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Is Apple’s switch over to USB-C a smart move for iPhone owners?

 (@aaple_lab)
(@aaple_lab)

Apple will announce the iPhone 15 series on September 12 at an event held in California.

You can expect to hear about a new more powerful Apple A17 Bionic processor for the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max, phones which may also use titanium rather than steel to lower their weight.

The standard iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Plus will get the Dynamic Island screen cut-out introduced in the iPhone 14 Pro phones last year. But for fans of politics and behind-the-scenes tech, the switch to USB-C from Apple’s own Lightning connector is the stand-out change.

Apple has used the Lightning connector in iPhones since the iPhone 5 in 2012. Its reversible nature made it much less of a pain to use than the microUSB other phones had at the time. And it was hugely smaller than the Apple 30-pin connector iPhone and iPod veterans will remember from the early days of Apple. But is this actually a positive move for the average iPhone user?

Why is Apple switching to USB-C?

Apple is expected to make a big song and dance about how handy an upgrade the iPhone 15’s USB-C connector is. However, Apple has been pushed into this move by the EU.

In October 2022 legislation was passed that made it mandatory for phones, cameras and tablets sold within the EU to use the USB-C standard. It will come into effect by the end of 2024.

The case against USB-C for the iPhone 15

Apple has previously argued forcing manufacturers into common standards stifles innovation.

Does it? “I don’t see it,” MEP Anna Cavazzini told the European Parliament’s blog team. “The proposal states that if a new standard emerges that is better than USB-C, we can adapt the rules.”

The EU says this is a pro-consumer, pro-environment move. But there’s also a sound argument that forcing the use of USB-C doesn’t level out matters either. Over in Android phones, which began to adopt USB-C in 2015, you will often need a specific cable to make fast-charging phones charge at anything like their top rate.

Look at the charging cable of higher-end phones from brands like Xiaomi, OPPO and Huawei and you’ll notice they use a colour-coding system that helps you find whether you are using the right cable.

USB-C cables are not nearly as interchangeable as you might imagine.

Apple has also said it may continue to use its MFi certification programme, even with the USB-C open standard. This is what all officially-licensed Lightning iPhone accessories are signed up to, and it means Apple earns money for every Lightning port put in one of these accessories. Quite the money-maker.

The EU has warned Apple against limiting charging speeds or data transfer rates for non-MFi-certified connectors. However, it may come a cropper trying to enforce that if, as described, buyers of Android phones will bump into similar restrictions with generic USB-C cables.

It’s not necessarily clear that mandating the use of USB-C solves the issues the EU claims it does.

The case for USB-C for the iPhone 15

There are several consumer-friendly reasons Apple should adopt USB-C in the iPhone 15. It means you can use cables from basically any of your other devices to charge or connect your iPhone.

Sure, transferring files is much better done wirelessly with an iPhone using AirDrop, but you can only officially do that between Apple gadgets. Device interoperability will improve with USB-C.

This will eventually help to reduce e-waste, although we have heard Apple may bundle a funky, colourful braided charge cable with each iPhone 15.

For the tech nerd, the simple fact is Lightning is also an old and outdated standard. The iPhone 14 Pro has a Lightning port specced to USB 2.0 speeds, up to eighty times slower than the USB-C Thunderbolt 4 ports seen in the latest laptops.

While Apple did use a faster version of the Lightning connector for a couple of iPads, it started using USB-C for its higher-end tablets in 2018. Why? Because Lightning wasn’t really good enough.

If Apple says it doesn’t want its innovation to be hemmed in by regulation, where has that connector innovation been over the past five years?

USB-C is also likely to come with an improvement in charging speed. Numerous iPhone 14 Pro charging tests posted on YouTube suggest there’s not much benefit of using a charger higher than 20W with Apple’s current phones. It takes more than 90 minutes to recharge an iPhone 14 Pro, compared to around 20 minutes from some of the best fast-charging Android phones.

If you’re about to head for a night out and find your phone low on charge, powerful fast charging is a real headache-solver.