Apple should keep Lightning for now, but USB-A has to die

Posted:
in General Discussion
USB-C is slowly, but surely, replacing all the cables in our lives and is trying to be the ubiquitous solution to power all our gadgets. The one holdback before the format can accomplish this task, is insistence on maintaining the USB-A connector, and our old friend, Apple's Lightning cable. One of them has to go, and it isn't Lightning.

iPhone charging methods
iPhone charging methods


For years, computer owners have relegated to toting around a snake's nest of cables. Micro USB, MagSafe, Lightning, USB-C, and Thunderbolt are most recently populating my personal tech bag. I've yearned for the day when I can almost entirely wipe out that pile for a more simplistic solution. Hence, USB-C.

When I take stock of my usual gear, all USB-C is tantalizingly close. Here is my usual lineup of gear that gets used on a near-daily basis.

  • Display

  • iPhone

  • iPad

  • Apple Watch

  • Hard Drives

  • DSLR

  • GoPro

  • Battery

  • MacBook Pro

  • Portable charger

Apple Watch USB-C charging puck
Apple Watch USB-C charging puck


Taking stock of these devices over the past year or so, nearly every item on the list has found USB-C. For a while, the Apple Watch was the holdout, but years after the portable Macs went all-in on USB-C, it too recently made the jump with the updated magnetic puck -- that still isn't included in the box).

Even the iPad Pro has moved to USB-C as Apple markets it more as a computer replacement.

USB-C has its problems

USB-C isn't perfect by any means. There is a laundry list of issues to plow through, most of which is situated well beyond the technical scope of your average consumer.

First, the branding itself. As Type-C is just what the connector is called, we see many different utilizations. On some machines -- such as the Mac mini, MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, and iMac Pro -- it is a Thunderbolt 3 port that has the same Type-C connector. Others, it is solely USB 3.1.

On some, you have a USB-C port that only has specific purposes. For instance, the Mavic Air has a USB-C port for data transfer but not charging. These aren't simple growing pains, unfortunately, and will require an industry-wide push to solve overall.

Quality also pops into play. There have been issues with subpar USB-C cables making their way across Amazon that didn't meet the actual specs of a proper cable and could damage your gear while charging. Apple's tight reign on Lightning and MagSafe alleviated these fears for Apple users for the longest time.

Despite all of this, USB-C is here to stay and with Apple driving the push, it should only get better.

Option A or B

USB-C needs to be completely ubiquitous, and unavoidable like USB-A was at the turn of the century. Apple needs to either replace Lightning on iPhones with USB-C or Apple needs to open up USB-C Lightning cables for third-party manufacturers to make.

Lightning to USB-C
Lightning to USB-C


I want the latter. I want third-party USB-C to Lightning cables until the shift is complete. I've long maintained that Apple should stick with Lightning as the port on their devices. Lightning can't go away soon with iPhone battery cases, Mac peripherals, the Apple TV Siri remote, third-party microphones, third-party cameras, and much more all use this port.

As my esteemed colleague William points out, this is expected and while painful in the short term, will pay off over time. But, to counter William, while that pain would be expected, it doesn't have to be that way.

Charging over Lightning
Charging over Lightning


What devices plug into your iPhone? Clearly a charging cable, but otherwise there are a lot of niche accessories that are specifically made for iOS devices. FLIR thermal camera, Moment's battery case, or hard-wired backup solutions. These products, all have to go through Apple's certification process specifically to work with iOS, so switching to USB-C wouldn't change anything as they exclusively work with those devices. It's not as if because iPhone is USB-C you would plug the iXpand Base or FLIR camera into your Mac.

That leaves charging as the biggest reason to switch to USB-C, and I do think it is a nice thought to have the same cable to charge all my gear.

Looking to a wireless future, which Apple already seems to want, iPhones aren't going to be about the cable but about wireless technology. Unless something revolutionary happens in this regard, though, Apple should stick with Lightning until wireless charging has taken over enough that the port simply doesn't matter.

Why force everyone to go through the painful process of ditching all their Lightning cables, swapping any physical accessories that use Lightning, ditching battery cases, all for the sake of a charging cable we are moving away from?

Apple has clearly prioritized wireless in recent years as they've stripped back the number of ports, focused on wireless earbuds and headphones, introduced wireless CarPlay, dropped prices on iCloud storage, are still likely bringing a wireless charging case to AirPods, and have now brought wireless charging to all of the new iPhones released over the last two model years.

