Apple finally can't carry the load as iPhone switches to Type-C?

Apple finally can't carry the load as iPhone switches to Type-C?

Image source @ Vision China

Titanium Media Note: This article is from WeChat public number i-yiou (ID: i-yiou), author | Wang Peng, editor | Gu Yan, published by Titanium Media with permission.

Let the iPhone and Android machines share a data cable, has been the lifetime series of many fruit fans, and this day seems to be not far away.

Recently, Ming-Chi Kuo, who is known as the "Apple's top tipster," revealed on social media platforms that Apple's upcoming iPhone 15 series in 2023 may switch to a USB Type-C interface for the first time. In addition to cell phones, AirPods, MagSafe external battery, the wonderful control keyboard / mouse and other accessories, also in the update interface.

Foreign media reports likewise provide support for this. According to the revelations, Apple is currently testing phones with a USB Type-C interface. In addition, Apple may also launch an adapter to replace the interface of the new iPhone models and previously used Lightning interface accessories connected.

Since its introduction in 2012, Apple's unique Lightning connector has accompanied the iPhone through nine generations of models. What are the similarities and differences between the new USB Type-C interface and the Lightning interface? Why did Apple choose to abandon the Lightning connector at this point in time? How much of an impact will this have on Apple? These questions are worth exploring in detail.

Cell phone interface evolution, USB Type-C will finally unify?

When it comes to the history of the evolution of the cell phone interface, many post-80s and post-90s friends are not unfamiliar, because we have witnessed the development of cell phones from feature phones to smart phones.

Throughout the timeline, 2007 is a key point, before that, the phone interface has undergone a change from round, USB Mini-B to USB Micro-B (which we know as "Android port").

In the 1990s, when Nokia was in its prime, the interface on many phones was still round. However, this interface could only be used for charging, not for data and file transfer, and the round design combined with long-term plugging and unplugging could also cause problems such as loosening and poor contact.

From the beginning of the 21st century, USB interface quietly into the mobile devices and gradually become mainstream. Driven by the technology, various mobile products, including cell phones, have appeared in all shapes and sizes of USB interfaces.

The USB interface has a wide variety of forms, but as long as it is arranged according to the standard, Mini, Micro three sizes, and A, B, C three types, it can be understood at a glance.

Apple finally can't carry the load as iPhone switches to Type-C?

Common USB interface classification, image source: network

The second form of the phone interface is the T-shaped USB Mini-B interface, which has superior anti-misplacement compared to the round interface. However, this old-fashioned interface is only a short-lived, soon replaced by the more mature technology of USB Micro-B.

In 2007, the USB Micro-B interface was introduced. As the successor of the USB Mini-B interface, it has a smaller size, faster transmission speed and longer service life. USB Micro-B also supports OTG (On-The-Go) function, which enables cell phones to exchange data directly with other mobile devices across the PC.

The USB Micro-B port is called the "Android port" because it has been the standard for Android camp phones for a long time since then.

Interestingly, the first generation of Apple phones, born in the same year, did not choose the then-popular USB Micro-B interface, but instead took a different route by using its own 30Pin (30-pin) Dock interface, embarking on a "maverick" path.

Apple's first four generations of iPhone models have used the 30Pin Dock interface, the advanced features of this interface is to achieve high-speed data synchronization, audio and video output, as well as photo import, playback control, etc., these functions are then the USB Micro-B interface force is not.

However, the 30Pin Dock interface inherently has two drawbacks: first, the interface space is relatively large, and increasingly thin and light smartphones but inches of space, the need to save space; second, the front and back side is difficult to distinguish, easy to reverse the plug caused by the damage to cell phone accessories.

In 2012, along with the release of the iPhone 5 series phones, Apple introduced a new Lightning interface, which has also been used on the latest iPhone 13 series phones.

For Apple, the Lightning interface is of great importance. It not only inherits all the advantages of the 30Pin Dock interface, but also solves the two defects of the old interface that amplifies over time.

In addition, it brought a new "cash cow" to Apple, which later became the MFi (Made for iPhone/iPod/iPad) certification business.

The Lightning connector uses a front and back row of 8Pin each, compared to the original single row of 30Pin connector, the size has been reduced by a full 80%. At the same time it is no longer divided into positive and negative use, you can safely plug and unplug, thus increasing the life of the accessories.

