Lightning versus USB-C: Pros and cons for the iPhone

Posted:
in iPhone edited June 13
The rumor mill is hard at work trying to convince people that a USB-C iPhone is coming. A recent decision from the European Union may force Apple's hand.

iPhones with a USB-A Lightning cable
iPhones with a USB-A Lightning cable


The EU agreed on new rules that would require companies to adopt USB-C as a common charging mechanism. Apple may be forced into creating a USB-C iPhone by late 2024.

The agreement's goal is to reduce electronic waste in the system since smartphone owners could use one cable to charge multiple devices. New waste would appear in the form of no longer-needed Lightning cables and docks.

Apple would save on creating Lightning cables as the iPhone is the only device with such a port. Keeping Lightning cables around to support older iPhones would be the only purpose.

Switching to a new port sounds simple at first but it will alter the way components fit together inside an iPhone. Removing ports entirely from the device remains an option too.

Beyond requirements by legislative bodies , there are pros and cons to each connector type.

Lightning

Lightning is an 8-pin connector that Apple released in 2012 to replace the older 30-pin cable. The 6.7mm by 1.5mm plug can be inserted face up or face down. It's a male connector which means the pins are on the cable instead of in the port.

One negative of the Lightning system is slow data transfer. Lightning transfer speeds are comparable to USB 2.0 at up to 480Mbps for most cases, but can reach USB 3 speeds.

USB 3 transfer speeds can be found under the right circumstances, such as a 12.9-inch iPad Pro with a Lightning to USB 3 Camera Adapter.

USB 3.0, also known as SuperSpeed USB, can hit speeds up to 5Gbps. The latest iteration, USB 3.2, provides speeds up to 20Gbps.

Lightning port on iPhone
Lightning port on iPhone


Lightning is a good protocol for charging, with the iPhone 13 Pro Max capable of temporarily supporting up to 27 watts in power with the right adapter.

The protocol is exclusive to Apple and that nature is a positive from the company's perspective. Its Made for iPhone program ensures that manufacturers adhere to standards in components.

This turns out to be a benefit for consumers since they don't have to worry about a bum charger as long as they find one that is certified.

In our testing we found that the strength of each type of connector is similar. Lightning cables handle tip breakage better than their USB-C counterparts.

The male connector needs to be removed from the iPhone's port, and after that it's good to go. When a USB-C tip breaks there is a 57 percent chance its inner connectors will be damaged before the outside metal tip. It can't connect to a port in that instance.

Lightning Pros and Cons

Pros
  • MFi certification program

  • One specification

  • Handles breakage better than USB-C
Cons
  • Slow data transfer

  • Standard only to Apple

USB-C

USB-C by itself doesn't say a thing about charging power, or the cable's data transfer. It only refers to the type of connector and port used in the standard. It's a female connection, which means the inside of the plug contains the pins.

The latest and fastest specification that USB-C can use is USB4. These cables can support data transfer speeds up to 40Gbps. It can be used in Thunderbolt 3 and Thunderbolt 4 ports in Apple devices such as a MacBook Pro or iMac.

We tested USB-C charging speeds versus Qi, USB-A, and MagSafe. The USB-C cable charged the iPhone 12 Pro the fastest with a full battery in one hour and 55 minutes.

Another positive of USB-C is its backward compatibility with USB 2.0, DVI, VGA, and HDMI with the right adapters. It also supports DisplayPort A/V up to 8K resolutions at 60Hz.

MacBook Pro with USB-C ports
MacBook Pro with USB-C ports


Variable USB-C "standards" are also the technology's downfall, with different speeds and names that results in confused consumers. USB 2.0, USB 3.0, USB 3.1, USB4, and USB Power Delivery are all factors to learn about and consider.

Like Lightning, USB-C devices can be certified to meet safety standards. The USB Implementers Forum tests and certifies all USB-C cables, chargers, and other devices.

USB-C Pros and Cons

Pros
  • Fast data transfer speeds up to 40Gbps with USB4

  • Faster device charging

  • Backward compatibility with other specifications
Cons
  • The host device is more likely to be damaged than the cable

  • Multiple, confusing specifications

Switching Ports

For Apple, there's no winning this. They shift to USB-C, and the Lightning-devout complain. And, over a decade of accessories go obsolete without an adapter.

With a USB-C iPhone, a customer could use one cable as the minimum amount to charge their smartphone, laptop, and other accessories. Many customers would also need to buy new accessories to replace their Lighting devices.