Third parties to the rescue

Think of all the different Lightning cables that are out there. Extremely long ones, light up ones, super durable ones, adapters that work with other cables, tiny keychain ones, and other unique implementations. I've picked up many of these that serve different purposes around my home, office, car, and portable gear bag.

USB-C and Lightning cable
USB-C and Lightning cables


Accessory makers like Nomad, Belkin, Anker, Native Union are all comping at the bit to make new USB-C Lightning cables. As a bonus, all of these new cables would still bring in a boatload of licensing revenue for Apple (because they totally need it).

If Apple would open this up, as has been rumored, I'd finally be able to go all-in on USB-C. My wall chargers could power all my gear over USB-C which is one of the largest headaches at the moment.

In the meantime

While we wait for Apple to open up licensing on USB-C Lightning cables -- or switch to USB-C completely -- I'll be here living in frustrated tech-limbo, forced to go between USB-A and USB-C chargers depending on which cable or wireless charger I happen to be using.

The good news is, change is on the horizon.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 56
    USB-C (TB3) has been a letdown for me. The ports or the cables get loose way faster than any other connector I've ever used. It's nice to have unidirectional plug-in, but on all my babied devices, the connectors are hit and miss. Not well developed. And I'm not sure how you'd fix it, but I have a number of devices I either need to get new cables for, or figure out a way to "fatten" the plugs to make them tighter...
    dtb200arthurbadws-2frumiousjdwwilliamlondonRayz2016baconstangwatto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 56
    I'm a musician. MIDI as a system of connectivity & control has been around for 40 years and is still more reliable than (MIDI over) USB. So much gear can continue to be used successfully in studios and live because the standards DO NOT change so rapidly. So rapid migration to new connectors is not always the best thing. And don't get me started on headphone sockets... ;-)
    MisterKitBigDannfrumioussphericigohmmmbaconstangflashfan207
  • Reply 3 of 56
    Andrew_OSUAndrew_OSU Posts: 200member, editor
    USB-C (TB3) has been a letdown for me. The ports or the cables get loose way faster than any other connector I've ever used. It's nice to have unidirectional plug-in, but on all my babied devices, the connectors are hit and miss. Not well developed. And I'm not sure how you'd fix it, but I have a number of devices I either need to get new cables for, or figure out a way to "fatten" the plugs to make them tighter...
    Thank you for this! My sentiments exactly. So many times has my USB-C cable come out of my Mac without me even noticing.

    This is a super specific scenario, but I have a 20TB LaCie drive connected to my Mac, but it provides only a tiny amount of power over Thunderbolt 3. Even with power coming in, while working, my battery actually goes down, yet the charging indicator says charging. I always have to keep a second power cable plugged in, but when it dislodges just slightly and stops charging, I don't get a notification because the hard drive provides a tiny trickle of power. Then, my computer will abruptly shut off when it inevitably runs out of juice. Very frustrating to this day!
    igohmmmwatto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 56
    mfrydmfryd Posts: 110member
    With USB-C, I still need to carry around a rat's nest of cables. I need charging cables, USB-3 cables, Thunderbolt-3 cables, video cables, etc.   I have short cables for when I need full speed, and longer, slower, cables for when I need distance.  The big difference with USB-C, is that even though the cables are different, they all have the same connector on them and they all look the same!

    In the old days, if the connectors fit, the cable probably was the right one.  With USB-C, even though the connectors fit, the cable isn't necessarily going to work.

    USB-C is a big step backwards in usability, and human interface.  At the very least, the cables should tell the computer what their capabilities are, so the computer can let you know when you try to use the wrong cable (or at least help you identify what kind of cable you have)!

    arthurbachiaking editor the grateMplsPfrumiouswilliamlondonsphericigohmmmbaconstangmuthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 5 of 56
    USB-C (TB3) has been a letdown for me. The ports or the cables get loose way faster than any other connector I've ever used. It's nice to have unidirectional plug-in, but on all my babied devices, the connectors are hit and miss. Not well developed. And I'm not sure how you'd fix it, but I have a number of devices I either need to get new cables for, or figure out a way to "fatten" the plugs to make them tighter...
    Thank you for this! My sentiments exactly. So many times has my USB-C cable come out of my Mac without me even noticing.

