Here’s some excellent news. It’s all about USB-C vs Lightning. These simple connectors that keep your device plugged in and charged now also represent the choice between good and, well, evil.
If that sounds a bit too heavy, let me put it this way: the (tech) world may be about to get significantly greener, no thanks to Apple, which has bragged about how it’s a “green” and “environmentally conscientious” company for years.
In fact, in this particular subject, Apple has been on the opposite side.
Behind those many Apple events where we heard Tim Cook throwing superlatives, the electronic giant has maintained an unnecessary and wasteful practice: the proprietary Lightning port used exclusively for its popular iPhone (starting with the iPhone 5).
That’s about to change, hopefully, at least in the EU. But first, let’s find out the real reason Apple has kept the Lightning port.
USB-C vs Lightning: Apple and its greed
Apple and its fanboys will tell you many reasons why the Lightning port on the iPhone and its cable make sense. Specifically, here are their two main arguments:
1. Apple says moving away from the Lightning port will cause existing users to buy a new cable, creating waste, and stifle innovations.
The “waste” notion is kind of true, but it is so for all progress. The transition will take a few years and already happened once with the iPhone 5. Before that, older iPhone versions used a different port, 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, well, you name it.
Apple itself started to use USB-C for its 2018 iPad, and later. Its Macbook lines up have used Thunderbolt, which shares the same USB-C port type for years. And for the iPhone, it’s gone halfway by creating a USB-C to Lightning cable, which makes things even worse.
2. The Lightning cable is superior.
That’s simply not true.
The USB-C port can deliver much faster speeds thanks to USB 3.2, USB4, and Thunderbolt support. Lightning is mostly USB 2.0, 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 mouth when the cable is plugged in.
And that brings us to the real reason: Greed.
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 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 there are billions of them, that’s a massive chunk of change coming to Apple’s coffer each year. Additionally, the Lightning port enables Apple to have complete control over how the iPhone works.
On the flip side, that’s also 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 and tons of unnecessary waste and resources. Instead, now the latest iPhone 13 still uses the Lightning port.
To put things in perspective, years ago, I was so distraught by this practice that the iPhone 6 was my last iPhone. I’ve been using the Pixel since. Like all Android and the majority of other gadgets, it uses USB-C.
And I’m sure many folks feel the same way — it’s the familiar frustration and inconvenience caused by Apple’s greed. Most of us experience that at least once or twice a week, whether or not we notice it.
In any case, it’s safe to say that today nobody benefits from or is happy about the Lightning connector, except Apple. But the company is so big, it can do whatever it wants. Or can it?
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 chargers with devices to reduce waste.
Specifically, the Commission has 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 the requirements of their new device or help them to 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, they are too small to have a USB-C port and generally have wireless charging anyway.
And while they apply to all manufacturers, it’s clear that the primary target is Apple. That’s because the rest of the world has moved to USB-C for a few years now.
This new initiative is not a done deal yet since the European Parliament will need to vote later this year, or early 2022, to consider turning the new revised Radio Equipment Directive into law. After that, involved parties will have 24 months to comply.
It’s worth noting that the EU has a good track record, generally better than the US, on consumer privacy and the environment. So chances are the iPhone 15 will use USB-C at the latest.
You can’t take what Apple says about itself as truth. The company, like most US companies, cares about its bottom line more than anything. And with that, it wants to have control over its product as well as its customers.
Sure, Apple has gone green in some aspects, and that’s great. But that’s only proof that going renewable is more economical than using fossil fuel. It has little if at all, to do with Apple’s desire to be “environmentally conscious” as the image it wants to be known.
And that’s what you should keep in mind the next time you pick up that dreadful Lightning cable.