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Don't let Apple fool you: It was forced to adopt USB-C

Mind out for whiplash watching this 180-degree turn.

Published onSeptember 9, 2023

Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max Lightning Port on wooden table
Robert Triggs / Android Authority

There are just days left until the launch of the Apple iPhone 15 series, and while there’ll be plenty to dive into, it’s the transition from Lightning to USB-C that’s driving a lot of the pre-launch conversation. And with good reason. Finally, you’ll just need one plug for all your modern gadgets, whether that’s an iPhone, Android phone, GoPro, laptop, or virtually anything else.

The looming question is: How will Apple dress up the fact it was ultimately forced into this decision? If it even addresses the issue at all — it could even (erroneously) refer to the new port as Thunderbolt to avoid acknowledging USB-C altogether. Knowing Apple, the move will be all sunshine and upsides, and we’ll be left wondering why the company was ever so attached to Lightning in the first place (hoping we’ll forget all about the loss of accessory licensing revenue).

Casting our minds back to the launch of 2018’s iPad Pro, Apple heralded the new power and possibilities with USB-C. Cupertino played up the new port’s high power charging and fast USB 3.2 data speeds for multimedia transfers, conveniently ignoring the same potential benefits for its smartphones. This year will undoubtedly be similar, with Apple talking up the benefits of the single connector for all your Apple products, from the new AirPods Pro right up to the latest MacBook.

'USB-C for iPhone is the best move ever,' will be the official line. But that's not what Apple claimed last year.

If Apple really wanted to appear like the good guy, it might even stress the cross-compatibility benefits with products outside its walled garden. Perhaps it’ll even embrace the ecological arguments favoring a single port and connector for everything. Though that would all be misdirection.

“USB-C for iPhone is the best move ever,” will be the official line. But the launch will undoubtedly gloss over the fact that Apple fought tooth and nail to keep its proprietary technology until the EU forced its hand.

Lightning Connector vs USB C cable
Robert Triggs / Android Authority

It wasn’t so long ago that Apple argued heavily against the universal connector. It claimed that enforcing USB-C at the expense of Lightning would generate tons of unnecessary e-waste as customers rush to replace outdated accessories and cables with new models. Though, funnily enough, the company didn’t make the same argument before it unveiled its first USB-C iPads and Macs, nor when it transitioned the iPhone 5 away from the 30-pin cable in 2012.

The EU forced Apple's hand after years of holding out against broader industry consensus.

Lest we forget, Apple rallied against politicians wading into product design, insisting that neither Lightning nor USB-C would have been invented if it had surrendered to previous EU calls to adopt the old micro-USB format. Perhaps there’s some merit to that argument, but the EU refutes this by noting it is open to new standards. Either way, it doesn’t outweigh the fact that Apple dug in its heels in the face of the clear benefits of USB-C that the rest of the industry embraced years ago.

The story may not be over yet; it’s been rumored that Apple may try to bend the EU’s rules by limiting support to specific, Apple-certified USB cables. The EU has already warned on potentially non-compliant ports, but the mere rumor hints at the depth many believe Apple may be willing to plunge to retain some control over a tiny phone port.

Ultimately, the EU forced Apple’s hand only after years of holding out against broader industry consensus. Don’t let Apple tell you otherwise. Despite the glossy coat that’ll be applied to this year’s iPhone launch, customers would still be tied to Lightning if it had its way. Thankfully, they’ll soon be free to join the world of USB-C. The next stop will be opening up iMessage.

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