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USB-C vs Lightning: EU Officially Forces the Latter Out, No Thanks to Apple!

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Here’s some excellent news in the fight between USB-C vs Lightning. These simple connectors keeping your device plugged in and charged have for years represented the choice between good and, well, evil.

If that sounds a bit too heavy, let me put it this way: the (tech) world is about to get significantly greener and leaner, no thanks to Apple, a company that has for years bragged about how it’s a “green” and “environmentally conscientious” entity.

There’s no doubt that Apple can be green as a company. However, on the particular subject of getting your phone charged, the company has been on the opposite side. By choice. That’s about to end.

On June 7, 2022 — possibly at the exact magical moment when a sea turtle touched me — the EU’s Parliament and Council negotiators agreed that by “autumn 2024, USB Type-C will become the common charging port for all mobile phones, tablets, and cameras in the EU.”

That means Apple won’t be able to sell the iPhone in the old continent anymore unless the device uses a USB Type-C port (instead of its current Lightning port.)

It’s been a long journey to get to this point, all due to the real reason Apple has tried so hard to cling to its now-dreadful Lightning cable.

Dong’s note: I first published this post on September 23, 2021, and updated it on June 14, 2022.

USB C vs Lightning iPhone
USB-C vs Lightning: Here’s an iPhone 5 and its Lightning port and cable next to a USB-C Android counterpart.

USB-C vs Lightning: Apple and its greed

Behind those many Apple events where we heard Tim Cook throwing superlatives, the electronic giant has deliberately maintained an unnecessary and wasteful practice: the proprietary Lightning port used exclusively for its popular iPhone (starting with the iPhone 5).

Apple and its fanboys have many nonsensical pretexts why the Lightning port on the iPhone and its cable makes sense. Specifically, here are their two main arguments.

Pretext #1: Stifling innovations

Apple says moving away from the Lightning port will cause existing users to buy a new cable, creating waste and stifling innovations.

The “waste” notion is true, but it is so for all progress — we can’t have cars without dropping the horse carriage. The transition will take a few years and has already happened once with the iPhone 5. Before that, older iPhone versions used a different port, which was also proprietary.

By the way, since when has Apple cared about making its users buy fewer things?

As for “stifling innovations,” that’s a pile of, was, well, you name it.

Furthermore, Apple itself is a big proponent of the USB-C port. Since 2018 it has used this port type in all its iPad models. And since 2015, all of the company Macbooks have used Thunderbolt 3 (and later), which shares the same USB-C port type. In fact, many Mac computer models have just this port type!

And for the iPhone, Apple has gone halfway by creating a USB-C to Lightning cable, making things worse.

The point is if you use apple products, you can’t avoid USB-C! So the irony is going 100% Apple means you will have to deal with USB-C and Lightning cables and therefore be inundated with incompatibility in getting charged.

Pretext #2: The Lightning cable is superior

This notion is simply untrue.

Supporting the latest USB and Thunderbolt standards, the USB-C port can deliver super-faster speeds — it’s as fast as a peripheral connection can be.

On the other hand, Lightning has always used the USB 2.0 standard, which is dated, and super-slow in data and charging rates.

On top of that, the open Lightning connector can be dangerous — you don’t want your children to put it in their mouths when the cable is plugged in.

The iPhone 5 and its Lighting Port (no USB-C)
USB-C vs Lightning: Apple could have moved to USB-C, starting with the iPhone, if it genuinely believed in being green. Instead, for the past decade, the Lightning port has been a clear example of Apple’s desire to make money at the expense of the environment.

The real reason behind Lightning is Apple’s greed and desire to control, or both.

The only one who benefits from the use of Lightning is Apple, at the expense of everyone else and the green world.

USB is a free open standard, meaning anyone can make a USB cable or port as long as they adhere to the specifications — if not, the device will not work.

On the other hand, Apple charges license fees for any accessories that use its proprietary Lightning port. In other words, every time you pay for a Lightning cable or an accessory that uses this port, Apple likely gets a cut.

And since billions of them exist, a massive chunk of change is coming to Apple’s coffer each year. Additionally, the Lightning port gives Apple complete control over how the iPhone works via a physical connection.

On the flip side, that’s tons and tons of imminent e-waste. On top of that, the practice makes life harder for consumers. If you have an iPhone and a USB-C device — we all do — you will need to double the number of charging cables (and accessories) at home and on the go.

And Lightning makes life harder for accessory makers, too. They have to create products that support multiple ports instead of just USB-C.

The painful truth is this: had Apple decided to move to USB-C, starting with the iPhone 5 (or 6 or 7, or 8), it could have saved the world from those tons of unnecessary waste and resources. Instead, they so far have all used the Lightning port.

