Why Apple is expected to stick with Lightning over USB-C in the new 'iPhone 8'

Posted:
in iPhone edited May 2017
A new iPhone is coming and it is probably loaded with all the technology Apple can bring to bear -- but the "iPhone 8" will probably be missing USB-C when it launches. AppleInsider explains why Apple will probably stick with Lightning for at least another year.




As we've said before, when there's smoke, there's fire. There's a lot of smoke about the "iPhone 8," or whatever it's ultimately going to be called. Some of the signals say USB-C will be used as the phone's main interface, but most of them don't say anything at all.

Despite rare rumors to the contrary, Apple will probably stick with Lightning this time around. Here's why.

Charging

USB-C power delivery is here... mostly. It fares better and is more universal with lower powered devices than, say, the 15-inch MacBook Pro.

That said, as it stands, Lightning charging is no slouch on some models. On the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, the Fresco Logic FL1100SX host controller allows for Apple's 29W USB-C adapter that ships with the 12-inch MacBook to charge the hefty iPad nearly three times faster than the standard iPad adapter.

So, Lightning still works as a charging cable, even on a fancy new phone packed with Apple's best technologies.
More time is probably needed for Apple to do it on its computer that is truly for the rest of us -- the iPhone.
This, of course, is mostly irrelevant if Apple has practical wireless charging worked out. And, if that's the case, sheer inertia of the Lightning connector will carry the older connector through to 2017's iPhones.

Transfer speeds

In theory, USB-C wins this -- with a notable caveat. Lightning is capable of USB 3 transfer speeds, given the right circumstances.

As of April 27, there is precisely one combination of hardware that allows USB 3 transfer speeds -- a 12.9-inch iPad Pro with the Lightning to USB 3 Camera Adapter. When the two are connected, the USB-A connector in the adapter can transfer photos and other data from a compatible device to the larger iPad with no problem.

This capability exists with no other iOS device -- largely as a result of the already mentioned Fresco Logic FL1100SX host controller which also grants the 12.9-inch iPad faster charging when connected to Apple's 29W power supply and USB-C to Lightning cable.

So, future iPhones could get the faster data speed as well still using Lightning.

But, Apple has made a big point of wireless everything for the iPhone. Wi-Fi sync, once the forgotten stepchild of a cable connection to a host computer, is primary amongst most users now, with iCloud syncs being secondary.

Given Apple's drive to shift everybody it can to wireless, there's no real need for a USB-C migration.

Physical strength

Using the same testing facility as we used to deeper examine the Wi-Fi interference problems with the LG 5K Ultrafine monitor, we tested a variety of 30-pin cables, in conjunction with MFi-licensed Lightning and a variety of USB-C connectors for break strength.

While results were all over the place for force, the range for Lightning and USB-C breaks in the metal tip were about the same range, way higher than that of a 30-pin connector. A metal tip break isn't good in either case, but Lightning has a slight edge in this regard.

When a Lightning tip breaks off, invariably there's a bit of metal left in the iPhone or iPad -- in our case, in already off-service iPhone 5 units. After fishing the tip out, the port still worked fine for both charging and data transfer.

Our USB-C test rig was a little more improvised, as there isn't a steady supply of old devices withthe port yet, so our testers ordered some USB-C receptacles and anchored them in accordance with the USB-C spec. In the test rig, when a USB-C tip broke, in four out of seven cases it deformed the inner male tip prior to deformation of the metal tip, rendering the test port useless.

We can't say with ultimate authority that the same would happen in a USB-C iPhone given the nature of the test gear, but we're also not sure that we'd want to test it with a MacBook Pro or even a Pixel -- and certainly not the "iPhone 8" at launch.

No easy way out, no shortcut home

To borrow a phrase from Steve Jobs, USB-C is still a "bucket of hurt" for Apple. If it stays with Lightning, it antagonizes the crowd that wants to see universality. If it shifts, it annoys peripheral owners, even if a low-profile adapter is provided at low cost, like Apple did after the shift to 30-pin.

No doubt, USB-C is solid. The connector itself has about the same resistance to damage as Lightning, and is positioned as a universal, small port for cross-platform use. In our experience with the MacBook Pro and MacBook, the connector succeeds admirably.

