Why doesn’t the iPhone use USB-C instead of Lightning?

Short answer:

There was no USB-C back in 2012 when Apple shipped Lightning on iPhone 5. It didn’t exist. The spec wasn’t even finalized until August of 2014.

But there’s more to this article. I especially appreciate the overlay showing the relative footprints of USB-A, USB-C, and Lightning.

Will the iPhone ever move to USB-C?

USB-C would require another port change for customers. Many people weren’t very happy with the last one, and Lightning was 10 years after Dock. It’s only been 5 years since Lightning. And in that time, with hundreds of millions of devices on the market, Lightning has become ubiquitous enough that everyone has it, typically in abundance.

Interesting that the Mac has made the first move, going all-in on USB-C. I wonder if there’s a prototype USB-C iPhone floating around an Apple campus somewhere.

  • Caleb Hightower

    I would be surprised if Apple didn’t adopt USB-C across their entire lineup this year. Yes, it means more cables to buy, but the industry at large will be migrating towards this anyway. The only way I see Apple hanging onto Lightening is if they can convince the rest of the world to use it too (along with its licensing fee).

  • mau47

    While I would certainly take the short term pain for long term gain on the switch to USB-C I highly doubt it will be coming anytime soon if every. Apple seems to be doubling down on lightning for peripherals and mobile devices.

    We have: iPhone iPad Magic Trackpad Magic Keyboard Magic Mouse Airpods Apple Pencil Beats X Siri remote for Apple TV

    So it goes beyond just changing the connector on one or two devices at this point. Now that we know apple can make a backwards compatible version of lightning that works with USB 3 speeds without giving up compatibility as shown on the 12.9 iPad pro other than being standardized on a single connector for everything there is no technical benefit to it. It also pretty much kills their ability to control the ecosystem. At least at this point they have some control over accessories by controlling who can purchase lightning connectors with the proper chip through the MFI program. Switching to USB C opens a can of worms of people buying accessories that won’t work because Apple hasn’t blessed them etc.

  • Cory Dankins

    There won’t be another port change coming to the iPhone. If any change comes, it’ll be a port removal. Apple has been very clear in the direction they’re heading, and communicated: They prefer no wires.

    So I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple uses similar technology they’ve adopted with the watch and apply it to iPhones and iPads.

    USB-C is fine for computers that need to attach many peripherals, but on the iDevices there is little need.

    • They will drop Lightning when wireless charging takes over. And then anything with a Lightning port will require some kind of charging dongle. But we’ll only need one or two of them because everything doesn’t need charging at the same time.

    • Glaurung-Quena

      Actually I don’t think they’re going to remove the lightning port. Because it needs to be there as an emergency way of dealing with catastrophic aoftware problems, by plugging the device into iTunes.

      • Cory Dankins

        For this case, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a hidden/tiny port similar to the Apple watch that is only used at an Apple store.

        I don’t see iTunes as a requirement anymore.

  • I would be very happy to go USB-C. My MacBook already is, when I get a MacBook Pro it will. My next Mac Pro at work will have it (I hope!) or the new iMac 5K?

    The next few years should be really interesting on the Thunderbolt 3/USB-C front.

  • The unwritten history of Apple is the one where Apple tried for 35 years to drag the rest of the tech industry kicking and screaming into the future.

  • I’m a bit surprised they are going full USB-C on the MacBook and not putting a Lightning port also. The thing with USB-C is that there is a little tab inside the port like with USB. That tab can break off. I haven’t run into that a lot at my testing job because we don’t get a lot of phones/tablets in with USB-C yet, but the USB and mini-USB ports are broken all the time — either the tab is missing or it is compromised in some way.

    I think I prefer the lightning port where the biggest chance of failure is the cable itself, which is easily replaced.

    • Mo

      From the first time I ever used it, Lightning seemed like the promise of a durable, idiot-proof port, at long last fulfilled. I’d hate to see it disappear entirely.

  • So, you recharge your iPhone and other things with the Lightning connector. Also, sync. Also, there are Lightning mics! I charge my trackpad and my keyboard with it. Sync might be faster, but couldn’t a new chip in the phone give it USB 3 speeds? And finally, what is the reward for changing over to “what the industry is doing”? Will tech journalists suddenly start being positive? No, they’ll say “More adapters! Why can’t Apple stop inconveniencing people?” The lightning adapter, with magnets, has a small adapter that can be put in either way, unlike the totally wretched mini-USB. The standards body took Apple’s lead. Congratulations, Android people, and you’re welcome.

  • I think Apple coudld move the iPad Pro line to USB-C. I could see the iPhone and iPad lines move away from lightning but most likely to a no port system where they charge wirelessly.

    I think this makes sense if you consider Apple’s priorities. Apple sees the iPad as the future of mainstream computing. So adding USB-C opens the iPad Pro line to connecting with all types of devices.

    Meanwhile with the iPhone which is much more consumer orientated I could see removing the port. Improves the water resistance. Frees up room for other components and just fits with the thinner smaller philosophy.

  • DMac

    My expectation would be that over the next while Apple will introduce a round magnetic charger similar to the one for the Watch. It will plug into the back of the phone (which will require case makers to create holes or conductive pass throughs. They’ll keep lightning for at least two generations after this charging cable has gone through, and all data transfer will be moved over to bluetooth or wifi.