In any case, it’s safe to say nowadays, nobody is happy about the Lightning connector except Apple. And that brings us to the latest development in the EU.

USB-C vs Lightning: EU decides to take it no more

On September 23, 2021, the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, announced a proposal for its revised Radio Equipment Directive that forces electronics and gadget makers to use the USB-C connector universally.

On top of that, it’ll also end the bundling of chargers with devices to reduce waste.

EU USB C
USB-C vs Lightning: The idea behind the European Commission’s revised Radio Equipment Directive

Specifically, at the time, the Commission proposed:

A harmonised charging port for electronic devices: USB-C will be the common port. This will allow consumers to charge their devices with the same USB-C charger, regardless of the device brand.

Harmonised fast charging technology will help prevent that different producers unjustifiably limit the charging speed and will help to ensure that charging speed is the same when using any compatible charger for a device.

Unbundling the sale of a charger from the sale of the electronic device: consumers will be able to purchase a new electronic device without a new charger. This will limit the number of unwanted chargers purchased or left unused. Reducing production and disposal of new chargers is estimated to reduce the amount of electronic waste by almost a thousand tonnes’ yearly.

Improved information for consumers: producers will need to provide relevant information about charging performance, including information on the power required by the device and if it supports fast charging. This will make it easier for consumers to see if their existing chargers meet their new device’s requirements or help them select a compatible charger.[…]

These proposed rules apply to smartphones, tablets, headphones, handheld game consoles, and portable speakers.

If you wonder why other products — like smartwatches, earbuds, trackers, etc. — are not part of this, most of them are too small to have a charging port (USB-C or not) and generally use wireless charging.

And while the new rules apply to all manufacturers, it’s clear that the primary target is Apple. For years, the rest of the world has voluntarily moved to USB-C. If you don’t know that, you haven’t been to Europe (or outside of the US, for that matter.)

And this new initiative is now a done deal. Well, almost.

Technically, we still have to wait until after the summer recess for the Parliament and Council to approve the agreement formally and publish it in the EU Official Journal. But that’s just a matter of formality.

Initially, the European Parliament was expected to vote on this in earlier 2022, but better late than never. The way it works, the law will enter into force 20 days after publication, and its provisions will apply after 24 months or in the fall of 2024.

Apart from the convenience, the new law help provide the consumer with better information on the charging characteristics of new devices and enforce the interoperability of charging solutions, including wireless charging.

Per estimates, the new obligations on the re-use of chargers will help EU consumers save up to 250 million euros a year and cut down some 11,000 tons of annual e-waste.

So, the question is, when can you get a USB-C iPhone? Per the timeline, the iPhone 15 must comply but this is possible as early as the iPhone 14 — I wouldn’t count on it.

Will Apple contain its greed and play nice for a change? That remains to be seen. Knowing the company, I don’t count on it. The company might think of other ways to comply without really complying to continue nickel-and-diming its users and accessory makers.

But when the time comes, Tim Cook will make it as though Apple invented the idea of ditching the Lightning port. Now that we can count on.

The takeaway

To put things in perspective, years ago, I was so distraught by Apple’s refusal of the USB-C that the iPhone 6 was my last iPhone. Since then, we’ve moved to USB-C-only devices for the entire family.

USB-C: One port to rule them all

But we have friends who still use the iPhone, and as a group, we’ve all continued to endure that same too-familiar frustration — the cable just won’t fit!

But moving to USB-C solo has also made our life much easier. We’ve significantly reduced the cables we need to carry when traveling, including on our last trip. And at home, the lack of unnecessary frustration is immeasurably pleasant.

On this front, my hat is off to the EU for leading the world. Hopefully, that’s enough to take Apple off the greedy path. Who knows, my next phone might be an iPhone again. We’ll have to wait till 2024 to see.

Till then, the next time you pick up that dreadful Lightning cable, remember how that piece of unnecessary e-waste is entirely on Apple.

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25 thoughts on “USB-C vs Lightning: EU Officially Forces the Latter Out, No Thanks to Apple!”

  1. Just a few comments from a “Apple Fanboy”
    Lightning was introduced 3 years before phones with USB-C arrived.
    It was a far better and smaller connector type than the previous 30-pin dock and the horrible mini and micro-USB connectors that were not reversible and broke much more easily.
    Imagine the outcry if Apple had thrown out the lightning connector only 3 years after introducing it.
    Lighting is still a smaller connector than USB-C and is far less likely to break the connector on the device than the cable than USB -C.
    Data transfers speeds that were industry leading back in 2012 and now lagging way behind USB-C. But how many users actually use cables to transfer data to/from phones in this day and age?
    ItS not all about “Apple Greed” you “Apple Haters”
    🙂

    Reply
    • Apple has a track record of making stuff unnecessarily proprietary for its licensing gain. Examples: The original connector for iPhone 4 and older, and Thunderbolt 1/2. It could have ditched Lightning easily. It’s been using the USB-C port type for Thunderbolt 3 and iPad for years.

