It’s game over for Apple’s Lightning cable – what’s next?

Given most small electronic devices already rely on USB-C, this won’t be a big change for most people. But there’s one big exception: Apple, which has used its proprietary Lightning cable for every handset since the iPhone 5 released in 2012 and pretty much all of its iPads, too

So if this is really the end for the iPhone Lightning cable, how will it affect you? Here’s everything iPhone owners need to know.

Could Apple stick with Lightning in Britain?

The UK’s exit from the European Union means that companies are free to ignore European law and continue to sell devices with all manner of adapters, should they wish. Business secretary and arch Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg celebrated this implying that Apple could go its own way in Brexit Britain.

In reality, it won’t. Not only has Apple already begun the transition to USB-C on its MacBooks and some iPads, but building a Lightning-based iPhone 15 purely for the UK when it already has to make a USB-C version for the 27 nations of the EU is just extra effort for no tangible reward. It’s not going to happen.

Which is better: Lightning or USB-C?

Most objective observers would agree that Lightning — in its current form — is a far weaker option than USB-C for simple technical reasons.

In terms of charging speeds, there’s simply no contest. The USB-C option can deliver up to 240W of power, while the Lightning cable on the iPhone 14 (which connects the phone to a USB-C socket) maxes out at 25W. In short, an iPhone limited by Lightning technology recharges significantly slower than Android handsets powered via USB-C.

The same is true for data-transfer rates. While Lightning has a ceiling here of 480Mbps, USB-C can hit speeds of up to 40GBps. That’s roughly 100 times faster.

Given most people now share data wirelessly, this isn’t as big a deal as it once was, but it’s still a big advantage to USB-C. Especially for anyone who shoots high-quality video footage, which creates enormous files you might need to offload from the phone.

Will the iPhone 15 have no sockets?

This is possible – yet unlikely. Apple could swerve the need to adopt USB-C entirely by not including any charging ports at all, making its handsets wireless-charging only. It is something that has been rumoured in the long run, and would have certain advantages, such as the ability to make smaller devices with greater water-resistance.

Even so, it’s highly unlikely to happen for the iPhone 15 because these wireless options are slower for both recharging and data-transfer. The analyst Ming-Chi Kuo — who has a solid track record of being right on Apple’s movements — says that the iPhone 15 will be the first version to charge via USB-C cable. Beyond that — who knows?

Why did Apple keep Lightning for so long?

While Apple hasn’t fully explained its aversion to USB-C, it no doubt enjoys the licence fees the firm commands via the Made for iPhone/iPad program, where third-party accessory makers build accessories specifically for Apple devices. Switching over to USB-C would end this stream of passive income overnight, at least for its newest models.

And what about all those Lightning accessories?

This could be a significant problem. Those who have invested in the ecosystem of products that connect easily to iPhones via the Lightning port will find these cease to work on future USB-C iPhones (or, indeed, a potential new model with no sockets). For instance, some professional microphones or older, Lightning-based audio docks.

And yet it would be surprising if Apple hasn’t thought ahead on this point. Adapters might help to ease any such transitions — yes, more dongles – and Apple makes good money on these, too, such as the simple Lightning-to-3.5mm headphone adapter, which currently costs £9. In the medium term, clever wireless technologies, such as Bluetooth, will fix most of these issues. Two things are certain: Apple has had plenty of time to prepare for the death of Lightning – and the endgame is finally in sight.

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