Why doesn’t Apple’s iPhone use USB-C instead of Lightning?

“USB-C is increasingly the standard for electronics, including Apple’s MacBooks,” Rene Ritchie writes for iMore. “So why isn’t it standard on the iPhone?”

“That one’s easy. There was no USB-C back in 2012 when Apple shipped Lightning on iPhone 5,” Ritchie writes. “It didn’t exist. The spec wasn’t even finalized until August of 2014.”

“USB-C is physically bigger than Lightning. It’s not a lot bigger but when you’re fighting for every millimeter of space, bigger is the opposite of better. Apple didn’t ditch the 3.5mm headphone jack to to waste that space on USB-C,” Ritchie writes. “The Lightning team at Apple helped build USB-C, which is why there are so many similarities and why Apple has gone all-in on it for the Mac. Whenever, if ever, it makes sense — and is worth the transition cost — for iPhone and/or iPad, we’ll see Apple go all-in on it there as well.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Maybe someday. For now, Lightning is fine, but it’d be great to only have to pack one type of cable for charging (unless and until true wireless charging (Energous) becomes a reality.

More evidence suggests Apple tie-up with true wireless charging firm Energous – December 21, 2016
Apple supplier Dialog partners with wireless charging company Energous – December 15, 2016
Ming-Chi Kuo: Apple’s next-gen iPhone to feature all-glass case for wireless charging – November 23, 2016
Two major ‘iPhone 8’ leaks reveal groundbreaking new features – November 23, 2016
Evidence suggests Apple is working on the biggest mobile game-changer since the original iPhone – November 8, 2016
Apple possibly working with Energous on extended range wireless charging for future iPhones – February 5, 2016
Apple developing cutting-edge long-range wirelessly-charged iPhones and iPads – January 29, 2016
Apple looks to patent inductive charging system that could power an Apple Pencil or even a future kitchen appliance – January 7, 2016
Apple files 5th wireless inductive charging patent application since Late September – November 5, 2015\
Apple patent application reveals iPhone inductive charging sans extra hardware – October 8, 2015
Patent application reveals Apple working on wireless charging systems focused on rapid power delivery – August 27, 2015
Apple invents inductive charging interfaces for mobile devices – April 2, 2015


  1. A double-ended USB-C would be the best deal, had USB-C been like 1mm thinner and could go in iPhones… not have to worry which way is up or down, and don’t have to care which end goes into which port.

      1. That would’ve been nice, but with Apple charging a $4 per connector licensing fee (as of 2014) for Lightning like they did Firewire, there was little chance the rest of the industry would go along with it.

        Incidentally, at that price a Lightning-to-Lightning cable would cost $8 in license fees alone.

        1. (minor clarification: $4/connector was of course for Lightning only, not Firewire; just used FW as another example where Apple’s licensing scheme torpedoed widespread industry adoption of that technology)

          1. The license fee on FireWire was $0.25, adoption of it had nothing to do with the cost of it. It was the fact that apple controlled it, and he rest of the industry didn’t want that. The only company that fully embraced it was Sony, and that’s because it was technically superior to everything else for their video products, but they normally used the 1394 mini connector instead of the full size 6 pin and later 9 pin fw800 design.

            The license fee does hold back lighting adoption to an extent, but again the other companies would pay it if say Intel was behind the connector. Even when apple creates/uses/pushes a new standard, like they have many times, the rest of the industry conviently forgets that they were the ones who championed it or developed it (thunderbolt, USB, MPEG-4, h.264, .mov, AAC, GUI, multi touch, dvi, display port (mini dp), Bluetooth, WiFi, optical drives (then removing optical drives), the list almost endless….

            What they don’t like is either giving them any credit, or having them be the champion of the standard. They all usually fall in line if apple isn’t in complete control of it, but the industry has zero love for any apple standard if they’re in control of it.

            It’s not a solely a money thing, they would make that fee back many times over and Intel charges similar fees for their stuff. Apple is treated a lot like Sony (I think the two companies are kind of spiritual cousins), if they develop a standard they’re the ones who have to push it, or everyone else will just try to knock it off even if it’s inferior (VHS, hddvd, etc) . It’s a laziness thing and a pride thing more than a money thing.