The shift to USB-C for the iPhone is inevitable, but it probably still isn't this year. Apple made inroads on the conversion to the port with the 2016 MacBook Pro, but given the hue and cry about it even integrating Thunderbolt 3 on the Mac, more time is probably needed for Apple to do it on its computer that is truly for the rest of us -- the iPhone.

In the interest of full disclosure, we at AppleInsider wouldn't mind the shift. So, if we had our way, we'd endorse ripping the band-aid of old connectors completely off and shifting everything we can to USB-C.

While we're at it, how about a more durable Apple-standard iPhone cable, too.
robzrrobzr
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 66
    macplusplusmacplusplus Posts: 1,888member
    So, when a USB-C tip broke, the iPhone too would be broken in 4/7 cases. No way. Repairing the iPhone is not as easy as repairing the Macbook, and almost in 7/7 of cases, that will be taken as usage damage and will not be covered by warranty. Some dudes may sacrifice the warranty for the sake of universality, however, and still cheer for USB-C on the iPhone... A dumb adapter is always preferable to the lack of warranty covering the deformation of the USB-C inner male tip.
    edited May 2017 redgeminipapscooter63baconstangbb-15
  • Reply 2 of 66
    brakkenbrakken Posts: 682member
    I guess Dan is on holidays...
    slprescott[Deleted User]
  • Reply 3 of 66
    For now I can't see any upside for Apple or myself in dumping lightning for USB-C. But if eliminating Lightning will be cheaper in the long run, I'd expect Apple to go for it. No more MFL income of course. BTW, is the USB-C chassis part thinner than the Lightning chassis part? That may be a factor.
    repressthisbb-15watto_cobraargonaut
  • Reply 4 of 66
    davidmalcolmdavidmalcolm Posts: 238member
    I have my doubts that USB C doesn't break as often as lightning. Lightning is a cleaner design, it's also significantly smaller than USB C. Lightning is probably the last physical connector that Apple will ship for iPhones. After lightning there simply won't be a port. WiFi is already quite fast, and most of the time people aren't loading huge amounts of data onto iOS devices aside from initial setup, which they're probably mostly doing through WiFi since they're typically going to have gotten their phone set up at the store they buy it from. I imagine Apple has some sort of stats on how often restores are going from iTunes verses iCloud. Moving forward iPhones will probably move to charging cables similar to the Apple Watch, though I suspect they might move towards something more strip shaped so that charging can be done from the side of an iPhone. I'm thinking something similar to Magsafe only flatter. And probably universal between iPhone, iPad, Siri Remote, and Apple Watch. (Depending on how much power they can put through it you might even see it start to be integrated into a MacBook. Assuming this intermediate step happens, you'll then move to devices that charge based on a field. (Though I've heard this provides a lot of wasted power, so Apple may not be wanting to jump on this right away.) Eventually when they do ditch all jacks, they'll either give the current model of AirPods away with iPhones, or they'll start including a pair that has a wire between the headphones and a single W1 chip between the pair. They'll then come out with a pair of AirPods at the current price point that has features like noise cancelation.
    repressthispalomine
  • Reply 5 of 66
    indiekidukindiekiduk Posts: 303member
    Next year's iPhone 8 probably wont have a cable at all if it has wireless charging and includes Air Pods. The 7s probably will still have lightning though rather than a change to USB-C for one model.
    mac_128repressthis
  • Reply 6 of 66
    macguimacgui Posts: 1,383member
    There's nothing performance wise that tips the scales to either, for me. At this point, their both very capable.

    I just don't see a clear advantage to switching to USB-C yet. Down the road sure, especially when it's ubiquitous among Macs.

    Until then I'll be happy with Lightning for two reasons— I won't have to get a stash of USB-C cables (though I already have a few for my 12" MBr) and I find it's much much easier to connect a device to a Lightning cable in low light than to a USB-C cable.

    Otherwise, if Apple dropped Lightning tomorrow, it would bother me.
    redgeminipabaconstangpscooter63repressthiswatto_cobraargonaut
  • Reply 7 of 66
    irelandireland Posts: 17,660member
    A bag of hurt, not a bucket.

