Apple has long been the outlier where charging cables are concerned. While other phone makers switched to micro USB, then USB-C, Apple stuck with its own proprietary Lightning cable. But not even Apple can avoid the winds of change — the company has confirmed that iPhones of the future will fall in line and feature a USB-C port. And word is it'll be starting with the iPhone 15.
Of course, Apple doesn’t really have a choice. New EU rules are forcing Apple to fall in with every other phone maker, and adopt the USB-C port before the end of 2024. However, rumors point to Apple ripping off the proverbial band-aid quickly and making the switch from the aging Lightning port with the launch of the iPhone 15 — more than a year before the deadline.
Here’s what we know about the iPhone 15 with USB-C, and what that means for Apple going forward.
What is the EU USB-C mandate?
Late last year the EU passed legislation enforcing a common charging port on a bunch of electronic devices — including phones, tablets and cameras. The idea here is to cut down on e-waste, ensuring people can continue to use their old chargers long after they switch to a new device.
That common port is USB-C, a standard that is common but not quite universal. In the smartphone business just about everyone uses USB-C on their products, though Apple has clung to the proprietary Lightning connection since its launch back in 2012.
The deadline for adopting USB-C differs depending on the device, with laptops being given until 2026 to comply. However Apple has until the end of 2024 to comply with the new smartphone rules.
iPhone 15 with USB-C: The story so far
The EU’s push for a common charging standard is nothing new. Back in 2010 EU standards bodies pushed to have microUSB as the universal cell phone charger, which prompted large groups of phone makers to ditch proprietary cables.
However compliance was voluntary, and this allowed Apple to keep its own proprietary charging port for as long as it has.
Phone makers then eventually moved away from microUSB in favor of USB-C, and while things seemed quiet, the push to legislate a common charger never really went away. There were several years of discussion, and it wasn’t until January 2022 that the first draft legislation was published. The wheels of politics move very slowly, after all. Several months later, in October 2022, the European Parliament overwhelmingly voted in favor of this new rule.
Apple was vocally critical of the idea of a common charger, even before the first draft legislation was written, arguing (opens in new tab) that mandating one connection over another “stifles innovation rather than encouraging it” and that such a rule would “harm consumers in Europe and around the world”.
The company also said it agreed with the EU’s environmental goals at the time, but has maintained on multiple occasions that ditching Lighting would cause more e-waste than it prevents.
Despite that opposition, Apple has confirmed it will comply with the EU’s ruling. While the laws only mandate the use of USB-C within the EU, it’s likely that this will have a ripple effect across the entire planet.
A number of countries have already suggested following the EU’s example and mandating USB-C charging — including India, South Korea and the U.S. It’s also incredibly unlikely that Apple would bother developing a USB-C iPhone that was only sold in the EU. It’s much easier, and more logical, to have a single product line that’s available everywhere.
So the question isn’t if, it’s about when. And all rumors point towards the iPhone 15 finally making the jump to USB-C.
iPhone 15 with USB-C rumors
More recently it’s been claimed that Apple has found a way to integrate its Made For iPhone (MFi) certification with USB-C. While the source of this rumor is a little dicey, this move could have a number of ramifications on USB-C iPhones.
The obvious one is that Apple could limit the use of USB-C cables and accessories that aren’t approved by Apple — potentially restricting charging or data transfer speed in the process. Of course, Apple hasn’t done that with other USB-C products, like iPads, and it has been speculated that this might ensure backward-compatibility with Lighting products and accessories.
However, a claim from leaker ShrimpApplePro seems to corroborate this rumor, suggesting Apple supplier Foxconn is already developing EarPods and USB-C cables with MFi specs. If true, this would likely restrict charging and data transfer to the more-expensive Apple-approved accessories — and potentially defeat the entire point of a charging standard.
Another leak (opens in new tab) alleges to show an image of an iPhone 15 Pro with a USB-C port. Unfortunately, that image is about as exciting as you’d expect, and only shows a very close-up view of a USB-C port and two speaker grills.
That’s cute. Anyway, here’s an actual close up of the USB-C port on the iPhone 15 Pro. No imagination or rendering required. https://t.co/vMyQPzeNws pic.twitter.com/LtF3se6MjLFebruary 16, 2023
Unfortunately, in all these cases, we won’t know for sure about USB-C until we hear it directly from Apple. That’s not likely to happen until the iPhone 15 release date, which we’re expecting to take place later this year — likely early to mid September.
The pros and cons of switching iPhone to USB-C
There’s more to the USB-C switch than having a standard connector. While that would be the primary benefit of Apple making the switch, USB-C is also capable of a lot more than Apple’s Lightning connector — particularly where charging and data transfer speed are concerned.
Currently Lightning cables are limited to USB 2.0 speeds, which is 480 Mbps, while USB-C has an 80 Gbps maximum speed — roughly 166 times faster. Apple’s phones currently max out at 20W charging speeds, while USB Power Delivery offers up to 240W. Very few phones offer more than 50W charging, but Apple is still lagging behind phones like the Galaxy S23 Plus and Galaxy S23 Ultra, which can charge at 45W. Access to faster charging speeds can prove to be a big upgrade, and give Apple the chance to stay more competitive going forward.
It's worth noting that these speeds are not guaranteed. The iPad 10, the first entry-level iPad to offer USB-C, remains limited to USB 2.0 speeds. However that shouldn't be as big an issue for a premium product like the iPhone 15 or iPhone 15 Pro.
USB-C also unlocks the possibility of better support for accessories, including external storage, hubs and docs, external displays, keyboards and mice and so on. Sure all of these things are already available on iPads, and are arguably more useful on a bigger screen. But adding that enhanced connectivity to the iPhone through USB-C gives users more choice and flexibility on how they use their phones.
Of course, the major drawback is that current Lightning accessories and cables will be essentially useless. That means users will need to either rely on adapters to keep going, or replace any accessories that still require a physical connection. And that's not great for consumers or the environment.
Still, after a brief period of upheaval as people get used to the change, the benefits of the USB-C could easily outweigh the drawbacks.
What about the portless iPhone?
There have long been rumors that Apple has been developing a portless iPhone, which would be completely wireless and wouldn’t need a charging port — be it Lightning or USB-C.
The EU’s mandate specifically says that USB-C is only required when wired charging is involved. So Apple could skip over USB-C altogether, and offer a phone that relies on wireless charging and data transfer, without falling foul of EU regulations.
The interesting thing about this is that it means there likely wouldn’t be a repeat of the EU’s mandate in the future. The entire smartphone industry shifted to Qi wireless charging several years ago, Apple included, so wireless chargers are compatible across platforms.
Likewise, Apple’s MagSafe technology forms the basis of the new Qi2 wireless charging standard, which should bring the benefits of Apple’s wireless magnetic charger to other devices. That could, in turn, offer faster wireless charging speeds for iPhone users with non-MagSafe Qi2 chargers — though this isn’t confirmed.
There’s no word on when the portless iPhone might arrive, if it even exists. So the odds are the iPhone will be sticking with USB-C for the immediate future.