    This is a super specific scenario, but I have a 20TB LaCie drive connected to my Mac, but it provides only a tiny amount of power over Thunderbolt 3. Even with power coming in, while working, my battery actually goes down, yet the charging indicator says charging. I always have to keep a second power cable plugged in, but when it dislodges just slightly and stops charging, I don't get a notification because the hard drive provides a tiny trickle of power. Then, my computer will abruptly shut off when it inevitably runs out of juice. Very frustrating to this day!
    I had the same issue with the charging cables that came with my MacBook Pro and iPad Pro but since I got the new iPad I ordered a Thunderbolt 3 cable from Apple and nearly got stuck in the ports on the iPad Pro and MBP. Looks like Apple is shipping out thinner connectors on their charging cables. 
    BigDannwatto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 56
    chasmchasm Posts: 1,044member
    I may be an atypical user, but I find I hardly use the ports on my machines at all. My iPad has all-day battery life, and BT keyboard and headphones. My MBP has all-day battery life, and when I’m not at home I don’t seem to ever need to do much more than maybe charge my iPhone off it. And, again, BT headphones.

    For people having issues with USB-C or in need of USB-A ports, I’d suggest a cheap hub-let off Amazon or elsewhere. In my experience they stay in, prevent cord stretching/wear, and provide you with any ports you might need (headphone, USB-A, camera card, passthrough for power).

    If your cords are coming out on their own, that’s you stretching them — not a design flaw in USB (well, no more than there has ever been with previous iterations of USB).
    williamlondon
  • Reply 7 of 56
    I’ve yet to see a car with a USBC port, but there are already cars with wireless charging built in. 

    USBA will be around for a very very very long time even if it’s just for cars.  

    Cars will migrate away from USB to wireless charging just like they’ve moved away from ‘mic’ ports to Bluetooth. 

    The future is not USBC, it’s wireless for power and thunderbolt for data (because USB 3.2 is still too slow).
    mac_128BigDannfrumiouspolymniawilliamlondon
  • Reply 8 of 56
    Let's not pretend that there aren't USB-A charging outlets in facilities all over the world.  If we went to USB-C to lightning then we would still have to keep a USB-A to lightning cable handy to top off our lightning-based devices in cafes/airports/etc.  Then we are just going to have an extra cable to travel with and that doesn't make much sense over what we do now.  It makes more sense to either just replace the lightning port with USB-C so one pair of USB-A to USB-C and USB-C to USB-C cables can be used to charge any of our devices, or to wait for a wireless power standard that can truly replace charging cables entirely.
    mac_128MplsPradarthekatfrumiousbaconstang
  • Reply 9 of 56
    SoliSoli Posts: 8,432member
    I know my desire is unpopular, but I'd personally like to see Apple address this by dropping the PSU (and EarPods) from all iDevices. This would save money and waste on many levels, including making the box considerably smaller which means they could both ship and store more units of all their iDevices in the same space. They could offer both a USB-A and USB-C-to-Lighting cables, or both a USB-C-to-Lighting cable with a USB-A(m)-to-USB-C(f) adapter for a year or two, since cables do wear out over time, are much less expensive, and require much fewer harder to recycle parts that aren't nearly as bad for landfills.
    mattinozbala1234
  • Reply 10 of 56
    dws-2dws-2 Posts: 211member
    USB-C (TB3) has been a letdown for me. The ports or the cables get loose way faster than any other connector I've ever used. It's nice to have unidirectional plug-in, but on all my babied devices, the connectors are hit and miss. Not well developed. And I'm not sure how you'd fix it, but I have a number of devices I either need to get new cables for, or figure out a way to "fatten" the plugs to make them tighter...
    I have the same problem, and this is with Apple-supplied cables. I'm not at all sure usb-c is getting better. It has a flaky connector, and it's impossible to know what the cord does. Given a cord with the same connectors, that cord should do the same thing, and that's before you take into account third party cables that can be flaky. A given cord might support any number of different speeds and standards, it may charge at 65 watts, it may charge at 85 watts, it might not charge at all. And there's no visible way to know what a cord will do. So when you plug something in and it doesn't work, there are at least three options: first, the device doesn't support doing that with usb-c; second, the device supports it, but the cable does not; and third, both the device and the cable support it, but the cable is bad or not of sufficient quality to support it. Oh, a fourth option is that the connector isn't in there "just right". I get this all the time with my $60 Apple-branded cable and my Apple-sold LG 5K display.

