3 burning questions we have about Apple's USB-C iPhone 'confirmation'
iPhones with USB-C would make everyone happy. But there’s also enough wiggle room for Apple to get out of ditching Lightning.
Every iPhone owner wants Apple to switch the charging port from Lightning to USB-C. But Apple has refused to budge on its reversible (and super slow) proprietary port. With EU legislation requiring all consumer electronics to adopt USB-C, all eyes are on Apple to make the switch for iPhones.
However, the devil is in the details of Apple senior vice president of worldwide marketing Greg Joswiak’s phrasing during a Wall Street Journal Tech Live talk. Joswiak didn’t outright say that future iPhones — like next year’s iPhone 15 — would have USB-C. Nor did Joswiak say the iPhone 16 for 2024 would have a USB-C port, either.
But, but... there are news stories out there saying Apple has “confirmed” USB-C for iPhones. We’re not saying definitively that Apple won’t switch iPhones to USB-C, but we’re also not saying it will. Let’s examine what Joswiak actually said and how Apple could get around complying with the EU legislation.
What Joswiak said
“Obviously, we’ll have to comply,” Joswiak said when asked if Apple would switch away from Lightning. “We have no choice.”
In classic Apple fashion, Joswiak argued that it would’ve been better for Apple customers to not have a “government be that prescriptive,” pointing to when the EU tried to standardize Micro USB. He also said that power adapters with detachable cables already solve the standardization problem. The Apple exec believes that abandoning Lightning will lead to e-waste from more than a billion users.
Many people are taking Joswiak’s comment as confirmation that iPhones with USB-C are coming. But Joswiak left just enough wiggle room. There’s still so much that’s unknown:
- If Apple switches the iPhone to USB-C, will it only be for versions sold in the EU?
- If USB-C iPhones are happening, when will they arrive? 2023? 2024?
- What if Apple dumps USB-C altogether and goes full MagSafe wireless charging?
3. Will USB-C be required for iPhones outside of the EU?
The EU recently gave its final approval to legislation that requires all tech companies to have a USB-C port on their consumer electronic devices. That law includes mobile phones, tablets, e-readers, earbuds, wireless computer peripherals, and much more. But all of this only applies to the member states of the EU, so what does that mean for countries outside of that?
When Joswiak said that Apple would “have to comply” with the EU’s new law, it means that Apple would have to make USB-C iPhones for the EU at the very least. That doesn’t mean that Apple has to offer USB-C iPhones for the rest of the world, though. There’s a possibility that Apple could make a regional USB-C iPhone, but Joswiak declined to disclose any of those details.
Joswiak’s fairly vague remarks leave room for interpretation and could be a preview of how Apple could comply with this new regulation. It feels unlikely that Apple would make a USB-C iPhone just for Europe, but it’s not completely out of the question.
There is precedent; Apple has made regional iPhones before. Currently, Apple sells iPhone 14 models without physical nano-SIM card slots in the U.S.; these models have mmWave 5G. In Europe and other regions, iPhones ship with a single nano-SIM card slot and no mmWave 5G. And in regions like China, Hong Kong, and Macao, iPhones ship with two nano-SIM card slots and no mmWave.
Apple has also complied with other regional requirements. For example, in France, Apple was forced to include wired EarPods for years after dropping them as an iPhone pack-in; that requirement was dropped earlier this year, but still!
Apple hasn’t always played ball in regions, though. The company has been fined three times by Brazil’s courts for not including USB power adapters with iPhones (the accessory was removed from iPhone boxes starting in 2020 with the iPhone 12). In September 2022, Brazil’s Ministry of Justice and Public Security fined Apple about $2.3 million and banned sales of iPhones without chargers.
2. Will the iPhone 15 or iPhone 16 have USB-C?
In terms of timing, Joswiak said that “The Europeans are the ones dictating timing for European customers.” In other words, the EU law says that these consumer electronics have to have a USB-C port by the end of 2024.
When looking at how that lines up with Apple product releases, there’s a possibility that we won’t see an iPhone 15 with USB-C as it’s expected to drop sometime in late 2023. There’s still a chance that’ll happen; numerous leaks and rumors suggest Apple will introduce USB-C to the iPhone 15, but rumors aren’t confirmation. Rumors said the AirPods Pro 2 would get USB-C — and Apple stuck with Lightning.
USB-C on the iPhone 16 could be a lock. If Apple releases the iPhone 16 in the fall of 2024, that would line up with the EU’s end of 2024 mandate. It’s unlikely Apple would ship Lightning-based iPhone 16s in September, only to have to ship versions with USB-C a few months later to make the cutoff.
1. What if the iPhone skips USB-C and goes portless?
Just because Joswiak says that Apple would have to comply with the EU’s legislation doesn’t mean the company will actually go through with it. If Apple sticks with Lightning for the iPhone 15 next year, it’d have another year to consider USB-C for the iPhone 16.
And by then, Apple could skirt the USB-C requirement by dropping the port on iPhones altogether. Apple’s design philosophy is simple: reduce and simplify. This can sometimes backfire (recall the single USB-C port 12-inch MacBook, shallow MacBook butterfly keyboards, and replacing the function row with a Touch Bar).
If you look at what Apple has been doing on iPhone, it’s evident that the dream is an uninterrupted port-free slab. Removing the physical nano-SIM card slot is a first step toward a purer design; removing the charging port in favor of MagSafe wireless charging could be the next step.
If a portless iPhone is eventually coming, that would feel very on-brand for Apple to find a fairly defiant workaround to a new law that it doesn’t agree with. This fully wireless iPhone might very well be coming in the future, but it’s unlikely to arrive instead of a USB-C model — at least not by 2024. Wireless charging is convenient — MagSafe even more so than fiddly Qi — but it won’t make transferring large files (like ProRAW or ProRES videos taken with pro iPhones) faster; USB-C and, more realistically, Thunderbolt speeds will.
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