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USB-C vs Lightning: Which one is actually the best?
While most of the consumer electronics industry has consolidated around USB-C, Apple continues to use its own proprietary Lightning connector on the iPhone and entry-level iPad. But even though both connectors seem equally capable at first glance, there are plenty of practical differences — from charging power to data transfer speeds. Here’s everything you need to about USB-C vs Lightning and when we can expect Apple to ditch its unique connector.
USB-C vs Lightning: Which cable charges the fastest?
Between USB-C and Lightning, only the former can supply power to larger electronics like laptops. In fact, USB Power Delivery (USB-PD) was recently revised to support 240W of charging power. But even before that, devices could pull up to 100W with a compatible USB-C cable. That’s a lot higher than the 25W you get with a USB-C to Lightning cable on the latest iPhone and iPad.
Moreover, not all Android smartphones rely on the basic Power Delivery standard. A handful of manufacturers also offer their own proprietary charging protocols using the USB-C connector. Examples include Oppo’s SuperVOOC and Xiaomi’s HyperCharge technologies. Both protocols already support charging power above 100W, albeit only on a select few models. Still, with that much power, you can charge up a smartphone from empty to full within 20 minutes.
Lightning doesn't charge as fast as USB-C, but that could be an intentional limitation.
Apple’s decision to limit charging power to 25W on the iPhone might be a conservative decision to limit heat output in such a small form factor. That said, the company opted to use USB-C on the MacBook Pro and Air series instead – with support for up to 100W charging power. Similarly, the iPad Air and Pro have also moved past Lightning and can charge at speeds above 25W, but not as high as 100W or even 65W.
USB-C vs Lightning: Which cable transfers data the fastest?
Both USB-C and Lightning allow data transfer to and from a computer, but at vastly different speeds. Even within the same connector, the exact speed often varies from one device to the next. For example, we know that the Lightning connector is capable of USB 3.0 speeds since it was included in the iPad Pro. However, Lightning on the latest iPhone series is still restricted to USB 2.0 speeds.
In fact, the iPhone’s Lightning connector can sometimes be slow enough to bottleneck professional workflows on the iPhone. If you shoot 4K HDR video in Apple’s ProRes video codec, every minute of footage outputs around 6GB of video data. Transferring longer clips at USB 2.0 speeds could easily take an hour or longer. And considering that Apple sells Lightning-equipped devices in capacities as high as 1TB, filling it all up in one go could take a while.
The Lightning connector on current-gen iPhones is still limited to USB 2.0 transfer speeds.
For some context, USB 2.0 offers a maximum transfer rate of just 480Mbps, while USB 3 increases that to a whopping 10Gbps.
The USB-C connector supports the latest USB4 specification, which takes transfer speeds up another notch to 40Gbps. Once again, most devices don’t support the fastest speeds. Flagship Android smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra and Pixel 6 Pro offer USB 3 speeds. However, budget devices like the Galaxy A53 are often limited to USB 2.0 speeds.
Why does Apple insist on Lightning?
Virtually every single Android smartphone on the market now uses USB-C for data transfer and charging. The Lightning connector, meanwhile, has been a staple of the iPhone since 2012, even as other Apple devices have migrated to USB-C. The company hasn’t ever disclosed the reasoning behind this decision. That said, some speculate that it could be to maintain backwards compatibility with several years’ worth of Apple and third-party iPhone accessories.
Lightning also allows Apple to earn licensing fees through the Made For iPhone/iPad (MFi) program. Third-party accessory makers also have to abide by certain rules, giving Apple much more control over the Lightning ecosystem. On the other hand, manufacturers can implement both USB-C and Power Delivery without paying any licensing fees.
Still, Lightning’s time is limited and Apple is well aware of that fact. In 2022, EU policymakers unanimously agreed to mandate USB-C on all new smartphones and tablets sold in the region by 2024. In other words, we could only be a year or two away from a common charging connector on all smartphones.
The Lightning port on the iPhone is limited to USB 2.0 speeds. Flagship Android smartphones, on the other hand, have USB-C ports capable of USB 3.0 speeds. USB-C also supports the latest USB4 standard, which can be found on the iPad Pro.
USB-C supports higher charging power than Lightning, thanks to the open USB Power Delivery (USB-PD) standard. In practical terms, USB-C can deliver as much as 240W of charging power, while Lightning currently tops out at 25W.