    I'm not clear how these issues are going to be solved.


    BigDannbaconstang
  • Reply 11 of 56
    A big impediment to abandoning USB-A any time soon is the fact that they are now so commonly used as a DC power port in cars, airplanes, hotels, etc. There are those electrical outlets that have them built-in, and they are even integrated into lamp bases. All of these implementations are in products that have at least 10 if not 20+ year lifespans.

    I'm not crazy about the USB-A cable, and for DC power only applications, it is not a great choice. But damn if it isn't ubiquitous.

    I think we'll have to get used to at least having an adapter to whatever charging-capable cable we have to be able to take advantage of the installed base of these ports for quite a while.
    BigDannfrumiousigohmmmbaconstang
  • Reply 12 of 56
    SoliSoli Posts: 8,432member
    A big impediment to abandoning USB-A any time soon is the fact that they are now so commonly used as a DC power port in cars, airplanes, hotels, etc. There are those electrical outlets that have them built-in, and they are even integrated into lamp bases. All of these implementations are in products that have at least 10 if not 20+ year lifespans.

    I'm not crazy about the USB-A cable, and for DC power only applications, it is not a great choice. But damn if it isn't ubiquitous.

    I think we'll have to get used to at least having an adapter to whatever charging-capable cable we have to be able to take advantage of the installed base of these ports for quite a while.
    They could add a adapter for the cable. And remember before automobiles had USB-A ports we just used the 12V plug with an adapter to charge our iPhones and cell phones many years before that.
    dws-2randominternetpersonrandominternetpersonradarthekat
  • Reply 13 of 56
    I personally hate the usb standard and it’s fanfare usually pushed by non mac people.. For transferring huge files Firewire was always faster and more consistent then usb2. Now Lightning and Thunderbolt 3, the speeds of transferring large video files has been a godsend.. but is becoming confusing mixing Thunderbolt and usb3-c as overlapping or combining is maddening... i’d have preferred to see Intel n Apple push forward towards Thunderbolt 4 possibilitie.. the usb cables have been horrid over the years idk time will tell
  • Reply 14 of 56
    Lighting cables has been Johnny Ive’s Achiles heel, an inexplicable engineering and design disgrace.
    For decades, Apple cables (AppleTalk and ADB) represented the quality and sturdiness of Apple hardware. Nobody ever even think of one of those failing or breaking. Nowdays, you have to annualy (with luck) include in your family budget at least $150 to replace Apple lighting cables and laptop power bricks because cable failures. I love Apple computers...but man...their cables stinks..!
    williamlondonigohmmm
  • Reply 15 of 56
    Soli said:
    A big impediment to abandoning USB-A any time soon is the fact that they are now so commonly used as a DC power port in cars, airplanes, hotels, etc. There are those electrical outlets that have them built-in, and they are even integrated into lamp bases. All of these implementations are in products that have at least 10 if not 20+ year lifespans.

    I'm not crazy about the USB-A cable, and for DC power only applications, it is not a great choice. But damn if it isn't ubiquitous.

    I think we'll have to get used to at least having an adapter to whatever charging-capable cable we have to be able to take advantage of the installed base of these ports for quite a while.
    They could add a adapter for the cable. And remember before automobiles had USB-A ports we just used the 12V plug with an adapter to charge our iPhones and cell phones many years before that.
    Yep, an adapter one way or another for wired DC charging is likely to be required for many more years.

    How ironic that the automotive standard for DC power connections is still alive and, like USB-A, was not originally intended for that sole purpose, and that these are what we are stuck with. (It's crazy to think that the 12V plug started out as cigarette lighter connector nearly a hundred years ago!). I don't see USB-A lasting a hundred years (heaven forbid), but I wouldn't be too surprised to see that automotive 12V plug several decades more!
    edited November 2018 mac_128randominternetpersonBigDannbaconstang
  • Reply 16 of 56
    dtb200 said:
    I'm a musician. MIDI as a system of connectivity & control has been around for 40 years and is still more reliable than (MIDI over) USB. So much gear can continue to be used successfully in studios and live because the standards DO NOT change so rapidly. So rapid migration to new connectors is not always the best thing. And don't get me started on headphone sockets... ;-)
    USB-C is by far a better connector than USB-A and is backwards compatible with the older USB data protocols, so not sure what you're talking about.
    williamlondondtb200
  • Reply 17 of 56

