Every iPhone has come with a hole in its bottom. Did I say hole? I meant charging port.
First it was the 30-pin port on the iPhone “2G” in 2007, which lasted until the iPhone 4S in 2011. And then it was the Lightning port, which has appeared on every iPhone since the iPhone 5 in 2012.
But expect that to change in the future.
It’s not a question of if the port will go away, but when will it happen. We think it could happen in 2020, but given all the “courage” Apple summoned to kill the headphone jack on the iPhone 7 it’s possible they could kill the Lightning port earlier. (But probably not this year.)
A necessary tradeoff
Apple’s always considered the growing pains of removing ports and switching to new ones a necessary tradeoff for thinner and lighter designs or better technologies, and guess what? It’s always been right.
Remember when people whined about the iMac not having a floppy disk drive? Or when people said Macs were doomed because they embraced USB instead of Serial Port? Or when they said it was a mistake for Apple to remove the iPad’s “mute switch” (it was also used as an orientation lock switch) in favor of a software switch in Control Center?
How the hell do you charge your iPhone if it doesn’t have a traditional charging port?
What are those people saying now? Exactly.
It’s indisputable that the future is wireless. Can you imagine if we all still relied on landlines instead of embracing cell phones? I can’t stop myself from laughing at the thought.
The iPhone is already mostly wireless, and I guarantee its charging will soon go wireless, too. Think about it, you can listen to music using wireless headphones (like AirPods) and wireless speakers, stream video wirelessly to a TV or computer screen using AirPlay and an Apple TV, wirelessly backup everything through iCloud, and even wirelessly connect accessories like 360-degree cameras, keyboards, and more.
Why wouldn’t you wirelessly charge your iPhone, then? You absolutely would… if the iPhone had wireless charging. And rumors strongly suggest this year Apple will finally include wireless charging in the “iPhone 8“.
Android users won’t be impressed if this turns out true. Companies like Samsung and LG have had phones with wireless charging for years, and some of them like the Galaxy S8 still do.
Why wireless charging isn’t ubiquitous yet
So why hasn’t wireless charging taken off? Why is wireless charging a feature that was supposed to become the thing for phones around 2012 still not ubiquitous?
There are a few issues with wireless charging, the main one being that it’s slow. Usually a lot slower than charging through a wire. The convenience of wireless charging wasn’t worth waiting around longer. Not when we’re all so addicted to our phones.
To be fair, there have been some real advances with wireless charging over the last few years. Samsung’s “Fast Wireless Charging” is nearly as fast as its wired “Fast Charging,” and LG announced last year its own wireless charging tech that’s also as fast as wired charging, but we’ve yet to see it in any phones.
Cost is another hurdle. Many companies stopped including wireless charging components because the market wasn’t rallying around wireless charging.
And the last and probably the thing that benched wireless charging for the time being was Qualcomm’s wired Quick Charge technology, which is included with its Snapdragon chipsets that are found in most Android phones. With Quick Charge, which lets you “top off” your phone’s battery quickly within just a few minutes, seriously, who would wait around for wireless charging to recharge their phone? Only a fool.
Ideally, future iPhones (and all phones and devices) would have true wireless charging that is, charging at a distance but that’s still many, many years off.
Disney researchers showed off such over-the-air wireless charging technology, and while it looks promising, it still requires a special setup in a room. For your home, this kinda thing would work, but what about when you’re at work or at a Starbucks or somewhere the setup isn’t available? How the hell do you charge your iPhone if it doesn’t have a traditional charging port? Ditto for places that don’t have inductive wireless charging pads.
I’m glad you asked! If Lightning disappears from iPhones in the future, Apple will likely switch to a magnetic-contacts charging method, something similar to the iPad Pro’s Smart Connector. (There are already magnetic-based Lightning cables that do this exact thing.)
Yes, a cable with a magnetic Smart Connector plug would still be wired charging, but it would also free up the iPhone for more important components like a bigger battery or better speakers.
For Apple to adopt a Smart Connector, it’d need to make the magnetic plug pretty strong so that it doesn’t come undone when you connect it to, say, a battery pack that’s tossed around inside of your bag.
That wouldn’t be too difficult for Apple to figure out. The company’s got loads of experience with the MagSafe connectors it used on old MacBooks.
No ports is the only way forward
If you’ve been following Apple product launches over the years, you know the reception is always one of two extremes.
There are people who love when Apple simplifies its products, paring it down to the essentials, even when that means switching to new ports, breaking compatibility with old products and accessories, and living the #donglelife.
And then there’s the other side. The you’ll-never-please-these-guys who’ll hate on every change Apple makes and call it “user hostile.”
There’s no way for Apple to please everyone. And it doesn’t need to. It’s totally OK if you love Apple’s product designs, or hate them, or don’t care at all.
When we first started drafting up a design for our iPhone 2020, we had some reserves about removing the Lightning port. After all, 2020 is only four years away. So not too far into the future.
But after looking at how long the 30-pin connector was kept around (nine years) and then Lightning (five years right now, but eight years by 2020), we no longer felt it was impossible for Apple to do it. If Apple follows what it did with the 30-pin, it would be just about time to retire Lightning in 2020.
Sure, there would be the usual people complaining about having to buy new cables, docks, and accessories, but everyone made it out alive switching from 30-pin to Lightning, and they’ll survive when Apple takes the next step. Our wireless future has no room for ports.