If they stick with Lightning, they'll be in violation of the EU's upcoming mandate. As it turns out, the law doesn't allow Apple to turn off a connector's ability to charge if it exists, so they can't just have a software patch for EU customers.

And, if they go wholly wireless, that still exterminates the Lightning peripherals, and cuts off one troubleshooting method until MagSafe supports data.

Wireless charging is inefficient compared to wires. MagSafe requires a power adapter that supports a minimum of 25W but only delivers up to 15W to charge an iPhone.

In our test we found that MagSafe placed third, charging iPhone 12 Pro in two hours and ten minutes. The 5W power brick with USB-A Lightning beat MagSafe for only the first seven minutes.

USB-C cable
USB-C cable


That wireless future is likely where Apple is headed. On the surface, looking at Apple's position only, it makes more sense for Apple to stick with Lightning or replace it with MagSafe than to switch to USB-C.

The only question left is Apple's ability to appease the EU. The decision could force Apple to quicken its timeline to introduce an iPhone without a port.

The law is clear that a MagSafe-only iPhone meets the requirements of the new forthcoming requirement.

MagSafe is also compatible with the open Qi standard. It supports up to 15W of power and 7.5W for Qi. People don't have to buy separate Qi and MagSafe chargers and that meets the EU's ideal of universal charging.

The Apple Watch's relationship with Qi charging is complicated. Apple might need to iron this out to have a universal wireless standard, since the device is far too small to have the existing MagSafe included.

The Apple Watch charger may be compliant with the Qi specification. In 2015 AppleInsider reader Albert C. Lee shared a video in which he used the Apple Watch charger with his Moto 360 smartwatch.

In 2015, John Perzow, VP of market development at the Wireless Power Consortium, claimed that Apple used a modified form of Qi for the Apple Watch charging system. Teardowns from iFixit show that the Apple Watch charging system is similar to Qi.

In 2017 the Apple Watch Series 3 was found to support some Qi chargers. Devices from Belkin, Mophie, and Sharllen were tested.

So, if we presuppose that a MagSafe-only iPhone is compliant, then, so too is the Apple Watch.

Which works for any given consumer is an open question -- but none of us get a vote.

Read on AppleInsider
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 34
    rob53rob53 Posts: 2,946member
    Are all digital cameras and computers required by law to use USB-C? I used to have a box of various USB cables for cameras, older phones and just about anything electronic. I still see smaller USB cable plugs on various equipment so why isn't the EU going after them as well? This isn't the same as using a standard electrical plug. There's a UL standard for those and many other, generic-type items. The iPhone is not a generic item even though it's a phone. I just don't understand why some countries feel they can tell another country how to build things.

    As for Lightning, it's an easy plug and port, nothing like a USB-C plug and port that is way too complex and subject to failure because of small, non-protected parts. Intel has never been good at designing things that wouldn't fail. Lightning cables do fail but almost always because people are careful with the cable or how it's inserted and removed. 
    Anilu_777twokatmewbshankwatto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 2 of 34
    Anilu_777Anilu_777 Posts: 331member
    The EU is engaging in massive overreach. They don’t have the understanding or technical expertise to demand one charger. And what happens when a better system is developed? Or do they not bother because the precious EU might not like it? I’m Canadian and I’m fine with Lightning. 
    entropyswilliamlondonviclauyycmaximaralollivertwokatmewbshankbluefire1watto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 34
    riverkoriverko Posts: 148member
    And what about hair trimmers, tooth brushes, powebanks…
    don’t forget we have apple keyboards, mouse, airpods that all are on lightning too… so still extra cable or some dongle…
    mattinoztwokatmewbshankwatto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 34
    entropysentropys Posts: 3,451member
    Just drop the port altogether.
    Alex1N
  • Reply 5 of 34
    Eric_WVGGEric_WVGG Posts: 958member
    This article doesn't mention two of IMO the most interesting properties of Lightning.

    The first is that Lightning isn't simply a proprietarily shaped USB connection. Instead, it's a system where the pins can be re-assigned to different communication protocols. For example, one might make a lightning-to-RGB-video cable. This wouldn't be like a dongle or a conversion cable, where a USB device is talking to an interface board (like the old style USB-to-serial or USB-to-PS/2 connectors of the nineties); rather, it would allow an iOS device to send a native RGB video signal down the cable.

    This move has its roots in how the old Apple Dock Connector could transmit raw video and audio signals, on top of the USB and other pinouts that were in that beefy plug. I've never seen any Lightning cables that did anything other than a USB signal in the wild, though.


