Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo is the latest voice to suggest Apple will limit charging speed for iPhone 15 users who don't turn to Apple-certified chargers and cables.
Kuo claims that the iPhone 15’s fastest charging speeds will only work if you have a USB-C cable that has been certified through Apple's Made for iPhone (MFi) program. So even if you have an Apple-made USB-C charging brick, you won’t be able to enjoy fast charging speeds unless you have the right cable.
Kuo also claims that while all iPhone 15 models will come with USB-C, only the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max will benefit from USB 3.2’s 20Gbps data transfer speeds. The iPhone 15 and 15 Plus will apparently be stuck at USB 2.0, which offers the same 480 Mbps data transfer speeds as Apple’s Lightning port and the entry-level iPad 10.
Apple hasn’t imposed any USB-C restrictions on iPads or Macs, both of which have featured the port for several years. So the question is, why would Apple start imposing this restriction now?
The official line will always be about safety
In past comments, Apple has noted that the MFi program has always been about safeguarding customers, ensuring their cables and accessories are safe and genuine. The Made for iPhone stamp means consumers know they are buying products that are guaranteed to be compatible with their device, and aren’t some kind of counterfeit product.
MFi is also designed to ensure Apple accessories pass rigorous quality control checks and are safe to use. An MFi charger, even if it isn’t made by Apple, isn’t going to spontaneously combust and burn down your home. The no-brand charger you found on Amazon doesn’t have those same safeguards.
Given that stance, Apple would likely contend that adapting MFi for USB-C cables and accessories is the best thing for its customers. That way those customers know that, no matter what port their phone has, the Apple-approved chargers and accessories will be functional and safe.
In fact, Apple only needs to point to stories from the early days of USB-C to prove its point. From a time when there were multiple instances of counterfeit cables and chargers catching fire. The situation was so bad at one point that Amazon banned the sale of USB-C cables that weren’t compliant with standards laid out by the USB-Implementers Forum.
Of course, the question is why Apple would wait so long to implement a stringent USB-C certification system. The first USB-C MacBook launched in 2015, while the first USB-C iPad hit the scene in 2018. The fact the company would only do this now, with the impending launch of the USB-C iPhone 15 strikes me as odd timing.
A switch to USB-C poses a revenue problem
The main thing to remember about the MFi program is that Apple doesn’t certify devices for free. Not only do accessory and cable makers have to pay $99 to sign up, they also have to pay royalties — an amount Apple claims to only divulge under NDA.
USB-C technology is available royalty free, meaning anyone can use it without paying. The USB branding and logos are a different matter, but that doesn’t change the fact anyone can develop USB-C products without having to pay for that privilege. A hard switch to USB-C would cut off one of Apple’s many revenue streams, while adapting MFi for the port could help preserve it.
We don’t know exactly how much Apple makes from accessories alone each year, only that the Wearable, Home and Accessories department brought in $41.1 billion in 2022. As the name suggests that category includes several different products, such as the Apple Watch, HomePod Mini, AirPods and so on.
Accessories may not be where the bulk of Apple’s money comes from, but Apple is still a profit-driven business. It’s not going to want to drop a lucrative revenue stream unless it absolutely has to — especially when it relates to the iPhone, a product that brought in roughly 52% of the company’s revenue in 2022.
In other words, a lot more people buy iPhones than buy iPads and Macs. That means, without MFi restrictions, a much larger number of people will be able to buy uncertified cables and accessories, causing Apple to lose out on revenue in the process.
Kuo claims Apple is expecting the shipment of 20W USB-C charging bricks to rise by 120% thanks to the launch of the iPhone 15 — all because users who still have a regular USB charging brick will need to buy a charger with a USB-C port. Those chargers cost $19 a piece, and MFi restrictions means users are far less likely to try and find a cheaper option.
USB-C restrictions are still pro-Apple and anti-consumer
Despite Apple's claims about the safety benefits of MFi restrictions, it's hard to see any real benefit for consumers stemming from restrictions on USB-C accessories. The fact that the same EU legislation that mandates USB-C charging on iPhones also prohibits restrictions on charging and data transfer, is a big indicator of that.
The whole idea behind the EU regulation was to ensure people could continue using their old chargers after they buy a new phone. The idea of only being able to use Apple-certified cables runs completely contrary to that idea, and attempting to do so could land the company in serious trouble with regulators.
Of course those restrictions would only be against the law within the EU, and only after the end of 2024. The Brussels Effect may be powerful enough to prompt major hardware changes across the world, but its jurisdiction has some very clear limits. There’s nothing to stop Apple using software tricks to ensure EU customers don’t suffer through the same charging restrictions that are legally permissible everywhere else.
The whole purpose of the EU's USB-C requirement was to give people freedom to choose whichever charger they like without penalty, even if a handful of people will use that freedom to choose the dumbest, most poorly-made cheap charger they can find.
If anything, the impending move to USB-C should force Apple to improve the quality of its own cables and accessories. There's no shame in offering a premium price tag if you offer a premium product, and that attitude is present in every facet of consumer life. But it's hard to justify if you're deliberately depriving rivals the chance to compete on equal terms.