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The portless iPhone — why MagSafe is the key

iPhone 12
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

A USB-C port may not be coming to the iPhone 14 Pro — or any iPhone for that matter. But a leaker's tip about iPhone 14 plans also included some details on how Apple might release a port-free phone further down the road.

Writing for iDropNews, LeaksApplePro caused a bit of stir by claiming that Apple won't include a USB-C port on the iPhone 14 Pro models, as had been suggested earlier. Instead, the leaker claims, this fall's Pro devices will retain a Lightning port, but one with faster transfer speeds — an apparent concession to pro users who do a lot of video transfers from their phones to other devices.

There's some rationale behind that forecast — Apple makes royalties off of accessories that use the Lightning port and it's not eager to give up that revenue stream. But to me, the more interesting part of the article was some speculation about the iPhone's portless future. 

We've heard reports before that Apple was working toward a port-free iPhone, though that's not going to happen with this year's updates. The hold-up appears to be that Apple would have to find alternatives for each of the tasks the Lightning port handles — charging, data transfer and, since there's no audio jack, a place to plug in wired headphones.

The popularity of AirPods would seemingly address the headphone issue, and iPhones have supported wireless charging since the iPhone 8. That leaves just data transfer, and LeaksApplePro suggests the alternative method is already in place on the iPhone — MagSafe connectivity.

While MagSafe doesn't transfer data at the moment, it certainly could in a future form. And Apple is definitely exploring the possibility, based on patents like this one from a year ago that address wireless data transfer using magnetic connections similar to how MagSafe accessories work.

The challenge right now is making sure that data transfer is fast enough. "Apple won’t move to a portless iPhone until engineers can achieve decent transfer speeds over MagSafe," LeaksApplePro writes, adding that Apple also has to make transfers work not just between iPhones and other Apple devices but with Windows and Linux machines as well. That's going to take time.

How much time, though? The leaker forecasts that the iPhone 16 Pro could be the first to debut without a port. But a lot would have to go right for that claim to pan out.

Still, the point is that Lightning ports may be sticking around for now, and even for the next couple of iPhones. But the future of Apple's phone is portless, and MagSafe sounds like it's going to be the technology that helps make that happen.

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.