    The other thing is regarding the design of the lightning connector. There's a little tab on the plug; that's the weak point in the connection, if it ever breaks, it's almost certainly going to be due to the tab breaking. It's not a big deal, though; the tab breaks, you just get a new lightning cable.

    Now most folks might not realize this, but USB-C has a little tab too; except that for USB-C, that tab is on the device. Look inside the port on your Macbook or iPad, you can see that little guy in there; the USB-C plug is actually a sleeve that fits over the tab. 

    The thing is, that tab is still the weak point in the connection; but now, when the tab breaks off, it's your Macbook or iPad that is damaged, and more likely than not it's a non-repairable part. (not the case with Mac Studio, actually, but I digress). Say what you will about industry compatibility or proprietary parts, but on a purely technical level, Lightning is a far better designed connector than USB-C.


    In an ideal world, Apple would have given away the license to the Lightning connector to the USB Consortium and said "hey, this should be your design for USB-C, have it, it's yours." USB-C would be a better plug, and Apple wouldn't be in this position of having to change ports and make an entire ecosystem of accessories obsolete. c'est la vie
    edited June 13 rob53appleinsideruserh4y3sregurgitatedcoprolitemaximaratwokatmewbshankAlex1Nanantksundaramauxio
  • Reply 6 of 34
    rob53rob53 Posts: 2,946member
    Eric_WVGG said:
    This article doesn't mention two of IMO the most interesting properties of Lightning.

    ...
    In an ideal world, Apple would have given away the license to the Lightning connector to the USB Consortium and said "hey, this should be your design for USB-C, have it, it's yours." USB-C would be a better plug, and Apple wouldn't be in this position of having to change ports and make an entire ecosystem of accessories obsolete. c'est la vie
    Problem with Apple "giving away" anything is that Apple has been sued by other companies who "gave away" their products to standards organizations and Apple used these standards. Standards are only good if nobody has to pay for their use. Other companies hate Apple so there's no reason for them to accept anything Apple provides. Yes, that's a generalization but it's also the way most things go. The EU wants control over everything and is banking on fining Apple when/if they don't comply. It's an easy way to pick up some money and is typical of all politicians strapped for cash.
    maximaratwokatmewwatto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 34
    I say provide Europeans a Lightning to USB-C adapter the first year, pay the fine, listen to the howl and then go wireless.
     Let them talk themselves to death, and bury them with their own confusion
    h4y3stwokatmewentropyswatto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 34
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 3,646member
    "USB C is the future!" - Craig Federini (and everyone here who tried to justify the complete removal of USB A ports on MacBooks 7 years ago)

    It's funny how many people here were more than happy to trumpet Apple's removal of USB A ports as a move towards the future but suddenly change their tune when the big, mean, EVIL EU dares force Apple to switch to the USB C port! I like the lightning port for the reasons mentioned above, but Apple has already started moving its devices over to USB C, creating inconsistency within its own ecosystem. Moving everything over to USB C will ultimately be more convenient for everyone and shouldn't compromise function at all.

    I find it ironic when people say "just remove it completely and go wireless." If you're already wireless then what do you care about the port anyway? Like the article says, if the existing base of peripherals is an argument for keeping lightning then it's an equal argument against going completely wireless. The argument to eliminate the port completely is more akin to a 3 year old stamping their feet because they have to do something they don't want to than it is a rational argument. 

    Also, as the article points out, for a company that claims environmental concerns are a priority, forcing everyone to waste 30%+ percent of the energy used to charge their phones hardly seems responsible. 
    h4y3stwokatmewAlex1Nmuthuk_vanalingamqwerty52grandact73
  • Reply 9 of 34
    mattinozmattinoz Posts: 1,844member
    rob53 said:
    Are all digital cameras and computers required by law to use USB-C? I used to have a box of various USB cables for cameras, older phones and just about anything electronic. I still see smaller USB cable plugs on various equipment so why isn't the EU going after them as well? This isn't the same as using a standard electrical plug. There's a UL standard for those and many other, generic-type items. The iPhone is not a generic item even though it's a phone. I just don't understand why some countries feel they can tell another country how to build things.