            1. You’re mostly right, however, wrong in assuming $.25 is insignificant. Even a mere penny at the manufacturing level can make or break a product for one simple reason – the cost increases *exponentially* as the product passes from maker (warranty .25×3=$.75), to distributor($1.50), to wholesaler($3), to regional wholesalers($6), and then to retailers($18). Each stop *at least* doubles the price and then adds their own shipping and handling fees. By the time it hits the shelves, that $.25 has become at least a $20 dollar difference. To the buyer, the $25 cable will sell while the $45 dollar one sits collecting dust.
              I had to face this very problem trying to market a door access module that we made for a mere $6, only to have customers complain they were costing $90 retail compared to another brand. That brand had the benefit of *one* less step due to the fact they ran their own shipping firm. I couldn’t afford that so the product died. Tough lessons, but mere pennies count.
              This is why you can get stuff mailed from China soo damn cheap. They are marketing direct to you. No middle men.

  2. Apple used 30-pin dock connector for ten years. When they introduced lightning, there was an uproar about Apple changing ports willy-nilly, for no good reason, just to increase profits by selling adapter cables, etc. It has been over five years since then, and apparently we have somehow survived this port change (although some people may still be in therapy over the mental stress and anxiety it had brought them…).

    There is no chance Apple will make a port change just five years after they did one. For now, Lightning stays. The article is right; they are now stuck with it and when the time comes and lightning becomes obsolete, they will look at whatever is available then, and if anything fits, they’ll do the change; if not, they’ll build the next Lightning and move to that.

    Or the port will simply be eliminated with wireless charging (and other wireless connectivity, whichever ends up succeeding current Bluetooth and WiFi specs).

    1. I recall the uproar was because of Apple charging ridiculous prices for clunky adapters, many of which didn’t fit Apple cases, let alone 3rd party gear. Those 3rd party mfs took way too long to get accessories out because Apple didn’t plan a clean transition and charged a ton for its connector licenses. So mfrs had to pay Apple and make both Lightning and Dock simultaneously as customers fumed over prices and incompatibility. Then to top it off, Apple took years to phase out the dock connector.

      The best thing for consumers would have been for Apple to work with the USB group to get USB-C out faster, then plan a clean transition for all Apple products to that. Bean counters at Apple have other plans for us though. Dongle sales!

      1. Whatever was the reason for the change, dongle sales most definitely was NOT it. A cursory look at numbers makes it clear. When iPhone 5 came out (first with Lightning), they were selling barely over 100 million per year. Out of those 100 million, vast majority use their phones with the included chargers and/or USB cables, never needing to connect any other device to their phone. Even if we generously assume that one in five uses some external device, which became obsolete once they upgraded their 4s (or older model) for the 5, this is still barely 20 million people. If each and every one of these people were to buy Apple’s cable adapter (and that assumes that they bought their iPhone right away, before any of the 3rd party makers had the time to ramp up their own production, i.e. within the first 3-6 months of availability), that would still mean only less than 200 million of revenue (not profit!) on these adapters. And these estimates are wildly generous, in reality being significantly lower.

        To think that Apple would make a move, they know would incur wrath of a large group of their users, just so that they could add less than 200 million to the annual bottom line of over 200 billion (with a B) shows very little thought.

        In other words: there is no chance Apple’s motivation was nickle-and-diming users for a $7 cable adapter on a $600 device sale. The idea is simply ridiculous.

  3. As long as they were already pissing everybody off on connections – about Mac ports and headphone jacks, dropping development on routers, etc., etc., this would’ve been the time to unify their port strategy going forward for the next 5-7 years.

    Then your new ear buds would have worked with your new Macs and new (whenever they arrive) iPads, etc.

    Altho’ someone said the phones are already too thin for one. (Which is for battery and other functionality reasons 1-2mm too thin IMO.)

    But what this seems more a part of is the lack of a coherent corporate-wide strategy, and you know, that vision thing that left the building when the supply chain guy took over.

    Lack of coherence, that is, except in toxic ways, like dumbing down MacOS instead of smartening up iOS, universally shitty keyboards in the name of thinness (I couldn’t even type a sentence without errors after half an hour on a new MBP, and my hands were tired.)