      Reply
  2. Good job EU. Now if only it could apply to other devices, such as dashcam (Garmin )and set top boxes (nvidia shield.

    Reply
  3. Apple can’t seem to make up its mind with iPad connectors: iPad uses Lightning, Mini and Air use USB-C, and Pro uses TB3 (previously USB-C).

    Reply
      • To some degree, like all Big Tech companies. Progress is being made with the EU stance, Epic Games vs Apple, and Apple rethinking CSAM. I still much prefer Apple to Microsoft, Dell, Linux, etc.

        Reply
          • Huh? I’m hardly a fanboy, you knee-jerk name-caller. Many hardcore hackers prefer Apple, primarily because It Just Works. Do elaborate on what/who you prefer to Apple, and further detail why you irrationally hate Apple…

          • Apple stuff doesn’t just work, Gerry. You have that illusion because you’ve been forced to use your stuff the way Apple wants you to — most people are not even aware of that. And within that narrow scope, it works. I don’t hate Apple, just tell things as they are.

  4. I also noticed that the EU is requiring USB-C for headphones as well. I decided at the beginning of last year to not buy any cordless headphones or speakers for my staff or my family that didn’t use USB-C for charging. At first that was very limiting, but I’m seeing fewer and fewer micro-usb charging ports on devices now. Standards are great for everyone! The really nice thing is that the USB-C connector works for so many speeds and types of connectivity (USB2, USB3, USB4, TB3, TB4 etc) which puts the lie to the “stifles innovation” arguement I’ve seen from a very few tech commentators.

    Reply
    • “ Standards are great for everyone!”

      We are not talking about having or not having standards here. No one is saying there shouldn’t be standards. Have standards for interfaces and protocols is good.

      This is mandating a particular standard.

      Yes, it does stifle innovation. Without competition, there is no innovation. How exactly does forcing everyone to use an existing standard promote the creation of something better? If the EU had mandated micro USB 10 years ago would you have applauded that?

      Governments do not move as fast as business. There will be a day when there is something better than USB-C, but business will not be able to use it until the EU updates it mandate.

      I think this is nuts.

      Reply
      • Lightning is the least forward thinking connector in regular use that I know of. Even usb-a supports high speed transfer and usb-c has been offering faster and faster speeds year after year, always backwards compatible. (Thunderbolt uses the same connector too of course). Apple’s lightning connector/cables are still identical to when they switched to it. Zero innovation.

        The reduction in eWaste alone makes this standard fantastic.

        Reply
        • I didn’t even mention the Lightning connector. This isn’t about which is better. I’m talking about principles, which you didn’t address. Is it good policy for governments to be telling businesses what standards they must use?

          Without competition, there is no innovation. How exactly does forcing every business to use one particular standard promote the creation of something better?

          Reply
          • I hear you, Doug. Completely. In this case, though, the EU government didn’t force how you live your life but enforced the existing standard that’s already there and good for everyone. (I used the word “force” so it’s on me but I didn’t mean what you interpreted.) It’s more of proprietary vs universal standard. Lightning is the former. I’m not sure if you’re old enough to remember the VHS vs Betacam decades ago. (I’m not that old but I keep tabs on things.) Prior to this, Apple had tried to make Thunderbolt proprietary — so it can make even more money — which is why the original Thunderbolt and Thunderbolt 2 are now dead. Apple is very much evil, in the sense that it only cares about making the most for itself at the expense of others and that’s its priority.

          • I’m sure thankful that government has standards! For example in the United States we require cars to have steering wheels on the left side of the car, and seatbelts. And every state has to use red octagon shaped stop signs. There has been no mandated standards for the past 40 odd years of tech. Having a requirement to use a provably better technology that will cost consumers less (no apple tax) is a win for everyone.

          • They are ALL bad, Gerry. Just a matter of degree. Most importantly, it’s good to know what you’re getting into so you have your own degree.

          • And government is often even worse. Hopefully the Right To Repair movement changes some of Apple’s ways…

  5. Excellent! I discontinued using Apple products back in 2015. Apple’s proprietary lightning cable, as well as their prior proprietary firewire cable was just part of the equation for me to jump ship from the Apple ecosystem. I hope this new ruling will not be just the EU but becomes a global requirement.

    Reply
    • FireWire wasn’t proprietary, it was developed by multiple companies. Would you have preferred they continued to use SCSI?

      Reply
      • FireWire, the standard, is not proprietary, but Apple’s connector is. That’s also the case of the Lighting cable which uses the USB standard. I think you’re confused between standard and connection type as mentioned in this post. Give it a good read! 😃

        Reply

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