USB-C iPhone 15: The end of Lightning and what it means for you
The iPhone is finally going USB-C if the rumors are true.
Apple is expected to announce the iPhone 15 lineup during an event in September 2023, and there's a lot going on. New cameras, new chips, and new colors can be expected at the very least. But one of the big talking points is set to be something entirely new.
The iPhone is getting USB-C.
At least, that's what we think is going to happen and it seems highly likely that the decade-old Lightning will finally meet its demise.
Here's everything you need to know about the iPhone 15's expected switch away from Lightning and towards USB-C.
iPhone 15: Why USB-C?
After more than ten years of Lightning, Apple isn't switching to USB-C because it wants to.
Instead, Apple is being forced to make the move after European Union lawmakers agreed that all phones, headphones, and other accessories must use a common charging cable from 2024. If Apple wants to sell iPhones in the EU — and AirPods, for that matter — they will soon have to have a USB-C port. That's the port that all Android phones use, and soon so will iPhones.
Whether or not Apple would have moved the iPhone to USB-C of its own accord eventually, we might never know for sure. But it's possible when you consider that Apple has been transitioning its tablet lineup to the connector for years and its portable Macs can all charge via USB-C also. Apple has publicly confirmed its plans to change the design of the iPhone to comply with these laws.
But no matter why we're getting USB-C, we can hopefully expect a few benefits when we do.
Transfer speeds (hopefully) greater than USB 2.0
As iPhones take more impressive photos and videos, the size of the files they create has continued to balloon. Transferring them via AirDrop is of course an option, but when a 48-megapixel ProRAW photo can take upwards of 80MB of space, photographers need faster transfer methods.
Plugging a cable in should be the answer, but Lightning is notoriously slow. It's based on USB 2.0 speeds, which means that it is limited to just 480Mbps at best. That simply isn't fast enough, but moving to USB-C should give Apple the perfect opportunity to fix things. But will it?
Recent rumors have Apple sticking with the same 480Mbps transfer speeds on the iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Plus, which isn't ideal. That would mean that USB-C connector or not, those phones might as well have Lightning for all the good it will make in terms of file transfer speeds.
As for the iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max, analyst Ming-Chi Kuo thinks that they'll get either Thunderbolt 3 (40Gbps) or USB 3.2 (up to 20GBps). Whichever of those two it is, iPhone users can expect blazing-fast transfers. But it looks increasingly likely that the best iPhone for photographers who take a lot of high-resolution shots will be those Pro models.
Faster power-ups for iPhone 15
The iPhone 15 lineup might well be getting USB-C, but that doesn't necessarily mean that we should expect faster charging, unfortunately.
While there have been rumors of faster file transfers, information on how fast the iPhone 15 will charge has been sadly lacking. But the potential for insanely-fast charging is absolutely there.
Right now the iPhone 14 series can fast charge using any USB-C charger that's rated for 18W or more. When plugged into that charger via a Lightning to USB-C cable the iPhone can fast charge from empty to 50% battery in around 30 minutes, although charging speeds slow after that in order to protect the health of the battery.
That sounds pretty good until you look at some of the competition. Take the Realme GT3 for instance. That phone supports a frankly insane 240W charger, which is even more powerful than the 140W charger that the 16-inch MacBook Pro comes with. As a result, it can be charged from zero to 100% in just nine minutes and 30 seconds.
Can we expect something similar from an iPhone? That seems unlikely given how conservative Apple has been to date. But we can always hope.
Made for iPhone 15
For years Apple has offered something called the MFi program. It was initially called the Made for iPod program, before that became Made for iPhone in a post-iPod world. And it's coming for the iPhone 15.
Apple's move to USB-C is meant to ensure operability with all other USB-C chargers and cables based on what the EU had to say when it signed its common charger mandate into law. And while Apple might be strictly following the EU's requirements by putting a USB-C-shaped hole on the bottom of the iPhone 15, there might be a catch.
First, we need to understand what the MFi program is. Boiled down, it's a program that allows Apple to sell the license to an authentication chip that is then put into charging cables and other accessories that are designed to be used with iPhones. That ensures that they'll work, and accessories without the chip might not. In some cases, iOS throws an error out to say that those accessories are unsupported.
Reports continue to swirl that Apple intends to continue the MFi program when it moves to USB-C and then limit non-MFi cables in a couple of vital ways.
While Apple can't stop the cables from working at all — thank the EU for that — it seems increasingly likely that it will limit those cables to slower charging speeds and less impressive file transfer speeds. That would mean that the cable you bought before the USB-C MFi program would work, but not as well as one that carries the special MFi logo.
Cables w no MFI will be software limited in data and charging speedFebruary 28, 2023
That is, of course, suboptimal for those of us who have USB-C cables laying around the house already. It's also very much against the whole reason the EU wants Apple to use USB-C in the first place, namely e-waste and interoperability, so it'll be interesting to see how that pans out.
Just as interestingly, Apple doesn't have an MFi program in place for its other USB-C devices — iPads. They all charge just as fast no matter where you choose to buy your cables from. Will that change? Time will tell.
Beyond iPhone 15
As promising as the move to USB-C could be, that doesn't seem to be the ultimate end-game for Apple. Instead, it wants to go portless, meaning USB-C might only be a stop-gap solution.
We've been hearing portless iPhone rumors going all the way back to the iPhone 13, although they're all yet to come to fruition.
The idea makes sense. Fewer holes mean fewer opportunities for liquid ingress. It's also one less thing to break, with no connectors being plugged and unplugged usually at least once every day. Finally, a portless iPhone wouldn't have a physical data entry point that could be exploited by hackers and law enforcement.
But Apple still has complications to overcome. A port is still needed to revive an iPhone that finds itself in DFU mode, for example. And while MagSafe charging is great, it's too slow. We'd much rather see faster, wired charging instead.
For now, though, it's all about that USB-C and what Apple will do with it. Will it lock all the good stuff behind the MFi program? Will there even be any support for faster charging and data transfers/
If Apple follows its usual cadence we can expect to find out for sure in September 2023.
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Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too.
Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.