    And yes, Lightning cables are one of the flimsiest cables imaginable and are not near durable enough for their intended purpose.
    edited May 2017 xzuHabi_tweetavon b7argonaut
  • Reply 8 of 66
    redgeminiparedgeminipa Posts: 501member
    For now I can't see any upside for Apple or myself in dumping lightning for USB-C. But if eliminating Lightning will be cheaper in the long run, I'd expect Apple to go for it. No more MFL income of course. BTW, is the USB-C chassis part thinner than the Lightning chassis part? That may be a factor.
    Lightning is smaller than USB-C. There's no way Apple will ever put USB-C in any iOS device, especially the iPhone, where internal space is very constrained. I see Lightning being around until the day comes that iOS devices (and Apple TV remote) have no port for a wired connection. My 12" MacBook has USB-C, and it's cumbersome compared to Lightning. I'll take Lightning any day.
    radarthekatmike54pscooter63repressthisbb-15watto_cobracyberzombie
  • Reply 9 of 66
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 4,801administrator
    For now I can't see any upside for Apple or myself in dumping lightning for USB-C. But if eliminating Lightning will be cheaper in the long run, I'd expect Apple to go for it. No more MFL income of course. BTW, is the USB-C chassis part thinner than the Lightning chassis part? That may be a factor.
    Lightning is smaller than USB-C. There's no way Apple will ever put USB-C in any iOS device, especially the iPhone, where internal space is very constrained. I see Lightning being around until the day comes that iOS devices (and Apple TV remote) have no port for a wired connection. My 12" MacBook has USB-C, and it's cumbersome compared to Lightning. I'll take Lightning any day.
    The chassis part for Lightning is literally a hairs-breadth thinner than the same for USB-C.
    edited May 2017 xzupscooter63repressthiswatto_cobraargonaut
  • Reply 10 of 66
    boredumbboredumb Posts: 1,416member
    The chassis part for Lightning is literally a hairs-breath thinner than the same for USB-C.
    "Literally"???  I feel like I've walked into an SNL skit...
    I'm not sure what you mean by "chassis"...the 'inserting' part, or the housing behind it?
    StrangeDays
  • Reply 11 of 66
    wood1208wood1208 Posts: 1,991member
    Moving from 30-pin connector to lighting connector on iphone, Apple reversed the male/female part/pins of connector(cable vs port on phone). Overtime iPhone users experience with intermittent connection/charging isues due to lint/dust getting collected inside female part of lightning port on iPhone, Than, you need to gently clean(tooth pick, force air,etc) the female pins(without damaging) inside port on iphone for better connection to fix the problem. Contrary to lightning, USB-C's female side/pins is on cable side so you can either clean female fins inside like lightning or faster change/use different cable if it gets clogged with lint. Bit, easier to fix problem just using different cable which you can't do on iPhone. But on USB-C if tip of male part on phone get broken than your phone is ruined until you replace the physical port on phone and it is not easy/fun to replace.
    So, Apple should stay with lightening until no physical port is needed or if decide to move to USB-C in future than to make sure the male pins tip inside port's housing construction is solid so tip is not broken from the daily multiple usage(charging and earpod) of insertion or somehow make the port easily replaceable on iphone. Bunch of other phone manufacturers are moving/moved to USB-C so we will find within year of usage across the board by millions of users to see if USB-C's physical design/construction(male tip) damages or sustains the daily use of insertion.Macbook/Pro is another example/usecase to prove the long term USB-C's durability.
    edited May 2017 slprescottmac_128watto_cobraargonaut
  • Reply 12 of 66
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 4,801administrator
    boredumb said:
    The chassis part for Lightning is literally a hairs-breath thinner than the same for USB-C.
    "Literally"???  I feel like I've walked into an SNL skit...
    I'm not sure what you mean by "chassis"...the 'inserting' part, or the housing behind it?
    The housing behind it.
  • Reply 13 of 66
    robjnrobjn Posts: 224member
    Apple won't put USBC on the iPhone. USBC is bulky compared to Lightning, it uses more internal space and this restricts device thinness.

