The days of the proprietary Lightning connector may end — in fact, we may count down the months until Apple abandons the old technology. While support for devices and accessories that use it will continue for many years, Apple will abandon Lightning in favor of more standard technology. Of course, the writing has been on the wall for years, but recent legal developments may have accelerated that migration. All the pieces appear to be falling into place next year with the release of the iPhone 15, the first of its kind to use USB-C. It will not be alone, and Apple may transition everything to USB-C, including AirPods charging cases.
I created the Lightning connector to address one of the most serious flaws in the computing industry. Almost all connectors, including Apple’s original 30-pin connector, were non-reversible and required precise insertion to function. Worse, they risked damaging ports and plugs if they were inserted incorrectly, which happens more frequently than you might think.
The introduction of USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 solved that issue. It didn’t matter which way you plugged in a USB cord as long as it was the correct cable for the first time. There are still some ambiguities in terms of compatibility and features, but it mostly works. Apple has been a strong supporter of USB-C and newer Thunderbolt interfaces in Macs, but it is too invested in Lightning on mobile devices to make a quick transition. But time is running out, and it appears that 2023 will be the year when everything changes.
The end of Lightning may be only months away
Introducing USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 solved that issue. According to a tweet from renowned analyst Ming-chi Kuo (via 9to5Mac), next year’s iPhone 15 will be the last Apple mobile device to use USB-C. Most iPads have already switched to USB-C, though the base model is still waiting; I expect this to happen this fall.
However, Kuo believes that charging cases for all AirPods will include USB-C connectors next year. Unfortunately, the upcoming AirPods Pro 2 will not have the standard connector, so those hoping to use USB-C will have to wait until next year, assuming the rumor is true. When that happens, almost all of Apple’s devices will have abandoned the Lightning connector in favor of USB-C. It remains to be seen whether it will be the same USB-C standard or something improved by Apple.
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This predicted timeline corresponds to Apple’s commitment to switch iPhones to USB-C by 2024, under new EU legislation. Of course, abandoning the Lightning connector will not be as simple as swapping one connector for another. The change will impact many accessories, particularly third-party ones that rely on Lightning technology to function. Reworking products to use USB-C will take time, and the transition from Lightning to USB-C will be quite disruptive. Fortunately, there is still time to modify designs and pipelines, but Apple should probably notify manufacturers well in advance.