Apple’s USB-C Path to the iPhone Has Been Strange

If things go as rumored, the iPhone will switch to a USB-C connector in just a few weeks for the iPhone 15.  This ends a will they or won’t they quite frankly lasted almost as long as Mulder and Scully.  The USB Type C Connector is not new to Apple.  In fact, entire generations of Macs that use this connector have been removed from support for macOS Sonoma.  Nobody outside of Apple knows exactly why it took eight years to introduce this to the iPhone, so let’s look at the technology and its disadvantages.

What is USB-C?

Exactly what USB-C is frankly confuses people.  It’s not a technology itself, but a connector.  It’s designed to replace multiple different connectors with a single one that is just slightly larger than Apple’s proprietary Lightning connector.  Essentially it replaces USB Type A, USB Type B, Micro USB, Mini USB, USB-B 3.0, Mini- Displayport, Displayport, Mini-HDMI, HDMI, and Thunderbolt with a single port.  

Where it gets confusing, anyone USB-C port may not do all of that.  It can be charge only, USB 2.x, USB 3.x, 4.x, data, Thunderbolt 3 or 4 with Displayport or HDMI alternative modes.  In other words, unless you buy a Thunderbolt 4 cable and use it with a Thunderbolt 4 port, you cannot be entirely sure your port can do all of that.  In fact, with Apple’s current iPad Line up, the iPad 10 uses USB 2.0 USB-C, the iPad mini 6 has a 5Gbps USB-C Port, the iPad Air 5 has a 10Gbps USB-C Port, and the M2 iPad Pro has Thunderbolt 3/ USB 4 using the Type-C connector.  Yeah, it gets confusing.  However, the confusion is among experienced users.  The vast majority of users I’ve talked to do not use their iPhone for data transfer, they only charge it.  The Type-C connector on any Mac or iPad can charge using any standard USB-C Power brick.  Ironically, so can the vast majority of non-Apple phones and devices.  

Long-Lived Lightning 

Lightning was revolutionary when it replaced Apple’s 30-pin connector just shy of 11 years ago.  It was impossibly small, reversible, and magnetic, and the USB 2.0 data speeds were pretty speedy at the time.  As it’s phased out, it should be something that is very fondly remembered by the Apple faithful.  In fact, it was the inspiration of USB Type-C, which Apple introduced to the 12” MacBook in 2015, the MacBook Pro the following year, and the MacBook Air in 2018.  The Mac pushed the adoption of the type-C connector and the industry followed for computers, phones, tablets, and accessories.  The holdout was ironically Apple’s mobile devices and accessories.  

Final thoughts

So what’s the legacy of Lighting in 2023?  Confusion.  I have a family member with a MacBook Air 4th gen. to my family member, the cable looks the same as the lighting cable going to their iPhone.  They are confused as to why this cable will work with their tablet, my Mac, and the Android phone of a family friend, but not their iPhone.  The same goes for the lighting version of the silver Apple TV remote.  They do not care which version of USB or Thunderbolt or HDMI or DisplayPort the port supports.  The overwhelming majority of iPhone users are not tech-savvy.  They do not care that a USB 2.0 USB-C cable wouldn’t have any speed advantages over Lighting.  They care able being able to charge their devices from the same cable.  USB-C became the standard cable of the industry years ago.  When Apple introduced the iPhone of the future in 2017, the iPhone X, it should have been USB-C with 2.0 speeds.  

While the data side is a mess, having a single device connector that can charge any iPhone, iPad, Mac, or accessory fulfills the Apple promise of it just works.