    As for Lightning, it's an easy plug and port, nothing like a USB-C plug and port that is way too complex and subject to failure because of small, non-protected parts. Intel has never been good at designing things that wouldn't fail. Lightning cables do fail but almost always because people are careful with the cable or how it's inserted and removed. 
    Yes also all the other devices we have round the house that need a small amount of power.
    Why aren't they mandating Wifi points having USB-c PD or POE as a standard?

    bshankwatto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 34
    jimh2jimh2 Posts: 410member
    MplsP said:
    "USB C is the future!" - Craig Federini (and everyone here who tried to justify the complete removal of USB A ports on MacBooks 7 years ago)

    It's funny how many people here were more than happy to trumpet Apple's removal of USB A ports as a move towards the future but suddenly change their tune when the big, mean, EVIL EU dares force Apple to switch to the USB C port! I like the lightning port for the reasons mentioned above, but Apple has already started moving its devices over to USB C, creating inconsistency within its own ecosystem. Moving everything over to USB C will ultimately be more convenient for everyone and shouldn't compromise function at all.

    I find it ironic when people say "just remove it completely and go wireless." If you're already wireless then what do you care about the port anyway? Like the article says, if the existing base of peripherals is an argument for keeping lightning then it's an equal argument against going completely wireless. The argument to eliminate the port completely is more akin to a 3 year old stamping their feet because they have to do something they don't want to than it is a rational argument. 

    Also, as the article points out, for a company that claims environmental concerns are a priority, forcing everyone to waste 30%+ percent of the energy used to charge their phones hardly seems responsible. 
    There is a major difference between a company decided to remove a port from a product and being told you cannot use the port you want to sell. Good example of government overage. 
    maximaralollivertwokatmewmike1bshankanantksundaramwatto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 34
    stompystompy Posts: 387member

    The agreement's goal is to reduce electronic waste in the system since smartphone owners could use one cable to charge multiple devices. 
    ... will the E.U. force manufacturers to sell devices WITHOUT charging cables? If not, I guess the reduced waste is for aftermarket cables?
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 34
    JFC_PAJFC_PA Posts: 707member
    I say provide Europeans a Lightning to USB-C adapter the first year, pay the fine, listen to the howl and then go wireless.
     Let them talk themselves to death, and bury them with their own confusion
    The fine is a big % of Apple’s GLOBAL sales. That’s not remotely trivial. 
    grandact73watto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 34
    viclauyycviclauyyc Posts: 820member
    I say provide Europeans a Lightning to USB-C adapter the first year, pay the fine, listen to the howl and then go wireless.
     Let them talk themselves to death, and bury them with their own confusion
    You really think EU will listen to the people?
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 34
    maximaramaximara Posts: 402member
    JFC_PA said:
    I say provide Europeans a Lightning to USB-C adapter the first year, pay the fine, listen to the howl and then go wireless.
     Let them talk themselves to death, and bury them with their own confusion
    The fine is a big % of Apple’s GLOBAL sales. That’s not remotely trivial. 
    I have to wonder if this would fall under the WTO and if so could they actually do anything to the EU.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 34
    Eric_WVGG said:
    This article doesn't mention two of IMO the most interesting properties of Lightning.

    The first is that Lightning isn't simply a proprietarily shaped USB connection. Instead, it's a system where the pins can be re-assigned to different communication protocols. For example, one might make a lightning-to-RGB-video cable. This wouldn't be like a dongle or a conversion cable, where a USB device is talking to an interface board (like the old style USB-to-serial or USB-to-PS/2 connectors of the nineties); rather, it would allow an iOS device to send a native RGB video signal down the cable.

    This move has its roots in how the old Apple Dock Connector could transmit raw video and audio signals, on top of the USB and other pinouts that were in that beefy plug. I've never seen any Lightning cables that did anything other than a USB signal in the wild, though.


    The other thing is regarding the design of the lightning connector. There's a little tab on the plug; that's the weak point in the connection, if it ever breaks, it's almost certainly going to be due to the tab breaking. It's not a big deal, though; the tab breaks, you just get a new lightning cable.

    Now most folks might not realize this, but USB-C has a little tab too; except that for USB-C, that tab is on the device. Look inside the port on your Macbook or iPad, you can see that little guy in there; the USB-C plug is actually a sleeve that fits over the tab. 

    The thing is, that tab is still the weak point in the connection; but now, when the tab breaks off, it's your Macbook or iPad that is damaged, and more likely than not it's a non-repairable part. (not the case with Mac Studio, actually, but I digress). Say what you will about industry compatibility or proprietary parts, but on a purely technical level, Lightning is a far better designed connector than USB-C.


    In an ideal world, Apple would have given away the license to the Lightning connector to the USB Consortium and said "hey, this should be your design for USB-C, have it, it's yours." USB-C would be a better plug, and Apple wouldn't be in this position of having to change ports and make an entire ecosystem of accessories obsolete. c'est la vie
    Actually, the story mentioned the vulnerability of the USB-C connector, which has good electrical performance but is mechanically vulnerable as you elaborate.

