If You’re Still Hoping for a USB-C iPhone, Don’t Hold Your Breath

iPhone 12 mini Lightning port Credit: Daria Gromova / Shutterstock
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While it probably shouldn’t come as a big surprise, at least one reputable analyst is once again quashing any hopes that this year’s iPhone may make the switch from Lightning to USB-C.

In a spate of recent predictions, renowned analyst Ming-Chi Kuo weighed in not only on this year’s so-called “iPhone 13” but also laid out what he feels could be Apple’s roadmap all the way into 2023 — and none of that includes a USB-C port.

The market expects the iPhone to abandon Lightning in favor of USB-C and equip the power button with the Touch ID sensor. Our latest survey indicates that there is no visibility on the current schedule for the iPhone to adopt these two new specifications.

Ming-Chi Kuo, in an investor note shared by AppleInsider

To be fair, we’ve never really expected Apple’s iPhone models to move away from Lightning ports — at least not until Apple is ready to ditch the ports entirely — but despite predictions in late 2019 that this could have been coming this year, it seems likely that the “iPhone 13” at least will still feature the traditional Lightning port.

That said, Apple’s switch to USB-C for the iPad Pro back in 2018 led many to hope that this would be a herald of things to come across the entire iOS ecosystem, and these dreams were spurred on when Apple’s fourth-generation iPad Air made the same transition last fall.

However, there were bigger reasons why the iPad Pro made the switch, and they most likely had nothing to do with Apple wanting to abandon Lightning in favour of USB-C. Instead, being a device that Apple was trying to target at more professional users, it was necessary to ensure that it maximized accessory compatibility.

After all, the nature of the iPad means that there are many more accessories that people are likely to connect to it, including monitors, external storage devices, cameras, and even pro keyboards and mice. Using a Lightning port limited these connectivity options significantly and for arguably no good reason.

On the other hand, most iPhone users aren’t connecting external SSDs, monitors, or keyboards to their devices. In fact, about the only common uses for the wired port on the iPhone these days is charging, wired headphones, and CarPlay — and all three of these are pretty quickly becoming replaced by wireless solutions.

Losing the Ports Entirely

So with that in mind, it’s really not hard to see how the iPhone could eventually go completely wireless. Wired headphones have already been on their way out for a while, and Apple’s choice to stop including EarPods with the iPhone 12 will likely only hasten their decline.

Further, while a wired connection still offers much faster charging than even Apple’s newest 15W MagSafe system, it’s still an open question as to how many iPhone owners really need that kind of fast charging, especially as Apple has been pushing its battery life even higher in recent years. For many users, overnight charging will easily suffice, and the convenience of Qi and MagSafe chargers can also keep an iPhone more easily topped up during the day.

That leaves CarPlay, which is still a major problem right now, but it’s also not one that’s all the difficult to solve. Although the adoption of wireless CarPlay has been relatively slow — it’s been largely limited to BMW for the past few years — it’s starting to pick up pace on high-end vehicles from a swath of other manufacturers, from Audi to Volkswagen, and that’s likely to continue growing in the next few years, putting Apple in a better position to avoid the whole Lightning vs USB-C debate by nixing the ports entirely.

Further, even if wireless CarPlay never quite makes it to low-end cars due to its need for in-car Wi-Fi, it would be relatively trivial for Apple to produce a wireless CarPlay adapter that could connect to the vehicle’s USB port.

This is all more long-term, however, since right now even Kuo, despite his earlier optimism that we’d see at least one “portless” iPhone this year, concedes that we’re just not ready for that yet.

Kuo still believes that MagSafe is the way ahead and that Apple isn’t going to abandon the profitability and control offered by its Made-for-iPhone (MFi) program by switching to USB-C in the interim, especially when it’s likely to only be a temporary move anyway, unlike the iPad, which will likely still include wired connectivity for years to come.

Right now, however, Kuo notes that “the MagSafe ecosystem is not mature enough” (and we’d tend to agree), so the Lightning port is still needed to give iPhone users a simple and reliable way of charging.

Like Lightning, however, Apple controls the MagSafe ecosystem — at least for anybody who wants to offer anything beyond basic 7.5W Qi charging speeds — so the move from Lightning to MagSafe would likely only help to bolster Apple’s bottom line, rather than detracting from it.

Still, until MagSafe grows up, Kuo expects that the Lightning port will remain a key part of the iPhone “for the foreseeable future.”

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