Apple Plans to Ditch the Lightning Port Next Year (But Not for USB-C)

Plugging Lightning Cable into iPhone Credit: Wachiwit / Shutterstock
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This year’s iPhone 12 could be the last model to feature a Lightning port, but don’t get your hopes up — Apple probably isn’t making the switch to USB-C; rather it looks like the company may have something else in mind.

Late last year, reputable analyst Ming-Chi Kuo suggested that Apple will offer a premium iPhone with a “completely wireless experience” by 2021, although that report made it sound like Apple was planning to ease into the transition with only a single model at first — and a high-end model no less.

Had this report come from anybody other than Kuo, we would have treated it with a health dose of skepticism, but even so it still sounded a bit far-fetched, especially for a high-end model where users would be expecting faster charging speeds than wireless chargers offer, not to mention compatibility with CarPlay; wireless CarPlay exists, but it hasn’t been widely adopted, and even if every single vehicle had it by next year (which they won’t), it will easily be five years or more before a majority of CarPlay users would have cars that could take advantage of it.

However, a new rumour surfaced this week suggesting that an iPhone without wires is still on Apple’s roadmap for the “iPhone 13” next year, and could actually be implemented across the entire lineup, not just a single model as Kuo suggested.

Skipping Past USB-C

The report, which comes from occasional Apple leaker @choco_bit and was shared by MacRumors, reveals that Apple did in fact consider a switch to USB-C for the iPhone, but decided against it, partly because there seemed to be no point in making the transition to USB-C if it’s soon going to eliminate the ports entirely.

However, “Fudge” has a slightly different take, suggesting that Apple won’t actually move to a completely Qi and Wi-Fi/Bluetooth solution, but will instead bring the Smart Connector to the “iPhone 13” as a replacement for the Lightning port.

There have been rumours of Apple adding the Smart Connector to the iPhone since it first debuted on the 2015 12.9-inch iPad Pro, and despite new reports each year, it has yet to happen, but that doesn’t mean it won’t.

The Smart Connector

When Apple originally introduced the Smart Connector on the iPad Pro, it was primarily intended to support keyboard accessories like Apple’s own Smart Keyboard, and although the iPad could also be charged through the Smart Connector, only one accessory was ever released to take advantage of this, Logitech’s Logi Base, and charging through the Smart Connector was also considerably slower than using a wired connection.

However, with the 2018 iPad Pro, Apple moved the Smart Connector to the rear of the iPad, and appears to have improved the charging speeds somewhere along the way, as Apple’s new Magic Keyboard demonstrates.

So the addition of the Smart Connector to next year’s iPhone could solve one of the biggest concerns about eliminating the physical Lightning port by offering the same charging speeds as a wired connection. It would also make it easier for Apple to include an inexpensive charging accessory in the box, rather than needing to bundle an actual Qi wireless charger.

The Smart Connector could also lend itself to a solution for CarPlay users through the use of an adapter, which is an approach that Apple wouldn’t hesitate to take in much the same way it did when it eliminated the 3.5mm headphone jack from the iPhone. However, it’s unclear right now if Apple’s Smart Connector supports data transfer capabilities — the USB-C port on Apple’s Magic Keyboard doesn’t, but we don’t know whether that’s a limitation of the Magic Keyboard, the implementation of the Smart Connector on the iPad Pro, or the actual Smart Connector design.

An even better alternative, though, would be for Apple to release a wireless CarPlay adapter. This would be a great solution even for those who have the option of using a wired connection, since it would save the hassle of having to plug in your iPhone every time you get in the car. Although you wouldn’t be able to charge the iPhone this way, many users don’t need to; after all, before CarPlay, how often did you actually plug your iPhone in to charge when jumping into your car, especially if it was only a short trip?

Charging the iPhone

It’s worth noting that Ming-Chi Kuo didn’t make any mention of a Smart Connector when he spoke of Apple eliminating the Lightning port entirely next year, but it definitely makes sense that Apple could offer that as an option. This latest leak suggests that Apple doesn’t intend for it to be the primary way to charge, however; the expectation is that most users will go with a Qi charger.

Again, however, that begs the question as to what Apple would include with the iPhone, since it has to offer some way to charge the device without requiring users to purchase a separate accessory. That said, Qi wireless chargers are getting less expensive to produce, and perhaps this is part of the reports we’ve been hearing about Apple working on a simpler wireless charger of its own.

It’s also worth considering that perhaps Apple’s rumoured plan to eliminate the EarPods from the iPhone 12 could also be a step in this direction, since of course there will be no point at all in bundling EarPods when there are no ports left at all to plug them into.

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