    I would add that the USB-C is also vulnerable to dust and liquid contamination, so it’s an all around terrible design for hand-held & portable devices.

    The Lightning was an excellent design.
    edited June 13 twokatmewwatto_cobra
  • Reply 16 of 34
    mike1mike1 Posts: 2,981member
    MplsP said:
    "USB C is the future!" - Craig Federini (and everyone here who tried to justify the complete removal of USB A ports on MacBooks 7 years ago)

    It's funny how many people here were more than happy to trumpet Apple's removal of USB A ports as a move towards the future but suddenly change their tune when the big, mean, EVIL EU dares force Apple to switch to the USB C port! I like the lightning port for the reasons mentioned above, but Apple has already started moving its devices over to USB C, creating inconsistency within its own ecosystem. Moving everything over to USB C will ultimately be more convenient for everyone and shouldn't compromise function at all.

    I find it ironic when people say "just remove it completely and go wireless." If you're already wireless then what do you care about the port anyway? Like the article says, if the existing base of peripherals is an argument for keeping lightning then it's an equal argument against going completely wireless. The argument to eliminate the port completely is more akin to a 3 year old stamping their feet because they have to do something they don't want to than it is a rational argument. 

    Also, as the article points out, for a company that claims environmental concerns are a priority, forcing everyone to waste 30%+ percent of the energy used to charge their phones hardly seems responsible. 
    The problem with and lunacy of the requirement is that it mandates a connector that likely would be obsolete and inferior in a few years. So what then? Wait for the EU to decide which connector is best for all of humankind 5 years too late. What would have happened if the EU existed in 1988 and said that 5” floppy disks should have been mandatory on all computing devices?!
    Alex1Nqwerty52maximarawatto_cobra
  • Reply 17 of 34
    bshankbshank Posts: 243member
    What is not mentioned is how many small and medium sized businesses make MFi products. Apple supports these businesses by having such a certification program that gives people “choice”, something I thought the EU was all about. So much for fake anti-trust and anti-competitive narrative. The EU will be doing damage to those small businesses that make the majority of their profit off the MFi program, some being European. That’s another reason Apple hasn’t changed from Lightning I would assume, so they don’t pull the rug out from other companies that depend on selling certified Apple accessories. But I guess Margarethe Vestager and her cohort will feel like they are powerful or some crap, while subverting the EU and EC’s own stated goals. Seems equally short sighted as decrying violent tyrants like Vladimir Putin while creating an energy policy that depends on that dictator. 
    edited June 13 Alex1Nmaximarawatto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 34
    sunman42sunman42 Posts: 160member
    riverko said:
    And what about hair trimmers, tooth brushes, powebanks…
    don’t forget we have apple keyboards, mouse, airpods that all are on lightning too… so still extra cable or some dongle…

    If we take the Eurocrats at their word, their intention is the reduction is ware electronics. Since the total number of Apple devices you mention (other than AirPods, which are included in the regulation) is ~ 1/100th of the number of iPhones sold every year, I believe they constitute noise.

    watto_cobra
  • Reply 19 of 34
    sunman42sunman42 Posts: 160member
    bshank said:
    What is not mentioned is how many small and medium sized businesses make MFi products. Apple supports these businesses by having such a certification program that gives people “choice”, something I thought the EU was all about. So much for fake anti-trust and anti-competitive narrative. The EU will be doing damage to those small businesses that make the majority of their profit off the MFi program, some being European. That’s another reason Apple hasn’t changed from Lightning I would assume, so they don’t pull the rug out from other companies that depend on selling certified Apple accessories. But I guess Margarethe Vestager and her cohort will feel like they are powerful or some crap, while subverting the EU and EC’s own stated goals. Seems equally short sighted as decrying violent tyrants like Vladimir Putin while creating an energy policy that depends on that dictator. 

    The EU is for a choice of European-made goods. When it comes to South Korean or US companies’ products, not quite so much.

    bshankwatto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 34
    sunman42sunman42 Posts: 160member
    stompy said:

    The agreement's goal is to reduce electronic waste in the system since smartphone owners could use one cable to charge multiple devices. 
    ... will the E.U. force manufacturers to sell devices WITHOUT charging cables? If not, I guess the reduced waste is for aftermarket cables?
        The article states that phones will have to be sold without chargers, and notes that Apple has been doing so for the last couple of iPhone cycles.

    watto_cobra
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