Apple’s Lightning connector has been part of the iPhone for about 10 years, or most of the legendary smartphone’s 15-year existence. But its days may be numbered, as the European Union has agreedon all phones by fall 2024.
The decision fueled speculation about the iPhone’s much-rumored switch to USB-C. But there’s another possible path Apple could take. What if Apple releases a new iPhone??
It may sound unreasonable, but hear me out. Look at the iPhone’s trajectory when it comes to wireless functionality, and it appears that Apple is gradually laying the groundwork for a completely wireless iPhone. Success fromand Apple’s focus on new types of cable-free connections, such as everything is in that direction.
The move to an iPhone without physical jacks would also build on the vision Apple laid out nearly six years ago when it announced the iPhone 7, which was the first model without a headphone jack. Apple colleague Phil Schiller, formerly senior vice president of worldwide marketing, said “it doesn’t make sense to connect cables to our mobile devices,” as he explained the iPhone’s move away from the standard headphone jack. (Of course, Apple also introduced the first generation of AirPods during the same presentation.)
There’s no telling if Apple will make such a drastic change as eliminating the charging port altogether. Apple would undoubtedly face backlash in doing so, and there are still technical limitations that could prevent wireless charging from being a viable full-time alternative to wired charging. But new EU rules, additional pressure from US senators like Elizabeth Warren and improvements in wireless protocols certainly make the case for a portless iPhone stronger than ever.
Will Apple release a completely wireless iPhone?
Apple never discusses upcoming products before it’s ready to unveil them, so it’s impossible to know exactly what’s in store for the future of the iPhone. But previous reports and filings suggest that Apple may have at least thought about how a truly wireless iPhone would work.
For example, Apple’s patent application filed in 2019 describes an iPhone with a body made entirely of glass that can be charged wirelessly through the screen. Apple has also filed other patents related to wireless charging that would advance the case for a portless iPhone, should those technologies ever see the light of day. One such patent covers a MacBook design with a wireless charger built right into the keyboard, an addition that could make wireless charging more convenient.
But a research note from TF International Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, an industry watcher known for his Apple predictions, drew attention to the idea of a port-less iPhone in 2019. At the time, Kuo said Apple could ditch the Lightning port from its high-end iPhone in 2021 , according to reports from CNBC, 9to5Mac and MacRumors. Bloomberg also reported in May 2022 that Apple had been working on iPhone models without charging ports in recent years.
However, Ku’s prediction did not come true. Every model in the iPhone 13 line, which was launched in the fall of 2021, has a Lightning port. Reports of a port-less iPhone have also been scarce since then, with recent glimpses from Kuo and Bloomberg suggesting that Apple may be evolving .
The iPhone relies less and less on wired connections
It is uncertain whether Apple will ever release a truly wireless iPhone. But what is clear is that the iPhone has become better equipped to function without any cables.
“The number of systems that actually have to be 100% cable is going down,” Nick Maynard, head of research for Juniper Research, said in a previous interview.
The debut ofin 2016 was perhaps the biggest catalyst for ditching wired connections. Although Apple’s decision to eliminate the headphone jack was somewhat controversial at the time, the industry quickly embraced the move to wireless headphones.
After Apple said goodbye to the headphone jack, many other smartphone manufacturers, including Samsung, followed suit. Now, global shipments of true wireless headphones have reached 68.2 million units in the first quarter of 2022 alone, up 17%, according to market research firm Canalys. AirPods are the best sellers.
But the popularity of AirPods isn’t the only sign of the iPhone’s independence from wires. Apple also launched a new type of cable-free connection mechanism for iPhone called MagSafe 2020..
MagSafe, not to be confused with the MacBook charger of the same name, uses a series of magnets to easily attach wireless chargers and other accessories to the back of compatible iPhone models. MagSafe chargers can also power iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 more efficiently than standard Qi wireless chargers. The iPad’s Smart Connector, which is a series of flat circular metal contacts located on the back of some iPad Pro models, is another example of Apple’s efforts to make its products less reliant on cables.
Newer technologies like ultra-broadband have also made it easier for the iPhone to communicate wirelessly with other devices. Ultra Broadband is a wireless protocol that uses radio signals to pinpoint the location of a device, as my colleague said. The technology is primarily used to help an iPhone find a lost one and locate other iPhones faster when using AirDrop. Wireless data transfer is also the norm for many people thanks to cloud services and file sharing features like AirDrop, further reducing the need for a Lightning port.
The challenges that come with a fully wireless iPhone
The biggest argument against portless iPhones is that wireless chargers still don’t work as fast as regular wired chargers. Standard Qi wireless chargers will charge the iPhone’s battery at a rate of 7.5 watts, while Apple’s MagSafe connector can charge up to 15 watts. But iPhone 8 and newer models support faster charging that recharges 50% of the device’s battery in 30 minutes. But you’ll need a wired connection with a compatible 20W power adapter to get those speeds. It’s certainly an improvement over wireless charging, but it’s still slower than the charging speeds offered by Android rivals like OnePlus.
Those who don’t already have a wireless charger may have to buy one separately if Apple releases iPhones without ports. Apple stopped including power adapters in iPhone packaging with the iPhone 12, but still offers Lightning cables in the box. Apple’s MagSafe charger costs $39, but there are also non-Apple chargers with the company’s official MagSafe label. However, you probably also need a 20-watt USB-C power adapter to get the fastest charging speed. (Apple says power delivery will vary depending on power adapter wattage and system condition).
Even with these caveats, wireless charging has become ubiquitous on modern smartphones. Compatible chargers are also not as expensive as they were five years ago, strengthening the case for a completely wireless iPhone. For example, third-party wireless chargers can be found on Amazon for less than $20.
But Gene Munster, managing director at Loup Ventures, thinks there are bigger improvements to be made when it comes to wireless phone charging. He envisions a future where smartphones can be charged completely wirelessly without coming into contact with a charging pad.
Munster said his firm has met with private companies working on such technologies, but cautioned that it is in the early stages. Apple has also filed a patent application hinting that it is considering technology that can charge iPhones over Wi-Fi. Ossia, a Washington-based technology company, has also developed a charging system that it claims can power electronic devices from a distance using RF antenna technology.
“Imagine never having to think about charging your phone, which is the goal,” Munster said in a previous interview.
If Apple is intent on true wireless charging, it probably won’t be coming to the iPhone anytime soon. It’s also unclear whether Apple will ever release a completely port-less iPhone, given recent reports from Bloomberg and Kuo that point to USB-C as the most likely alternative to Lightning.
Apple has also seemingly backed down on its stance on reducing the amount of connections in its MacBook Pro laptops recently. The MacBook Pro 2021 has an SD card slot and an HDMI port, which means it hasthan we’ve seen on Apple laptops for years. (However, the newer 13-inch MacBook Pro with M2 drive only includes two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports.)
But the idea of an iPhone that can function without wires certainly seems in line with Apple’s vision from 2016. As former Apple design chief Jony Ive said when describing the design of the iPhone 7 without a headphone jack, “the company’s obsession remains to continually simplify and improves.” If done right, an iPhone without charging ports could achieve just that.