lightning. That’s never going to be an issue with mobile devices. If it wanted to, Apple could bring faster charging to iPhone and iPad without switching the connector — and I, for one, am hoping that happens with iPhone 8, since it’s desperately needed.

The benefit right now is that it’s an ideal size and we’re already used to it. We’ve already invested in cables and accessories that use Lightning, and we’d have to replace them all. Even your $99 Apple Pencil would need to be replaced (or yet another adapter) if USB-C made its way to iPad Pro.

If USB-C was around when Apple first dropped the 30-pin connector, I’d be supporting it. I’d much prefer an open standard. But now that Lightning is here and has been for a while, I don’t see the point in switching — even if it is proprietary.

Luke Dormehl FNFLuke: I guess my one other point to put to you relates to this Apple dream of making iOS into a productivity platform that could conceivably replace your laptop. Blurring the line between mobile and more traditional desktops is something we’ve spoken about previously, and it’s something I’d like to see Apple embrace in a thought-out way. By adopting USB-C for iOS, Apple would make these devices more compatible with computing devices, which opens up the possibility of making it a better PC replacement.

Users could potentially plug their iPad into a monitor and use it like a desktop with an external mouse and keyboard. Ultimately, I think you’re probably right: Apple’s not going to necessarily adopt USB-C, and there are financial reasons that make that a prudent choice. But for a company which wants to have a plethora of devices able to talk with one another, doesn’t it make sense — at least from a user perspective — to have the same connector on both MacBooks and iPhones? I’d have thought so!

Killian Bell FNFKillian: It would make sense if that was the direction Apple was really taking iOS in, but it’s not. Tim Cook made it clear during Apple’s investor meeting earlier this week that the company does not see the iPad as a Mac replacement; it is seen as a separate product that serves different purposes.

With that being the case, there’s no way Apple would allow your iPhone or iPad to become a desktop replacement when plugged into a monitor in the same way that a Windows smartphone does. Should its stance ever change, then I’d happily give up Lightning for USB-C.

Let’s hand this one over to the readers now. Do you think Apple should bring USB-C to iOS in the not-so-distant future, or are you happy to stick with Lightning?

Friday Night Fights is a series of weekly death matches between two no-mercy brawlers who will fight to the death — or at least agree to disagree — about which is better: Apple or Google, iOS or Android?