In addition, the Lightning connector also has a built-in chip, the only data cable or connector equipped with the chip can be securely and stably connected to the iPhone. Third-party manufacturers who want to manufacture Apple accessories must obtain official authorization, which is also known as MFi certification.

Since then, the Lightning interface has gradually developed into one of Apple's icons, and the USB Micro-B interface that rules the Android camp is listed as two mainstream cell phone interfaces in the market, until the rise of the USB Type-C interface.

The most popular USB Type-C interface was first introduced in 2014, and it was accompanied by the USB 3.1 standard, and now it has been upgraded to the USB 4 standard version, while the USB Micro-B interface and Lightning interface are based on the USB 2.0 standard.

The upgrade of the standard means that the transfer rate is accelerated, USB 2.0 standard theoretical transmission speed of only 480Mbps, while the USB 4 standard transmission speed of up to 40Gbps, more than 80 times faster.

The USB Type-C interface is also more advantageous in terms of charging capabilities, based on the PD fast charging protocol. Today's USB Type-C interface can support up to 240W power fast charging, while the Apple Lightning interface fast charging power limit is less than 30W.

In addition, the USB Type-C interface also draws on the Lightning interface positive and negative non-differentiated design, there is no USB Micro-B interface misplaced reverse plugging pain points.

After 2017, with the increasing maturity of the technology, USB Type-C interface slowly took over the share of Android phones from USB Micro-B, leaving only the Lightning interface of Apple phones can still compete.

But from the recent wind, it seems that the USB Type-C interface is finally going to pull out the last "nail in the coffin" of Apple.

Give up the Lightning interface, it is inevitable and helpless

Although there is no definite news, but Apple in the matter of switching to the USB Type-C interface, I am sure it has been well thought out for a long time.

Apple abandoned the Lightning interface for a number of factors, the first is the imbalance between technology and demand, because compared with the USB Type-C interface, Lightning interface whether in the data transfer or charging speed are lost in a mess.

In this era of data explosion, cell phones, as the center of cross-terminal device collaboration, produce huge amounts of data every day, and the volume of these data is increasing day by day with the improvement of cell phone collection and processing technology.

Apple, for example, the iPhone is currently providing users with high-quality video shooting capabilities, and users shoot 4K video, which can easily be hundreds of MB or even several GB of capacity to the Lightning interface transfer speed, it is clearly difficult to meet the needs of consumers of large file transfer.

Apple finally can't carry the load as iPhone switches to Type-C?

iPhone 13 offers ProRes lossless video recording, source: Apple's official website

In addition, according to the "Smartphone Consumer Report 2021" released by market research firm BlinkAI, as many as 73% of consumers want longer battery life on their phones. And with the slow overall improvement in cell phone battery capacity, fast charging becomes a higher priority solution.

Although the current Lightning interface also supports PD fast charging, but it can only support up to 3A of current through. This is one of the reasons why many entry-level models in the Android camp are stronger than the iPhone in terms of fast charging.

In addition to the outdated technology, the pressure from global regulation is also an important push for Apple to abandon the Lightning interface.

As early as 2019, the EU side has continued to promote the unification of charging technology, the EU hopes that all consumer electronics manufacturers can unify the use of USB Type-C interface, which will not only avoid the generation of large amounts of electronic waste, help environmental protection, but also reduce the burden on consumers.

Apple did not agree with the proposal at first, and even argued that it would "stifle innovation". In the past two years, Apple has been forced to compromise as the EU has become more assertive.

This is also a desperate move, because the European market is one of Apple's three most important markets, and if the EU proposal officially begins to be implemented, Apple will be forced to comply.

Apple's earnings report showed that Apple made $23.29 billion in revenue in Europe in the first quarter of 2022, up 4.6 percent year-over-year, with European market revenue accounting for 23.8 percent of total revenue.

Apple finally can't carry the load as iPhone switches to Type-C?

At the same time, similar voices and winds in the domestic market have put pressure on Apple.

Earlier this year, Ding Lei, a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference and CEO of NetEase, put forward a proposal to "unify the charging interface" and received a reply from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said that vigorously promote the charging interface, technology integration, is conducive to reducing electronic waste and improve the efficiency of resource utilization. The next step will continue to promote the development of relevant national standards, promote the charging interface and technology integration and unification, improve the recycling rate of electrical and electronic products, and strive to promote the high-quality development of the consumer electronics industry.

