Apple unveiled the iPhone 5 in September 2012. It was bigger, quicker, and more powerful than its predecessor, but how it charged may have been the most significant shift. The 30-pin connector that has been on every iPhone up until this point would be replaced with a tiny new port named Lightning, according to Apple marketing executive Phil Schiller, who made the announcement on stage to unveil the new phone. Lightning appeared to be reversible, compact, and robust—everything its predecessor and rivals were not. “A modern connector for the next decade,” was how Schiller described it.
In 2022, the connector will have completed the ten-year lifespan that Schiller had promised. Every iPhone continues to come with a Lightning cable, which is still a dependable way to connect to accessories, charge devices, and connect to vehicles. However, as Lightning approaches its tenth anniversary, I, along with many others, am ready for Apple to retire this connector and usher in a fundamental shift in how we charge our smartphones. It’s not because Lightning is obsolete technically; rather, another port has surpassed it in one crucial area: ubiquity.
To be clear, lightning is still a very effective interconnect today. Compared to other products at the time, the port was groundbreaking. The Micro USB ports were fussy and difficult to plug in, and the 30-pin connector was big. It’s amazing that it took so long for anyone to arrive at the Lightning port, which was, in contrast, both small and impossible to get wrong. When it came to charging, data syncing, and general phone convenience, Apple’s rivals suddenly found themselves at a disadvantage.
Technically speaking, the Lightning connector was also skilled. The port is still fully functional for how the majority of us use our phones today. It can charge a modern iPhone from absolutely flat to 50% battery in around 30 minutes, and with the proper connection, you can also plug in a pair of headphones and send a 1080p video transmission. Despite not being widely supported, it can also reach USB 3.0 speeds. There isn’t anything that I need to do with my phone that Lightning can’t handle. Standards like XLR and the 3.5mm headphone jack (what is dead may never die) have been around for a decade, but that’s not always the case for connector standards.
Despite all of its advantages, Apple’s connector isn’t universal. In 2022, the majority of our devices will charge and connect using a reversible, multipurpose connector that is not Lightning. Almost every Android phone has USB-C, and more devices like gaming consoles and GoPros are adopting it as their standard port. All of Apple’s MacBooks and almost all of its iPads use it as their primary connector.
Nowadays, lightning is used by vanishingly few devices. It is available on the iPhone, one iPad model (for the time being), and a few peripherals, like the Magic Mouse, Magic Keyboard, and AirPods from Apple. You will therefore require at least two different chargers to power your iPad Air, iPhone, Magic Mouse, Windows laptop, and AirPods, among other devices.
Is that the biggest inconvenience there is? Obviously not. When you’re travelling, around others who use USB-C phones, or even just sitting on the section of the couch where only your laptop charger can reach, it causes a number of little hassles. (Okay, maybe I’m the only one with that last one.)
Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that Apple intends to add USB-C to its lineup of iPhones with the impending iPhone 14. Regulators, though, may end up pressuring Apple to eliminate Lightning on the phones as soon as possible. The EU is working to make USB-C the required charging standard for mobile devices. Apple could always offer a USB-C phone in Europe and a Lightning phone everywhere else, but it seems unlikely that the sustained revenue share from third-party Lightning accessories would be enough to offset the added expense and complexity of selling the iPhone with two distinct ports.