Apple has long been expected to shift to totally portless iPhones at some point, which makes perfect sense for most customers.
However, there is increasing speculation that Apple will convert from Lightning to USB-C first, which raises an important point.
Is USB-C only a stopgap before iPhones become totally wireless, or does USB-C have a longer future…?
According to two recent rumors, Apple is planning to move to a USB-C iPhone connector next year. Ming-Chi Kuo made the first report, which Bloomberg later confirmed.
Note that neither report implies that this will occur. Kuo based his on supply-chain information, which we recognized at the time as being dubious.
Wherever possible, Apple prefers to have numerous suppliers in order to negotiate better costs and avoid risk. If a large Lightning port supplier, for example, reports that Apple is likely to slash orders next year, that may simply mean a rejigging of competing vendors.
Similarly, USB-C providers predicting a significant increase in orders next year could simply be Apple or other firms boosting orders with some suppliers while decreasing orders with others.
Instead, Bloomberg’s allegation was based on internal iPhone USB-C testing. I’m confident that the report is correct, but it doesn’t constitute proof. There’s a 100 percent likelihood that Apple’s laboratories have had USB-C iPhone prototypes for years. Is ‘testing’ simply experimenting with these, or does it suggest something more formal and larger?
However, both sources appear to be rather confident in their predictions, so let’s assume they’re true for now. What does this portend for iPhone ports in the future? Here are some of my quick thoughts.
It would be a long-overdue step
In general, I support port standardization and USB-C in particular. My ideal scenario is for all wired connections to be USB-C to USB-C, and I’ll be able to get rid of five of my six cable trays, not to mention the other one with various adapters.
For this reason, I was suspicious of Kuo’s account. While I would appreciate it, my first thought was, “Why now?” Apple began using USB-C in the Mac in 2016, and the iPad in 2018, so why is it taking another four years for the iPhone to catch up?
Why, if Apple is moving toward portless iPhones, go through the disruption of a wired port upgrade now when a totally wireless iPhone could arrive in two or three years?
If the stories are correct, this is a long-overdue step.
Most people will be content with iPhones without ports
One probable explanation for the latter issue is that the portability stories are false, and Apple intends to stick with wired charging and data-transfer connections for the time being. For various reasons, I do not believe that.
First and foremost, a portless iPhone is completely consistent with Apple’s design philosophy. Sure, things have changed since Jony Ive left, but I still feel that Apple’s ultimate goal is his “single slab of glass” vision.
Second, eliminating a port minimizes the cost and complexity of manufacture. As the removal of the headphone jack revealed, this is also in accordance with the company’s culture.
Third, by removing the port, reliability is improved. It eliminates the most common entry point for dust and water, considerably improving the waterproofing level. It also solves the frayed lightning cable problem!
Finally, the majority of iPhone users do not require a port, and even fewer will in the future. Few iPhone users use cable data transfer, and most individuals can meet their charging demands by using wireless charging overnight.
We’re seeing an increasing number of wireless charging pads in cars, coffee shops, hotels, airports, offices, and everywhere else. This pattern will persist. Power banks with MagSafe charging capability are the same.
However, some people still require a wired port
Apple can’t have it both ways: claiming that the iPhone is a good camera for professional video (although largely as a B-cam or C-cam) while simultaneously eliminating the only feasible mechanism to download large volumes of 4K (and subsequently 8K) video footage.
A wired port is required for professional video sessions with an iPhone, and USB-C is far superior to Lightning.
Wireless charging will also be impractical for a small percentage of users. If you’re a heavy iPhone user who needs to go for long periods between charges, the quicker wireless charging speed may be a requirement rather than a pleasure.
Even though they are in the minority, there will always be those who require a wired connection (at least until wireless charging and data transfer reach speeds comparable to cable connections).
My best estimate is that
At the point where Apple feels ready to make the switch to portless iPhones, I envision one of two things happening.
The standard iPhone model(s) lose their ports, whereas the Pro models retain them.
For more committed iPhone users, this would be a worthy point of differentiation, but the vast majority of consumers will be content with wireless charging and AirDrop.
Or, instead, make the iPhone Pro Max the only model with a USB-C connection. This would be consistent with certain features being reserved for the largest and most costly model, such as sensor-shift and 2.5x optional zoom, which are only available on the iPhone 12 Pro Max.
I believe Apple could pursue the second route without causing too much consternation. Photographers will like the Pro Max’s larger screen, while anyone who needs to push battery consumption to its extremes will undoubtedly choose the Pro Max for its long battery life.
As a result, the two groups that gain the most from a wired port are already more likely to opt for the top-end model.
So that’s my prediction. All but the iPhone Pro Max will go portless within the next few years, with the Pro Max getting or keeping a USB-C port.
What are your thoughts? Please complete our survey and leave a comment with your ideas.