In fact, domestic cell phone manufacturers have long been fans of the USB Type-C interface, the industry's focus has risen from the unification of the charging interface to the integration of technologies such as fast charging protocols.

In May 2021, the Telecommunications Terminal Industry Association released the Technical Specification for Convergent Fast Charging of Mobile Terminals; in December 2021, the Guangdong Terminal Fast Charging Industry Association was established, whose members include ICT, Huawei, OPPO, vivo, and Xiaomi .

Apple also has to be careful about this, because Apple's earnings results are good or bad, and the demand in the Chinese market is also closely related.

Previously, Apple CEO Tim Cook said that thanks to the hot iPhone 13, Apple achieved record revenue, a record number of upgraded users and double-digit growth in the iPhone business in China in the fourth quarter of 2021. in the first quarter of 2022, Apple achieved revenue of $18.34 billion in Greater China, up nearly 21% sequentially.

Without the Lightning interface, what does it mean for Apple?

The Lightning interface is an important part of Apple's closed-loop ecosystem. Apple's switch to the USB Type-C interface on the iPhone also means actively giving up revenue from the MFi business, as well as profits from sales of accessories such as data cables and power adapters.

For MFi certification, Apple has a very stringent process, with a pass rate of only 2%, while third-party manufacturers also need to pay a fee to Apple, amounting to at least several hundred dollars.

Apple finally can't carry the load as iPhone switches to Type-C?

Apple phone MFi certification logo, source: network

Some foreign media reports say that for every authorized accessory sold in the MFi business, Apple will receive a 20-25% cut. The research data shows that Apple MFi accessories are a market with an output value of up to 10 billion RMB, so it is projected that Apple's annual revenue in the MFi business is up to billions of RMB.

In addition to licensing fees for third-party accessories, the revenue generated by the Lightning interface for official Apple accessories cannot be underestimated. On Apple's official website in China, the price of a 20W charger is as high as 149 yuan; a 1-meter-long Lightning interface data cable is priced at 145 yuan.

As the world's highest market capitalization company, Apple's every move is naturally inseparable from the consideration of interests. Apple has not completely abandoned the Lightning interface until now, is because it can not save the benefits of these two aspects.

It is worth mentioning that Apple has also come up with another way to solve the "unified interface" bill focused on the waste of electronic accessories, that is, since the purchase of the new iPhone 12 no longer comes with a charger.

In late April 2022, Apple said in its published environmental report card that it has mined an estimated 550,000 tons less copper, tin and zinc ore and reduced carbon emissions by 2 million tons since it began eliminating complimentary chargers in 2020.

However, this practice has also been subject to the "real environmental protection" or "real money" question. Because of Apple's "environmental policy", it has saved a lot of money on the cost of free accessories. Some media reports, Apple in the abolition of the attached charger and headphones, so far a total of $ 6.5 billion in savings.

In fact, in addition to not willing to bear the loss, Apple is slow to abandon the Lightning interface there is a possibility that it wants to provide more time for the development of its wireless charging and wireless data transfer technology, so that it can directly bypass the USB Type-C interface, step into the era of interface-free iPhone.

Such speculation is not unwarranted. Apple's desire to accelerate the development of interfaceless iPhones has long been in evidence, from the move away from iTunes activation and OTA updates, the elimination of the 3.5mm headphone jack, to the inclusion of eSIM, the use of UWB (Ultra Wide Band technology) U1 chips, and the emergence of various MagSafe wireless charging accessories.

Apple finally can't carry the load as iPhone switches to Type-C?

Apple MagSafe wireless charger, source: Apple official website

However, Apple does as poorly as wired charging on MagSafe wireless charging, with charging power only reaching 15W, while Android line-up manufacturers have long done more than 50W.

In addition, even with the U1 chip, Apple's wireless transmission can only support up to 480Mbps, which is not yet comparable to wired transmission.

Finally, the lack of security and privacy between WiFi and 5G is also a major issue. Not long ago, Apple planted itself on its own AirDrop (over-the-air drop) and made the news.

According to foreign media reports, on May 15, an Israeli airliner had to make an emergency stop because someone used Apple's AirDrop feature to maliciously send pictures of air disasters to passengers.

All of the above means that there is still a long way to go before the iPhone matures without an interface. Thus, it seems that Apple's plan to use interfaceless iPhone to reshape its moat cannot be realized for a while.


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