If you take a look at recent tech news, you can see the new European Commission (EC) proposal to force smartphones and small electronic devices to use USB-C for charging.
On the surface, it looks like the EC proposal is aimed directly at Apple. Under the terms of the proposal, “USB-C will become the standard port for all smartphones, tablets, cameras, headsets, portable speakers and handheld game consoles.” for convenience and to reduce e-waste, and a charger is not included in the device’s box.
An Apple spokesperson said the company still shares with the European Commission its commitment to the environment and has achieved carbon neutrality in offices around the world. But Apple expressed concern that the new regulation would hinder innovation and harm consumers around the world.
Apple has complied with half of the proposal when it stopped supplying chargers for the iPhone 12. At the same time, it switched from USB-A to USB-C for its iPhone chargers. Apple also now includes a Lightning-to-USB-C cable in all new iPhone and iPad boxes. Apple was a bit hasty when it came to removing a necessary accessory from the iPhone box, but people quickly got used to it and now other phone makers are closely following Apple’s lead.
But if you expect Apple to start boxing a USB-C-to-USB-C charging cable on the next iPhone, like it does with iPads and Macs, you’ll be disappointed. The fact is, Lightning is not going away. Not with the iPhone 14 or the iPhone 15 or the iPhone 16 – unless Apple had a plan to swap it out.
Since the iPad switched from Lightning to USB-C in October 2018, there have been many rumors that the iPhone will follow, but with each new model, the Lightning port is still there. And Apple will continue to do so no matter what the EU does.
As 2022 approaches, the number of Lightning devices is dwindling, and in addition to accessories and headphones — Magic Mouse and Trackpad as well as AirPods — only ninth-generation iPhones and iPads use Lightning to charge. And Apple has gone further than Lightning in charging products. Last year, it introduced MagSafe, a proprietary wireless charging method. And of course, iPhones have supported standard Qi wireless charging for years.
But even without MagSafe and even if the EU passed the proposal, Apple would theoretically still have years to go to be forced into compliance. First, the proposal needs to go through the usual review process, which involves debate by Parliament and national governments, after which member states can propose amendments to the proposal, subject to separate review and approval by the European Commission.
There will be arguments and objections, and there are arguments to be made by both sides. On the one hand, the standard charging solution is certainly more convenient; on the other hand, this would make something better than USB-C unlikely. And of course, all of this will force millions of Lightning cables to be sent to landfill. Apple once said that switching to USB-C would actually be more wasteful than sticking with Lightning.
It’s worth noting, however, that cutting out the Lightning port on an iPhone will not only create more e-waste (if according to Apple’s logic) or inconvenience their customers. It also means that Apple will lose the revenue it makes from every Lightning cable and accessory that works with the iPhone, whether made by Apple or not – along with the control it has over the types of hardware. Which hardware works for the iPhone and which companies can manufacture them.
Apple’s MFi program means that if you want to plug anything into your iPhone, whether it’s a charger or an accessory, you have to go through Apple. And Apple also profits from every one of those devices.
Of course, the same doesn’t happen with Apple’s USB-C devices. With iPad USB-C, you can quickly connect SSDs and keyboards, monitors, and any other accessories that make those devices better. Apple even made that fact clear in its keynote when it announced the new iPad Mini. And of course, the USB-C iPad can be charged with any standard USB-C cable capable of delivering enough power.
Next, let’s assume it happens before the end of 2022 as the EC “hopes” and proposes to become the official directive. Each region will then have two years to enact national legislation and manufacturers will have an additional two years to comply. That means the earliest Apple product to follow the law will be the iPhone 18 in 2026.
By then, Apple will likely have another charging method in place of Lightning and the cable on the iPhone. Rumors about a portless iPhone still exist, if in 5 years such an iPhone appears, it will not be too surprising. After all, five years ago, most phone models still had a headphone jack.
So don’t worry (or get excited) about the USB-C iPhone news you’re reading. All those Lightning accessories and cables are not going anywhere. And by the time Apple changed the way it charges, it wasn’t because they were forced to, but because they already had a cascade to replace and control.