    When Apple remove Lightning it will be replaced with a new technology far better and completely different to anything currently on the market.
    mike54pscooter63mac_128repressthiswatto_cobraredgeminipaargonaut
  • Reply 14 of 66
    FatmanFatman Posts: 309member
    USB-C should replace every connector on phones, computers, laptops, monitors, TVs, AV equipment... some day.
  • Reply 15 of 66
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 8,310member
    ireland said:
    A bag of hurt, not a bucket.

    And yes, Lightning cables are one of the flimsiest cables imaginable and are not near durable enough for their intended purpose.
    Have not run into that. My Apple lightning cables work great on my desk, and my canvas Ankers work great for behind sofas and whatnot. 
    pscooter63repressthiswatto_cobraargonaut
  • Reply 16 of 66
    mike54mike54 Posts: 347member
    Apple will stick lightning until no port is needed. Apple is working on wireless data transfer which maybe wifi, high speed NFC, or maybe induction, like wireless charging. May use bluetooth with W2 or W3 chip, or some other near field protocol. Anyway that's their aim.
    mac_128repressthiswatto_cobraredgeminipa
  • Reply 17 of 66
    coolfactorcoolfactor Posts: 1,509member
    I personally like the Lightning design, and I like that it's Apple-only, but I guess it would be foolish to hold onto it with a death grip. USB-C is a close second.

    wood1208 said:
    Contrary to lightning, USB-C's female side/pins is on cable side so you can either clean female fins inside like lightning or faster change/use different cable if it gets clogged with lint. Bit, easier to fix problem just using different cable which you can't do on iPhone. But on USB-C if tip of male part on phone get broken than your phone is ruined until you replace the physical port on phone and it is not easy/fun to replace.

    USB-C has two "lint traps" (holes that can get clogged), whereas Lightning just has one.

    Not sure that USB-C has the advantage in terms of physical design.
    pscooter63mac_128repressthisbb-15watto_cobraredgeminipaargonaut
  • Reply 18 of 66
    sirlance99sirlance99 Posts: 1,147member
    Next year's iPhone 8 probably wont have a cable at all if it has wireless charging and includes Air Pods. The 7s probably will still have lightning though rather than a change to USB-C for one model.
    That won't happen for years. There isn't even a system in place for wireless charging network. We'll still have a cable and wireless before going full wireless for years to come. 
    baconstangMetriacanthosaurus
  • Reply 19 of 66
    jurassicjurassic Posts: 94member
    USB Type C connector is rated for up to 100W power, which is fine for running large power hungry devices, but it is over-kill for a smartphone or ARM tablet. The USB-C connector is larger and thicker than the Lightning connector, so it takes up more space in the design of a smartphone than a Lightning connector. If you look inside a USB-C connector you will see a very small and thin tab, with 24 tiny pins that connect to pins inside the USB-C plug. Lightning has a more durable, wider and thicker plug, with 8 much larger pins embedded in a thick metal tab. It is less likely to bend or break than the tiny USB-C connector tab. The other area that might be prone to problems, especially with mobile devices that are stuck in pockets and bags, or dropped on the ground, is that the pins on a USB-C connector are tinier and closer together than the pins on a Lightning connector, so they are more easily scratched or covered in dirt.
    pscooter63mac_128repressthisbb-15watto_cobraredgeminipaargonaut
  • Reply 20 of 66
    Habi_tweetHabi_tweet Posts: 74member
    ireland said:
    A bag of hurt, not a bucket.

    And yes, Lightning cables are one of the flimsiest cables imaginable and are not near durable enough for their intended purpose.
    Have not run into that. My Apple lightning cables work great on my desk, and my canvas Ankers work great for behind sofas and whatnot. 
    What? :open_mouth: Your the only person that have ever heard that havent run into this. I have had about a dozen 30-pin apple cables and non have ever stopped working. Lightning cables on the other hand... 60% ( about 6 cables of 10) and no I´m pretty strict with cable handling. Actually its pretty funny that the ones that have worked the longest/still woking arent manufactured by apple, 5/6 of the ones that broke were...  :smiley:  
    argonaut
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