According to people familiar with the situation, Apple Inc. is testing future iPhone models that replace the current Lightning charging port with the more common USB-C connector, a move that could help the company comply with looming European regulations.
According to the people, Apple is working on an adapter that will allow future iPhones to work with accessories designed for the current Lightning connector, in addition to testing models with a USB-C port in recent months.
If the company goes ahead with the change, it won’t happen until at least 2023. For this year’s new models, Apple intends to keep the Lightning connector.
Apple would simplify the collection of chargers used by its various devices by switching to USB-C. The majority of Apple’s iPads and Macs already use USB-C instead of Lightning. That means Apple customers can’t charge their iPhones, iPads, and Macs with the same charger, which is an odd setup given Apple’s preference for simplicity. The power bricks for wireless chargers for the iPhone and Apple Watch both use a USB-C connector.
Apple, based in Cupertino, California, did not respond to a request for comment on the change.
The move, which was also predicted by analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, would come with trade-offs and could lead to customer confusion. USB-C chargers are slightly larger than Lightning chargers, but they can provide faster charging and data transfer speeds. Many existing chargers for non-Apple devices, such as Android phones and tablets, would be compatible with the new connectors.
However, Lightning is still used by the majority of Apple accessories, including AirPods, the Apple TV remote, the MagSafe battery pack, and the MagSafe Duo charger. The USB-C adapter in development could help solve the problem, but it’s unclear whether Apple will include it in the box or charge extra for it.
The existing connector is also used by a wide range of third-party accessories, such as chargers, car adapters, and external microphones. Third-party providers would be forced to redesign their products as a result of the switch.
In addition, the shift would weaken Apple’s grip on the iPhone accessory market. Apple requires accessory manufacturers to pay a fee and go through a rigorous approval process in order to use the Lightning connector. Many consumer device manufacturers, including most Android phone manufacturers, use the USB-C standard, making it less likely that Apple will be able to exert its usual level of control.
Apple has been working on iPhones without a charging port in recent years, in order to promote the MagSafe wireless charging system, which will be released in 2020. However, a wireless connection takes longer to charge a phone’s battery and to sync data with other devices. It’s also not practical in all circumstances, such as in some automobiles.
The European Union’s decision to force phone and other device makers to adopt USB-C is one of the main reasons for the change. A majority of legislators approved legislation requiring such a requirement in April.
According to the legislation, “all mobile phones, tablets, digital cameras, headphones and headsets, handheld video game consoles, and portable speakers rechargeable via a wired cable must be equipped with a USB Type-C port, regardless of manufacturer.”
Apple has stated that the European legislation will hinder its ability to innovate. “We are concerned that requiring only one type of connector for all devices on the market will harm European consumers by delaying the introduction of beneficial charging standards, including those related to safety and energy efficiency,” the company said last year.
Apple could possibly release a compliant iPhone for Europe while keeping Lightning for the rest of the world. Multiple versions of the same iPhone with different connectors, on the other hand, would likely cause even more confusion and supply-chain issues.
If the European law fails to materialize, it’s unclear whether Apple will abandon the USB-C switch. For the sake of simplicity, many consumers have been calling for the change.
A switch to USB-C would be the iPhone’s second port change in its history. From the first iPhone in 2007 to the iPhone 4s in 2011, Apple used the 30-pin iPod connector that had become popular years before. Apple introduced the smaller Lightning port with the iPhone 5, touting its more durable design that could be inserted into the iPhone in either direction.
Although there were some complaints about the switch, customers quickly accepted it. Apple sold a separate adapter for old accessories at the time. It cost $29.