    rsantana said:
    Lighting cables has been Johnny Ive’s Achiles heel, an inexplicable engineering and design disgrace.
    For decades, Apple cables (AppleTalk and ADB) represented the quality and sturdiness of Apple hardware. Nobody ever even think of one of those failing or breaking. Nowdays, you have to annualy (with luck) include in your family budget at least $150 to replace Apple lighting cables and laptop power bricks because cable failures. I love Apple computers...but man...their cables stinks..!
    $150? Bullshit. I've never had an Apple Lightning cable stop working, only 3rd party cables. None of my laptop chargers have failed either, and I still have my nearly 8 year old original MagSafe.
    williamlondonRayz2016
  • Reply 18 of 56

    epicurus said:
    I personally hate the usb standard and it’s fanfare usually pushed by non mac people.. For transferring huge files Firewire was always faster and more consistent then usb2. Now Lightning and Thunderbolt 3, the speeds of transferring large video files has been a godsend.. but is becoming confusing mixing Thunderbolt and usb3-c as overlapping or combining is maddening... i’d have preferred to see Intel n Apple push forward towards Thunderbolt 4 possibilitie.. the usb cables have been horrid over the years idk time will tell
    The hell are you talking about? We've moved on from USB 2.0. USB 3.1gen1 is 5Gbps, gen2 is 10Gps. The best Firewire port a Mac ever had was 800Mbps. Thunderbolt uses the USB-C connector. There is no such thing as "usb3-c".
    williamlondon
  • Reply 19 of 56
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 878member
    rossggg said:
    Let's not pretend that there aren't USB-A charging outlets in facilities all over the world.  If we went to USB-C to lightning then we would still have to keep a USB-A to lightning cable handy to top off our lightning-based devices in cafes/airports/etc.  Then we are just going to have an extra cable to travel with and that doesn't make much sense over what we do now.  It makes more sense to either just replace the lightning port with USB-C so one pair of USB-A to USB-C and USB-C to USB-C cables can be used to charge any of our devices, or to wait for a wireless power standard that can truly replace charging cables entirely.
    This. USB A has become a standard. No matter how much Apple wants to deny it it is and will be the standard for a while. My kitchen has a USB A outlet in the wall. My 2017 car has 2 USB A outlets. At the airport, there were USB A charging outlets. The emergency battery packs sold in the airport vending machine have USB A outlets. On the plane, there were USB A outlets. In the rental car - USB A outlets. At the Hotel, USB A outlets. 

    Yes, I can get an adapter. I have one for my MacBook Pro because all it has is the damned USB C ports that aren't compatible with any accessory older than 6 months old, including every currently produced iPhone. Nor is it compatible with my company-issued security key. My question is why should we get an adapter so we can use it 90+% of the time instead of having a cable that just works without an adapter. And by the way, take a tour over to the Apple Store and look at the reviews for USB C adapters. The majority of them have 2 star reviews because they don't work. Even the lowly USB A - USB C adapter made by apple got panned because USB A plugs kept getting stuck in it. 

    I had a MacBook Air had the MagSafe connector which ran circles around USB C IME. It was quicker and easier to connect. It was reversible. It had a charging light so you could tell if it was charging or complete without even opening the device and it saved my ass several times when the dog or kids tripped over the cord. The only benefit of the USB C is I can plug it in on either side of the computer - something I still don't know that I need.

    I agree with the other posters - USB C is a mess. with USB A, you knew what you had. With USB C - you have no idea. You may have a charging cable. You may have a data cable. You may have both. you may have a thunderbolt cable. If you get a hub, it may allow for data, it may not. Ditto with charging. Even if it allows for data, it might not be thunderbolt. 
    frumiousBigDannbaconstang
  • Reply 20 of 56
    I’ve had many failed iOS upgrades thanks to a flimsy USB connector that was gently kissed by a summer breeze. Damn standard should have died a long time ago. Lightning is better, but I hate how the pins turn black or break off after prolonged use.
    edited November 2018 williamlondon
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