For at least a year now, we’ve heard rumors that the iPhone 12 will be the last iPhone to have a physical port for a cable connection, and additional info appears to corroborate this.
Apple has implemented USB-C connections in other devices but appears to have decided to ditch the Lightning port altogether and replace it with…nothing.
What would follow the era of ports would be a new focus on wireless charging – the same kind of induction charging that we use today on charging pads and charging stands.
A lot of people prefer this type of charging. It’s easy to just plop your iPhone down on a pad while you’re busy with something else. However, switching to only wireless charging raises a lot of questions about just what Apple is planning.
If iPhones really are removing ports entirely in a couple of years, here’s how it would probably look – and why it could really work out.
The Smart Connector Solution
On the face of it, there are a few immediate problems with removing the Lightning port and making everyone recharge wirelessly. First, it’s hard to do anything while your iPhone is charging on a wireless pad. You can’t pick it up to check notifications or send a quick text like you can with a cable – not without breaking the induction connection, which isn’t ideal.
Second, bringing out a wireless pad for a quick charge is a lot harder to do in public spaces – imagine trying to use a charging pad in a crowded airport, or in a subway station. Even using one in your own car presents difficulties!
Apple’s solution to this appears to be a revamped version of the “Smart Connector” that’s used on some iPad models (which are not portless, but that’s another topic). While we aren’t quite sure what this would look like yet for iPhone, it would probably be a magnetic patch or bar that attaches to the back of the iPhone instead of plugging into a port. Apple could still market charging pads and similar solutions, but this Smart Connector would give the benefits of a cable-based charger without needing an actual port to do it.
Advantages of Going Fully Wireless
There are a couple of big advantages to getting rid of ports. When it comes to the mechanical design of an iPhone, a port is technically a big flaw in the body.
By removing the port, Apple could make iPhones that are more durable, and much better at resisting water damage and dust problems. For people tired of cables, it also offers an option to forego carrying cables entirely (assuming you use charging pads instead of the Smart Connector).
From a company perspective, moving to a wireless charging model also gives Apple a few different branding and protocol options. They could join a larger wireless standard agreed upon by many large brands to make manufacturing and shipping easier (the EU, back in January, has strongly voted to create such charging standards, although Apple really doesn’t like it). Or Apple could create its own charging standard and keep everything in house while offering a line of charging accessories only available through Apple – a strategy the company has often preferred in the past.
Managing Data Transfer
One last big question remains: How in the world do you transfer lots of data without a cable connection? This is a trickier topic. One potential solution is a renewed focus on using iCloud for managing data between iPhones and other devices, although this could require some changes to iCloud storage limits, etc.
Another solution is using the wireless connection itself: Wireless charging does pass data along with power to a device – information about power levels and charging states. Future versions of wireless charging could be more efficient at this, although it would require Smart Connectors that could connect with both iPhones and say, MacBooks. The Connector used for iPads did this a little, but a more elegant version may be needed for iPhone data management.
Ultimately, it’s not clear exactly how Apple would address the change yet. Either way, we’re likely to find out a lot more in 2021.