Will a USB-C iPhone make Apple's Lightning cable obsolete?  Not yet

Will a USB-C iPhone make Apple’s Lightning cable obsolete? Not yet

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Apple did something very unusual last week: it provided a concrete hint about the future of the iPhone. Company executives have confirmed that Apple respect the mandate of the European Union than all phones in the area adopt USB-C as a common smartphone charging port in 2024. This means that future iPhones – probably the iPhone 16 and possibly the iPhone 15 – will have to move away from the Lightning connector which is exists since 2012.

The switch to USB-C seems inevitable for iPhone taking into account new EU requirements. Greg Joswiak, Apple’s senior vice president of global marketing, speaking at the Wall Street Journal Tech Live conference, said the company had “no choice” and that Apple would “comply with local laws. “as it does all over the world. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the Lightning cable is going away just yet. The Lightning port may play a bigger role in Apple’s lineup than you might think, thanks to the multitude of accessories that still use it and the popularity of older iPhones.

It’s no secret that USB-C has become increasingly common in Apple products. It’s present on all iPads in the company’s current portfolio except for the ninth-generation iPad from 2021. You’ll also find USB-C ports on Apple’s MacBook Pro and Air lineup.

But consumers and tech critics have been waiting for USB-C to come to the iPhone. An iPhone X that had been modified with a USB-C port even sold for $86,001 on eBay last year. After all, why wouldn’t you want to use the same cord to charge your iPhone, iPad and Mac? The new EU mandate represents a step towards a simpler long-term charging experience. Yet it’s also possible that the transition period will cause friction, as consumers potentially bounce between chargers to power new iPhones alongside legacy accessories.

There are a handful of products that require a Lightning connection for wired charging aside from the iPhone. Such devices include AirPods headphones, the AirPods Max, the first-generation Apple Pencil (strangely the only model that works with the new iPad equipped with a USB-C port), the Magic Mouse, the Magic Trackpad and the Magic Keyboard. That means owners of these devices could still find themselves swapping cables if they buy an iPhone with USB-C in the future.

Apple did not respond to CNET’s request for comment regarding its intention to retain the Lightning port on future versions of these products.

It’s also important to remember that not all iPhone buyers opt for the newest model. Apple often discounts older versions once a new iPhone arrives. Take its current lineup, for example, which still includes last year iPhone 13 and 2020’s iPhone 12. Apple also kept the iPhone 11 in the lineup at a lower price of $499 after presenting the iPhone 13 in September 2021. If Apple continues this tradition, there will likely still be Lightning-powered iPhones in its 2023 lineup as well.

Even though many buyers may flock to the latest iPhone, there is a considerable market for older iPhones. The iPhone 11 was the fifth best-selling smartphone in 2021, even though it was launched in 2019, according to Counterpoint Research. Sales of the iPhone 11, iPhone SE, and 4-year-old iPhone XR accounted for 15% of U.S. iPhone sales in the March 2022 quarter, according to Consumer Intelligence Research Partners.

Refurbished iPhones are also popular, with Apple accounting for more than 40% of the global secondary phone market, according to a separate report from Counterpoint Research. Given that all iPhones since 2012 charge via Lightning, it’s safe to say that those buying refurbished models in the future will want to hold on to their Lightning cables. This is especially relevant given that demand for refurbished phones grew 15% in 2021 as customers seek to avoid high prices and make more sustainable purchasing decisions, Counterpoint also reported.

People may also be inclined to keep their current phone longer, as inflation reduces other day-to-day expenses. Global smartphone shipments are expected to fall 6.5% in 2022 as inflation weakens demand, according to the International Data Corporation. The average age of trade-in smartphones has also reached three and a half years for the first time, according to Assurant, an insurer that also helps companies develop device trade-in programs. The longer older iPhones remain in use, the longer Lightning cables will remain in circulation.

In the long run, the switch to USB-C will be an improvement for iPhone owners. The change will allow iPads, Macs and possibly the newest iPhones to be charged with a single cable – which is precisely why the EU made USB-C mandatory in the first place. The change also comes at an ideal time given that iPhones are less and less dependent on wired connections thanks to improvements in wireless charging, the growing popularity of Bluetooth accessories and Apple’s new MagSafe connection system.

But transitions like these take time. And there are still many unanswered questions about how Apple will comply with the EU ruling. For example, we don’t know if Apple will switch to USB-C in 2023 or if it will wait until 2024. We don’t know if Apple will use USB-C specifically for European iPhones or if it will become the standard worldwide.

What seems clear, however, is that the arrival of a USB-C iPhone could be a step towards using one universal cable for everything. But that won’t happen overnight.

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