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Rise of USB and death of Lightning cable

| Friday, November 2, 2018

When friends ask for the “iPhone charger,” we all know they are talking about the thin white Lightning cable that always gets tangled up in backpacks. It was the predecessor to the bulky 30-pin dock connector that started off with the original iPod and was re-engineered to be reversible, which made it more convenient than the “Android charger,” also known as Micro-USB cable. Since 2012, Lightning cable has been the proprietary connector for Apple’s mobile devices ranging from iPhone to iPad and iPod Touch to AirPods. There was nothing wrong with the cable, and it didn’t need any change.

However, Lightning cable might soon be replaced, and there will no longer be the days of the “iPhone charger.” With the release of the 12-inch MacBook Pro in 2015, Apple started using USB-C, a new connector that was designed to be future-proof and was also reversible. Compared to Lightning, USB-C has faster data transfer, faster charging capability and more extensive port support. Although it made sense that Apple would only utilize this connector for laptops instead of less-productive iPhones, most of Android smartphone competitors started incorporating this technology into their devices and would boast of their smartphone’s quicker charging speed as well as connection to a desktop-level system.

Yet Apple has many reasons to stick with the Lightning cable. First, because they created the Lightning cable, any third-party accessory manufacturers that utilize this technology (with MFI certification) need to pay Apple. This provides Apple with a source of profit without having to do anything. Second, since pretty much all of their mobile devices incorporate the Lightning port, it would bring inconvenience for those in the “Apple ecosystem” who want to use their Lightning cable for their iPhone, iPad and AirPods. Even the Apple Pencil uses the Lightning connection. It sounds reasonable for Apple to limit USB-C connection for productive machines like their desktop and laptops and utilize a less powerful cable for its mobile devices.

However, in this week’s Apple event, Apple released a refresh of their iPad Pro lineup. A lot of people were excited about the all-screen design of the iPads that was similar to the iPhone X. Apple removed the headphone port (what a surprise), but they also decided to replace the Lightning port with USB-C. Since the iPad Pro was supposed to be a productive machine that is on the same level as the MacBook, USB-C would bring a lot of great features such as connection to a 4K display as well as higher data transfers from a camera. It can also charge your iPhone!

But this breaks the harmony of Lightning cable among the Apple mobile devices. Does this mean all iPads will eventually adapt to USB-C as well as the iPhone? All of Apple’s competitors already use USB-C connection in their devices, not to mention Apple only uses USB-C for their laptops. Although this decision from Apple would bring some discomfort to people who like to use Lightning cable across their mobile devices, it seems like a great step for Apple to gradually incorporate USB-C for their devices. In the future, you might need to carry around only one cable for your phone and laptop. You also don’t need to carry a stupid dongle around anymore.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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