Apple Might Finally Dump Its Proprietary Lightning Connector in 2019

Apple is well known for its proprietary connectors and embrace of less-common standards. It didn’t take the company long to move from FireWire to a proprietary 30-pin cable standard with its iPod products, and when the iPhone and iPad debuted, they relied on the same 30-pin cable. In 2012, Apple released the Lightning cable standard — a reversible cable years before USB-C was ready for prime time, and one that offered freedom from the hassle of the Great USB Quantum Entanglement.

Super-positioned USB

The perennial problem USB Type-C is supposed to fix.

Nowadays, with USB-C available — and supported on Apple devices since 2015 — there’s less and less need to keep Lightning around. According to DigiTimes, we could be about to see Apple stepping away from its proprietary standard and towards a more ubiquitous product platform. Analog IC sources that spoke to that publication report that come 2019, Apple’s various iPads and iPods might move to dump Lightning and adopt USB-C instead.

The question is, will Apple pull the trigger? There’s some moving targets here. First, going with USB-C gets rid of the need for USB-C-to-Lightning cables or dongles — something existing Apple systems have too much of already. Given that most Apple customers are going to use USB or USB-C as well as Lightning, being able to just use USB-C would be a simplification.

But there are some caveats here, too. People who bought Lightning headsets to replace the headphone jacks that Apple dumped aren’t going to be thrilled at either slapping in a dongle or upgrading equipment. The USB-C port is slightly larger than the Lightning port, as this image by Joshua Flowers makes clear:

USB-C-vs-Lightning-port-size-dimension-comparison-graphic

Image by Josh Flowers

It’s a small difference, to be sure, but it is a difference. Apple could theoretically try to leap for something really outlandish, and make wireless charging standard on all devices and dropping the port altogether, with data transfers handled via WiFi and Bluetooth. I’m not saying the company will take that step any time soon, because I genuinely don’t think wireless charging is big enough yet to drive it. But if Apple wanted to make a truly big change — one you might even call “courageous” — I’d say dumping wires altogether would qualify.

The other reason for Apple not to jump for USB-C — and I have to admit, it hurts my cold, flinty reviewer heart to write this — is because USB-C hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire with its ease-of-use and understanding. As we’ve covered extensively, the decision to build one cable plug with 500 different types of cable hasn’t exactly created a system in which end users have an easy time figuring out what to use, or even which cables won’t blow up various pieces of equipment. That has to be on Apple’s mind as well when it weighs changes like this. A change that doesn’t actually simplify complexity isn’t actually an improvement.