Why Apple didn't drop the iPhone 12's Lightning port for USB-C (again)

The future of charging on iPhone isn't USB-C. It's wireless. Specifically, MagSafe wireless charging, dummy.

After every Apple event, I like to go through my tweets and see which of the million dumb things I said got the most engagement. Surprisingly, it’s never the “here’s [insert product]” or the “here’s when you can get [insert product]” tweets. Never. At WWDC, it was Control Center for Big Sur (I’m just as baffled as you are, but the people spoke!). For the Apple Watch and iPad event in September, it was the iPad Air dropping Lightning for USB-C.

For the iPhone 12 event? People aren't going nuts over the new iPhone 12 Mini or the iPhone 12 Pro Max, but the fact that the included cable in the box is a Lightning-to-USB-C cable. Let me repeat: people are angry over a cable and — by extension — a port.

Here's what I tweeted:

I felt it was a good move that Apple is replacing the Lightning-to-USB-A cable with one that has a USB-C plug. Apparently, the Internet disagrees.

Everyone is upset that Apple is using Lightning once again on the iPhone 12 family and not a USB-C. I can understand why. Apple's Lightning port is proprietary and USB-C is universal. Every Android phone has a USB-C port. Every new laptop in recent years charges with USB-C. Hell, even Apple has exercised extreme courage by ditching Lightning on the iPad Pro with USB-C; the iPad Air 4 will do so, too. All of Apple's MacBooks only come with USB-C ports.

So why the hell does the iPhone — Apple's beloved golden child — still come with a Lightning port that requires you to use a cable separate from all of your other modern devices?

Could Apple switch the iPhone to USB-C? Barring any real technical hurdles (Lightning is a slimmer port and you know how Apple loves to make devices razor thin!), we don't see why not. The iPad Pro is a svelte 5.9mm compared to the iPhone 12's 7.4mm profile.

There are some reasonably boring reasons. The main one involves money. Apple makes unfathomable amounts of money from licensing Lightning specifications to accessory makers. Apple made a boatload of money when it started the MFi (Made for iPod, iPhone, iPad, etc.) program with the original 30-pin connector for the iPod. This lucrative business model carried over when Apple switched to Lightning for its iPhones and iPad in 2012. Fast forward eight years and MFi remains a sizable money printer. Why would Apple give that up?

Because you want a cable that charges all of your other devices? Cute.

Apple's not stupid. MagSafe is a transition from Lightning and a way for Apple to continue collecting checks from anyone who wants to make their own chargers.Apple

Another reason Apple didn't switch to Lightning again: wireless is the future. The transition from USB-A to USB-C has been one of slow progress. USB-C first came onto the scene in 2015. Yet, devices like the Surface Laptop Go still ship with USB-A. (Yes, it comes with USB-A and USB-C, but the very fact that device makers refuse to break up with USB-A outright doesn't help speed up USB-C's adoption.)

Read between the lines of today's announcements — hello MagSafe charger for iPhone — and it becomes blatantly obvious Apple is skating toward a completely wireless iPhone. As Apple said during its keynote, the MagSafe charger is a program that third-party vendors will be able to create for. Whether it's charging stands, cases, wallet clip-ons, and whatnot, Apple intends to continue making ridiculous amounts of money off the ecosystem for its most important product.

Apple set the stage up for Lightning's inevitable retirement today. But don't think for a second that means USB-C will replace it. MagSafe is the iPhone's future. And iPhone users will like and endure it. Because are you really going to leave iMessage or FaceTime? Be honest, now.

How iPhone 12 MagSafe charging technology worksApple