    Like in deprecating the Mac they don’t realize they’re losing a main bulwark of why you need to pay Apple premium high margin prices to be in the ecosystem…. ….that all your devices are Apple and share exclusive Apple services.

    Well if you don’t see the need for or have a Mac, where does that argument go??

    Not into the watch for most folks. Or the iPad which has seen constantly falling sales for a good number of quarters.

    Maybe being in their big new doughnut (where offices are much further apart than in other buildings of the same cubic footage which can have equal light exposure) will help them get their stuff together, but I’m losing optimism.

    Time for a shake up and a new visionary to break some furniture and head out with some new real innovation as painful as that will be.

  4. Sorry to burst your bubble folks, but dongle sales do not drive Apple’s strategy or their bottom line. They are a mere rounding errors for Apple. No one at Apple is excited about dongle sales.
    Apple implemented lightning because there was nothing else comparable at the time. The overpriced cables were a mere side effect, however stupid.

    But now there is an alternative to USB C, and I for one, wish they would go ahead and switch to USB C for every device in the Apple product lineup, as painful as that would be.

    Using USB C in everything Apple would all but guarantee a complete and near instantaneous transition of every peripheral imaginable to that single standard. Every HD, computer mouse, audio interface, keyboard, car sound system, home audio, SmartTVs, etc.would then standardize on USB-C at a much accelerated pace. And at 10 Gbps, USB 3.1 really is powerful enough for everything but the most demanding pro applications. The fact that Apple can already double up Thunderbolt on a USB-C port makes it that much sweeter—assuming Apple actually releases a pro computer anytime in the near future.

      1. Is there any single disk that can read/write at sustained speeds above 5 GBPS? The iPhone cannot, and it doesn’t need to since you only send a few megabytes at a time anyway and your WiFi or cellular connection is the bottleneck. So since the beancounters are running/ruining Apple now, you can bet they would choose the low speed version to save a penny per iPhone.

        Lightning is undesireable not because it doesn’t work okay, but because of the licensing cost. Every cable costs >10% more than what the equivalent USB cable costs thanks to Apple’s obscene licensing and relatively low production volumes.

        If connector size is so damn precious to Ive’s design philosphy, Apple could have chosen Micro USB in 2007. Instead Apple chose in 2007 to have dongle revenue from the clunky Dock connector, then do it again with the Lightning. Now everyone is wondering why Macs are going all USB-C while the iOS stuff doesn’t come with compatible cables.

        While I’m griping, I also hate the square edges on all the Apple connectors. Catches on everything. You’d think that a great designer would know how to design better cable ends.

        The much-lauded attention to detail and to user experience has been on the wane for years. Under Cook, there is no product focus, no cohesive plan to make sure hardware works seamlessly together, nobody thinking about customer usage needs. Dongle hell, while always a problem at Apple, has gotten progressively worse. It doesn’t have to be this way.

  5. Why not USB-C in the next iPhone and moving forward? I like lightning and it’s a lot better than mini/micro usb, but I’d say USB-C is about the same and with everything moving to USB-C I think it would be a better move to move the next iPhone to USB-C.

  6. The EU may force the change. The EU has a law that by 2020 every phone will need to use the same charge port to reduce e waste. It is the USB mini jack. Apple lost the suit that would let them continue to use adapters like they are doing now. When the law came out Apple was trying to get the EU to adopt a new USB port that they, and others, were working on but was not out yet. I have a feeling that the law will be changed to USB-C. I think most companies will be behind it. Then Apple will make the switch. I think Lighting was a stopgap, and a proof of concept in some ways. Of course the EU may be gone by 2020. So then it will be up the the Russians.

  7. In 2015 Apple released its first USB-C only product, the 12″ MacBook.

    Here we are in 2017 and Apple’s portable products require Lighting, USB-A, USB-C, a modified minijack on the iPod Shuffle, and inductive charging on the Watch.

    It is time for Apple to move all its Macs and iOS products to USB-C so that at least there is some consistency.

  8. I’m pretty sure USBC wouldn’t take up more space in the phone. It’s not like you can utilise the space above and below the connector. Also I’m pretty sure it would fit given that many Android manufacturers are using it in phones as thin as the iphone. My conclusion is that there is no technical reason whatsoever it couldn’t or indeed shouldn’t be done.

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