Apple’s Lightning connector should ride off into the sunset

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USB-C Lightning
Lightning was great but it’s time has passed. USB-C is now a better option.
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

The European Commission is reportedly moving ahead with legislation that’s expected to make USB-C the common charger standard in the EU. We users should be encouraging Apple to embrace the change. It’s time for the Lightning port to go.

Lightning was fine in its day… but there are multiple reasons why USB-C has become a better option.

Lightning’s advantage

Apple should be applauded for creating Lightning. Back when it was introduced, Lightning was superior to the USB connectors available at the time because it’s symmetrical — there’s no difference between top and bottom. But then USB-C debuted in 2014 and removed that advantage.

As it stands now, the Lightning port has only one real benefit for most users: they already have cables that use it. That’s why Apple argues that switching the iPhone to USB-C would result in “an unprecedented volume of electronic waste and greatly inconveniencing users.”

But that’s sophistry. iPhone users wouldn’t immediately throw out their Lightning cables. They’d still use them until they got a new iPhone. And the Lightning cables Apple provides are so cheaply made that they usually wear out in a couple of years then go in the rubbish anyway.

The switch would be easy. No one will have to buy a USB-C cable to just charge their future iPhone. Apple isn’t run by idiots so there’d be a fresh one in the box with every new USB-C iPhone.

USB-C has more advantages

Plus, many Apple users already have USB-C charging cables. They’re used to power MacBooks and a growing number of iPad models. That’s right, Apple embraces USB-C… just not with iPhone. And that’s a problem.

In arguing in favor of keeping the Lightning port, Apple says it “deeply cares about the customer experience.” But having to carry around a separate charging cable just for an iPhone is a poor customer experience. A complete move to USB-C would allow a single cable to charge a MacBook, iPad and iPhone.

USB-C is every bit as easy to use as Lightning, and just as easy to find in stores. And that’s only the start.

A change would open the iPhone to a vast array of other USB-C accessories. As just one example, you could backup all your pictures just by connecting your iPhone to a USB drive. And it would be easy to add a USB-C hub with an HDMI port and USB-A ports, turning the iPhone into a TV settop box.

There’s also a benefit for anyone who wants the option to switch to Android. And it’ll make switching from Android to iPhone easier.

Lightning’s hidden advantage… for Apple

One of the reasons Apple has dragged its heels on switching to USB-C has nothing to do with preventing e-waste. It’s about licensing fees. The manufacturers of Apple-approved Lightning cables have paid Apple a fee that reportedly can be as high as $4 per connector. The iPhone-maker would have to forgo this extra cash if it switched its phones and all its tablets to USB-C.

This is really cynical as it’s making Apple customers pay extra for accessories while also making charging an iPhone more inconvenient. And blocking users from accessing useful accessories.

USB-C is the best option

It’s possible Apple won‘t argue with the EU not because it’s going to embrace USB-C but because it’s going to get rid of the charging/data port altogether. While this is possible, there are significant disadvantages to a portless iPhone.

Most notably, it still wouldn’t be possible to charge an iPhone with the same cable as a MacBook or iPad. A MagSafe charger would be needed for one and USB-C for the others (unless Apple makes the iPhone version of MagSafe universal). When all is said and done, it’s not surprising that recent survey found very little interest in a portless iPhone.

Truly, the best solution for iPhone users is USB-C — it can do everything Lightning can do and more. There’s no reason for iPhone users to support Apple if there are any further attempts to fight the EU mandating USB-C on handsets. Lightning isn’t better than USB-C — it’s worse. We should applaud efforts to make Apple move to the better option.