By September 2024, USB-C will become the standard charging port for all mobile phones, tablets, and cameras in the European Union. This was announced after the European Parliament (EP) and Council negotiators agreed.
Back in 2015, the first devices featuring the USB-C charging port made their debut. Today, USB-C has become ubiquitous, finding its way into Android phones, laptops, wireless earbuds, mirrorless cameras, gaming consoles, PC monitors, and even electric scooters.
However, there was one notable exception to this widespread adoption—the iPhone. Despite embracing USB-C for its MacBook and iPad lines, Apple clung to its proprietary Lightning connector for its smartphones, a tradition that lasted since 2012.
Finally, that has changed. When unveiling its latest iPhone model, Apple officially confirmed that it had replaced the Lightning port in the iPhone with a USB-C port.
Why did Apple Move to USB-C?
Apple introduced the 30-pin connector in 2003, followed by the Lightning port nine years later in 2012. Lightning brought with it advantages like a smaller size, reversibility, and increased internal space for other components.
The Cupertino company did not make the shift easily. The European Union has in the recent year clamped down on big tech. With regulations such as the GDPR and fines on companies like Meta and TikTok.
EU’s regulation on the USB-C port is perhaps the first regulation in recent years that has forced significant hardware changes.
Apple knew it had to abide and it had started adopting. In recent years, Apple has gradually integrated USB-C ports into its various hardware offerings, starting with laptops in 2015 and extending to iPads. The iPhone was the last bastion of the Lightning port.
Transitioning to the USB-C port was not easy. First, it meant that Apple was going to lose a key revenue stream. The company has been charging licensing fees from third parties that make accessories utilizing the Lightning port through the company’s Made for iPhone (MFi) program.
However, Apple’s hand was ultimately forced by the European Union, which enacted a law in 2022 mandating that phones, tablets, and cameras sold in the region must feature a USB-C port by the end of 2024.
EU states the law was driven by a desire for user convenience. A universal port like USB-C simplifies charging and data transfer across devices. Picture a scenario where you can use your MacBook’s USB-C cable to charge your iPad and iPhone. If your friend owns an Android phone, they can also utilize the same cable when visiting your place. This universal compatibility streamlines the user experience and reduces electronic waste by reducing the need for multiple cable types.
It is estimated consumers will save 250 million Euros per year on “unnecessary charger purchases.” Secondly, the EU envisions a drop in e-waste by about 11,000 tonnes annually.
One of the advantages of Apple’s Lightning connector was that it was reversible. Similarly, the USB-C port boasts of this advantage. Due to its symmetrical design users can insert a cable in either direction. Secondly, USB-C is closely associated with several exciting emerging technologies.
Further, USB-C offers the potential for faster charging and data transfer speeds compared to Lightning. While the Lightning port is capped at 480 megabits per second for data transfer, USB-C can theoretically achieve speeds of up to 80 gigabits per second, as defined by the USB Implementers Forum.
A USB 3.2 or Thunderbolt 3, provides speeds of 20 to 40 Gbps. While most users may not fully exploit these speeds, they open up new possibilities for tasks like faster video file transfers.
After the launch, it was confirmed the iPhone 15 has USB speeds of up to 10 gigabits per second. This means the iPhone 15 is stuck at USB 2 speeds, the same as the lightning.
Moreover, USB-C’s support higher wattage and current meaning faster charging time. USB-C 2.1, for instance, now allows the connector to deliver an impressive 240W through Power Delivery.
Faster charging sets mobile phones apart, especially in a world where people use the phone for everything. Hence, one often needs a quick battery boost, like at the airport before a long flight.
Another advantage of USB-C is its ability to connect devices directly to external displays. If the devices support DisplayPort over USB-C, you can use the same cable for data transfer, recharging your phone, and connecting it to a larger screen.
You just make sure you have the correct cable that supports video output.
Challenges with USB-C
Despite its many benefits, USB-C presents some challenges. The multitude of USB-C standards can lead to confusion for consumers.
Not all USB-C cables are created equal, USB-C cables have different speeds for charging and data transfer. Some support Audio and Video Output and some allow daisy-chaining of multiple devices.
Consider the USB Type-C connector as a versatile channel, distinct from the data and functions it accommodates.
Within this connector, it can facilitate the transmission of various protocols, serving a range of purposes, such as: Data: USB and Thunderbolt, Audio & Video( DisplayPort Video Streams, HDMI video streams, Audio Stream (USB Audio) ), and energy; USB Power Delivery.
Further, it’s not always easy to discern the capabilities just by looking at them.
The connector is capable of all of these optional things, so as a consumer, you don’t know which of those things your device on either end or even the cable in between is going to support
This conundrum can make it challenging for users to determine which cables and devices are truly compatible.
Tech savvy users could look for the USB-IF certification logo, a symbol that indicates compliance with USB standards. You can also look at USB port label or look out for the thunderbolt symbol. All these just proves what a fuss the lack of a single standard has created.
Additionally, USB cables with speeds above 10Gbps require more shielding and are thus, thicker and less flexible. Most consumers are likely to prefer a more malleable cable.
In summary, the transition to USB-C in the iPhone marks a significant shift in the electronics world.
However, it also presents challenges related to the variety of USB-C standards. Currently, the Thunderbolt 4 represents the most comprehensive standard within the USB-C framework. The intel technology guarantees consumers that they have all the necessary capabilities. However, Thunderbolt is costly for manufacturers, and is currently a reserve of those who can afford expensive devices.
As USB-C becomes the norm, users will hope for a more streamlined and standardized experience across all their devices.